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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

It has been described as the worst work of politics. Can Peter Dutton buck the trend?

Like former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton found party stardom in the immigration portfolio. The two-man contest for leadership in 2018 was not the result of any major demand for change among voters. This happened because they were popular within the base of the Liberal Party, or at least within an influential section of it.

Since coming to parliament in 2007, Morrison had spent every hour plotting, maneuvering, and carving his sails in pursuit of the top prize. Against Dutton, they presented themselves as the candidate party the Moderates could tolerate.

Dutton, on the contrary, seemed like what kind of guy you were. And what you saw was someone who takes the respect it attracts in Sky News After Dark and other conservative media seriously, and mistakes it for widespread popularity. He is big on boundaries and he represents everyone on an emotional level. Race is a special, if veiled, theme.

More than even the most ambitious politicians, Dixon’s members refuse to admit error. In fact, he doubles down in the face of evidence to the contrary. Some voters are deeply affected by this, but they tend to sit inside the party’s ideological echo chamber.

New leader, new perspective?

As opposition leader, Dutton has abandoned the expected “we must check ourselves” self-flagellation and ritual greetings to the new government. It’s certainly not a bad idea to try a different approach, given the brutal fate of first-class leaders. A prime example of that endangered species is Brendan Nelson, who was the leader for less than a year in 2007–08; Leaders after the Liberals’ two previous losses, Andrew Peacock and Billy Snedden, only managed around two years.

Read more: How did the polls fare in the 2022 election? Better, but not great; also a senate update

Dutton is also ignoring the “step to the center” directed at all the major parties after the electoral defeat. That’s okay too, except the former Queensland policeman is actually right-wing, and he thinks, deep down, so is the voter – a plan to return to power on the back of suburban voters who share his values. Are there enough of them?

Is it better to “mosaic” the opposition? John Howard contemplated nuclear power in the hope of dividing labor. The current Liberal leader clearly believes this issue could divide the new government. But wait for controversy if he ever reveals where those reactors are likely to be.

Right Role Model? Peter Dutton in the Liberal Party Room with Tony Abbott in 2018.
Mick Sicas / You

In government, Dutton in particular spoke of the threat of war with China, and voting patterns show that it greatly harmed the Chinese-Australian people-to-people alliance. Still, it would have helped the party elsewhere. Transgender fear, repeatedly injected into the campaign by Morrison, could also have worked both ways: a plus among the socially conservative religious group but a disaster on the “teal” front.

But Dutton will have to get used to the fact that the new government – not a coalition – now has the allure and prestige of power. There’s only so much tub-thumping he can do without looking isolated and pathetic.

back in the future?

Among Dutton’s supporters, the template is Tony Abbott, effective as opposition leader in taking down the Rudd government. But Abbott returned to the job within a year because of the election, and his position was completely secured. He was aided largely by the global financial crisis, the resulting debt and deficit, and a labor machine that thought about changing leaders five minutes before the election. And Rudd himself, obsessed with his own poll ratings, was so obnoxious to so many colleagues that many of them took the opportunity to dump him.

Can Labor snatch defeat (or at least a 2010-style election tied) from the jaws of victory again? Of course could.

Anthony Albanese never and probably never will enjoy anything like Rudd’s popularity, which helped keep his feet on the ground. The dynamic that applied to nearly all changes to the federal government, but is sometimes buried under the propaganda of Rockstar leaders like Rudd and Bob Hawke, was particularly clear at this time: Labor won largely because the people got rid of the government. Wanted to get and the opposition was not too dangerous.

But one consequence of this lesser two evils is the decline in support for both major parties. That long-term trend took a big jump last month, more than double the “others” in the lower house. The Rebellion of Teils was easily the most history-making component of the election.

Polling Stations In Waringah Voters
Small start, big impact: A polling station in the voters of Warringah, Zali Stegall, during prepoll voting last month.
Mark Baker/You

On past experience, federal and state, Labor would have trouble obtaining real estate from the Greens. And of the two independents in the left-wing seats, Andrew Wilkie has Clarke as long as he wants, though Dai Lay’s fate in Fowler is less certain.

For the Liberal Party, Teal, among some of the country’s bluest, highest-income voters, may or may not remain in power. If in the end he is seen by voters as an independent, perhaps Ted Mack’s experience in North Sydney (from 1990 until his retirement in 1996) indicates. But the precedent is not so clear if they are seen as a quasi-party. Wrong steps by a few people can stain them all.

Read more: Hawke’s special skill was at par with Australians. It’s Albanese’s Only Option

All governments are hostages to the economy at large. Experts say a recession is a distinct possibility, even as Dutton could last a full term against a weak government. To secure the position, he will rely on voters who supported the Morrison government last month, especially in the outer suburban “Central”. But what if their loyalty was not to the coalition, but to the security of staying with the ruling party in uncertain times?

Losing the Outer Suburbs without securing Teal seats in the next election would be a nightmare scenario for the coalition, whichever is leading it.

Back in 2013, your correspondent said that “Australia’s two-party system may collapse one day. If it happens today the ALP will disintegrate, but if it happens in five or ten years’ time, it will be the conservative parties.” can.

Did it happen on 21st May? We will have to wait for the next election to know that.

World Nation News Desk
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