Sunday, 29 Jan 2023

Peter Dutton delivers red meat to the conservative base while moderates wait for the second coming of Josh Frydenberg | Katharine Murphy

Peter Dutton delivers red meat to the conservative base while moderates wait for the second coming of Josh Frydenberg | Katharine Murphy


Peter Dutton delivers red meat to the conservative base while moderates wait for the second coming of Josh Frydenberg | Katharine Murphy

My eyes then wandered to the tip of my triangle. To the left of Dutton were the teal independents, representing the electoral territory the Liberal party lost in May. The group watched first with interest, then polite bemusement as the Liberal leader ploughed through his budget reply speech.

Doubling down on some of the crusades that estrange the Liberal party from its inner-city heartland would have felt pretty eccentric from the teal corner. Howard-era rinse and repeat has thus far cost the Liberals the seats of Warringah, Wentworth, North Sydney, Mackellar, Goldstein, Kooyong, Brisbane, Ryan and Curtin. But doubling down is what Dutton is doing.

This point might require some unpacking. Budgets are as much about narrative as they are about accounting. Governments spend the weeks leading up to budget night defining what their economic statement will be about. There are also those magical hours in the budget lock-up where the incumbent government seals the media off from the outside world so they can spend hours sequestered with the big egos of sideshow alley, massaging the initial coverage. The Canberra lock-up ritual is prized, because it is the only semblance of pseudo- control that remains in the rolling cacophony of modern Australian politics.

But the counter-narrative always begins the moment the embargoed budget papers are opened. Chalmers had acknowledged the primacy of the inflation problem during all the pre-publicity, so all eyes went to the inflation analysis in budget paper number one, which included a forecast that energy prices would be 56% higher over the next couple of years.

This drive-by politics might not work for a bunch of reasons. But there was one clear takeout from budget week. The climate wars are a long way from over at the political level.

Labor has a big explanatory task, and an even bigger managerial task, to ensure the national interest prevails in a renewed dog-fight with opportunistic hyper-partisanship. Rather than settling back in comfort on the government benches, imagining voters will see through the magical thinking and the mendacity, Labor has a staggering amount of work to do.

My impression over recent months has been the new regime is too grateful to be back in government and too frantic rolling out its agenda to project to the outside world as masters of the universe. But this week, there was an unproductive undertone.

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