Sunday, June 23, 2024

PVO: The scare campaigns that will affect every Aussie

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By Peter van Onselen, Political Editor for Daily Mail Australia

05:45 11 Jun 2024, updated 06:45 11 Jun 2024

  • Albanese running nuclear power scare campaign
  • Dutton will zero in on Labor’s cost-of-living failures
  • Early election on the cards 



Another election campaign fuelled by scare campaigns is looming large, but how different will this one be to previous ones?

Cost of living challenges are the dominant focus for most Australians right now and that’s unlikely to change before polling day. The Coalition’s attacks will blame the Albanese government for making a bad situation even worse. It will aim to scare voters into not risking three more years of Labor. 

It will be a tough sell if history is any guide. No first-term government has lost a re-election bid since 1931, although in more recent times a few have come close. 

For example, the Labor government elected in 2007 under Kevin Rudd’s leadership almost lost the 2010 election under Prime Minister Julia Gillard. They only won by forming government as a minority with the support of the crossbench. 

Some Liberal strategists don’t think Opposition Leader Peter Dutton can win the next election, but they are confident of taking away Labor’s narrow majority. It currently holds 78 of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives

Peter Dutton, left, and Anthony Albanese, right, are both employing scare campaign in the yet-to-be announced federal election

Dutton’s strategy of promising to build nuclear power stations at the same time as questioning the realism of achieving 2030 emissions reduction targets may make it harder for Liberals to win back Teal seats such as Wentworth and Kooyong. 

But he hopes Australians in general are no longer ideologically opposed to going nuclear. He cites Labor’s reliance on going it alone on renewables as risky business: an energy source that’s both unreliable and costly. 

Anthony Albanese, in contrast, thinks that he is on an electoral winner targeting Dutton‘s plans for nuclear power. Labor is preparing the mother of all scare campaigns in a bid to sow seeds of doubt about electing Dutton as PM. 

Meanwhile Greens leader Adam Bandt today declared that neither major party’s plan is capable of achieving the emissions reduction targets Australia has signed up to. 

This could cause difficulties for Labor politically, with some voters worried what deal it would do with the Greens were it to form minority government after the election with their support. 

Labor strategists point to the success Bill Shorten had peddling his ‘Mediscare’ campaign at the 2016 election. 

The then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was widely expected to win handsomely in 2016, but when the gun for the formal election campaign was officially fired, Team Shorten relentlessly targeted the Coalition as set to ‘abolish Medicare’ if it won a second term. 

The political ads were numerous and references to Turnbull’s alleged ‘plans’ were endless every time Opposition MPs fronted the media. 

It worked, almost. Turnbull’s government was returned with the thinnest of majorities, 76 seats in the 150 seat chamber. It took a week’s worth of counting in the seat of Capricornia in Queensland before the Coalition could be certain of forming majority government. 

‘If you thought the Mediscare campaign was hard hitting wait until you see what we will do with nuclear power,’ one Labor MP who didn’t want to be named told Daily Mail Australia. 

Qualitative research has revealed to Albanese that when Australians are questioned about their concerns over nuclear power, doubts develop

Labor’s plans include inundating the Dutton campaign with protesters in hazmat suits and reminding voters in key marginal seats that a nuclear power plant will be coming there soon if the Coalition wins.

While debates surrounding nuclear power have changed globally in the decades since the heady days of the 1970s and 80s, Australia is an untested market.

Recently published opinion polls have revealed that voters aren’t as opposed to nuclear power as they once were, but Labor’s internal focus groups burrow down deeper into voter sentiments than headline numbers in polls ever can. 

This qualitative research has revealed to Albanese that when Australians are questioned about their concerns over nuclear power, doubts develop. 

This is precisely what a Labor election campaign intends to do, and some Liberals are so worried about the possibility that they are privately suggesting to Dutton that he dumps the policy and wears the political humiliation now, rather than risking an electoral backlash later on. 

But given that the Mediscare campaign in 2016 was largely based on a false premise that the Coalition wanted to abolish Medicare it is doubtful Dutton could walk back his nuclear intentions even if he ruled them out. Labor’s anti-nuclear messaging looks set in stone. 

A moratorium on using nuclear power was imposed in the early years of the Howard government. It has remained in place ever since, even though in the final years of Howard’s leadership he commissioned an independent study into the viability of nuclear energy in Australia. 

We have the world’s second biggest deposits of yellowcake – the key ingredient that goes into producing nuclear energy, and are one of the largest exporters. Yet ‘going nuclear’ has never been a serious proposition before now. 

If Dutton sticks to his guns and announces the details of his planned nuclear policy – he promised to do so more than six weeks ago – it will be the first election campaign were voters can choose to accept or reject ‘going nuclear’. 

Team Dutton knows that cost-of-living pressures are at the forefront of voters’ minds

The independent review commissioned by the Howard government nearly 20 years ago concluded that ‘going nuclear’ was economically viable but needed to be embraced with haste. That never happened, and since that time nuclear technology has been refined, as have safety standards. Equally, technologies regarding renewables have also significantly advanced. 

This is where the dividing lines in this debate will likely form. But with a twist. 

Team Dutton knows that cost-of-living pressures are at the forefront of voters’ minds. For the Coalition the challenge is to circle any and all political issues back to the dire state of the economy, blaming Labor’s mismanagement for circumstances becoming as bad as they are. 

It is at this point that the timing of the election comes back into view. 

Albanese wants to go to the polls early – towards the end of this year – if he believes he can win. Previously the PM promised to run a full-term, which would mean an election in 2025 sometime before May. 

But with expected cuts to interest rates later this year looking less likely, any delay risks enraging voters by the time the first half of next year roles around and there have still been no such cuts. Especially if unemployment rises, as predicted in the Budget, and the economy continues to stall. 

Some economists even think increases in interest rates could be on the cards if ‘sticky’ inflation doesn’t fall further. 

The income tax cuts starting on July 1 will see many Australians have more money to help with cost of living pressures when they receive their pay packets. 

But that extra money circulating in the economy could be inflationary, and will voters give Labor due credit for the tax cuts when they were initially legislated on the Coalition’s watch?

One Liberal strategist Daily Mail Australia spoke to declared that the so-called ‘climate wars’ headlines are a furphy. 

‘This election will be about people’s material concerns, not some airy-fairy target that doesn’t affect their daily lives,’ he argued. 

We may finally find out whether or not a Coalition failure to embrace climate change action framed as an ideological struggle damages it. Or if in these difficult cost-of-living times Australians are prepared to give a green light to going nuclear, writes Peter van Onselen

When economic times are tough, voters return to ‘core issues’ when deciding who to vote for. For the political left, and younger generations, climate change action is defined as a core issue, because it is billed as being about the survival of the planet. 

Election 2024 (or 2025) will test this proposition. We certainly are living through difficult economic times, as the per capita recession persists. 

We may finally find out whether or not a Coalition failure to embrace climate change action framed as an ideological struggle damages it. 

Or if in these difficult cost-of-living times Australians are prepared to give a green light to going nuclear, convinced by arguments that renewables alone are too expensive. 

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