Preselections for the next federal election are underway. And as the Herald has reported, despite PM Scott Morrison suggesting the nation won’t be voting until 2022, Liberal Party officials have been telling their electorates to get ready for a potential spring 2021 visit to the polling booths.
One senior Coalition figure told the media outlet that they don’t expect federal parliament to be reconveying after 30 June this year. And the anonymous politician further explained that the “PM is keeping his cards close to his chest, but he has sent signals”.
Of course, these rumours raise the very pointed question as to how the Coalition expects to hold a federal election when the opposition seems to have gone missing in action since its unexpected loss in the May 2019 federal election.
Indeed, in the months following that shock defeat, commentators asked where federal Labor had disappeared to. But now, close to two years on, it seems the opposition has simply continued along asleep at the wheel, with no significant contest to the government’s policies.
There for the taking
The public was seeking answers at the time of the bushfires. Thousands took to the streets calling for action. Former climate deniers were rethinking their position. And disapproval of the PM was on high, especially after he took off to Hawaii during the crisis, stating that he simply wasn’t needed.
This was fertile ground for then recently appointed opposition leader Anthony Albanese to step in and call out Morrison and Co for their inability to deal with the crisis and offer an alternative way forward.
Yet, near on 12 months after the final fires were put out, this is what the Labor leader offered the people of this nation just last week, “There is no way that a Labor government that I lead won’t take action on climate change… zero possibility.”
Albanese delivered this vision as he was announcing his cabinet reshuffle in the lead up to the next election. Part of the changes involved removing Mark Butler from the role of climate spokesperson, which seems to be over criticisms that his short-term emission targets are too ambitious.
This cautious manoeuvring on climate is representative of how Labor has been approaching most issues since the constituency of Queensland swung heavily against it in the last election.
And then there’s the opposition’s support for laws which have steadily but surely resulted in the removal of basic freedoms and legal safeguards, leaving the citizens of a nation once called the ‘lucky country’ in a position where they are vulnerable to the whims of the state, including its law enforcement arm.
But the opposition’s attempts to avoid stepping on the toes of corporations and failing to protect the basic freedoms of Australians aren’t going to cut it if an early election is called.
The COVID-19 pandemic killed the outcry against climate inaction, and sent people retreating into their homes. So, rather than having to answer to the fires, the government was able to show strong leadership via the implementation of restrictions and subsidies to steer us through the crisis.
And the PM’s approval rating has since gone through the roof.
However, the pandemic response would have been fairly consistent coming from either major party. And it’s in a range of other issues that the Morrison government has repeatedly shown itself to be out of step with public wants, as Coalition ministers are obviously representing other entities.
So, now is hardly the time for the opposition to continue treading lightly. After its last failure at the polling booths, Labor needs to step up to the mark, speak out against the corporate cronyism and authoritarianism of the Coalition government and deliver a vision that moves the nation forward in a time of multiple crises.
Otherwise, it can always roll over and go back to sleep.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.