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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Needling Albanese over his Covid workload is a sign that Morrison is starting to worry

Needling Albanese over his Covid workload is a sign that Morrison is starting to worry

The PM desperately needs to turn the spotlight back on to Albanese, so he is using playground tactics to goad his opponent into error

Was I the only person in the country to bang my head on the desk when Scott Morrison decided to goad Anthony Albanese about who had worked harder during their respective periods of Covid isolation?

I doubt it. Given there are so many important things to talk about, washing up in a campaign telenovela, a man-off felt particularly grating – about as soothing as nails dragging down a chalk board.

But once I’d stopped ranting to no one in particular about opportunity costs and diversions and the persistent absence of seriousness, once equanimity was restored, Morrison’s petty mind game assumed more interest, because it tells us something about where we are in this contest.

I mean, we know that, in practical terms, of course. The calendar tells us we’ve reached the mid point of the campaign. But in reality, the contest begins this weekend.

Australians have returned from holidays. Pre-poll voting opens in a week. Albanese is now out of isolation and has positioned in Perth for his official campaign launch on Sunday. Morrison’s prime ministership is now on the clock.

Obviously Morrison put his prime ministership on the clock three weeks ago, when he drove out to see the governor general. But in the elasticities of campaign time, six weeks to polling day feels like an eternity, while three weeks feels like a nanosecond.

My point is time always accelerates at the back end of a campaign. 21 May has assumed gravitational force. The contest has felt bogged and the tropes tired, but it is about to reset and sprint. Morrison is on the hunt for momentum. The apex predator is prowling on the range, looking for something he can use.

Goading Albanese about his work ethic could just be a preschool sulk. The Labor leader’s proficiency with tactical retreats and dancing between the raindrops genuinely irritates Morrison. They are oil and water, these combatants, because Morrison lives to dominate and Albanese will prevail by default if that’s what the moment demands.

But I don’t think it is a sulk. I think it’s a calculation.

Morrison is trying to needle Albanese into what air force types call a performance take off – where the jet screams down the runway and hurtles into the sky like a rocket. Morrison’s hint of Albanese malingering, or hiding, is a provocation intended to elicit a response, and the prime minister has accompanied the editorialising with a concrete demand that Albanese agree to two leaders debates on commercial television next week.

This article was first published in The Guardian


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