by ERIC ABETZ – AUSTRALIA’S first term Labor Government is wishing and hoping that 2024 will bring with it a new start.
They say a new broom sweeps clean. Most of us hope a new year will do the same.
Having finished 2023 in a degree of mayhem – from an overseas absentee Prime Minister, a spectacularly failed referendum, a population facing very genuine cost of living pressures, with an energy policy (if that is what it can be called) in disarray and soaring energy costs, together with an inept handling of asylum seeker issues – it was little surprise to see the government beginning to struggle in the polls.
The post-election honeymoon was well and truly over by the end of 2023, and the government’s task in 2024 is to rekindle the romance it once enjoyed with the Australian people.
Rekindling romances will take more than the splashing around of money as pre-election sweeteners. The dejected partner – the Australian people – is expecting a wholesale change in attitude.
What would also be concerning for those supporting the Labor Government was that while Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was seen as a nice guy in comparison to his counterpart, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, the nation’s leader lagged in areas of hard-nosed policy such as border protection and economic management.
Australians will vote for the Party whose leadership is perceived as best able to deal with the tough issues.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was not elected because he was seen as a nice guy. Possibly, he was elected for the exact opposite reason in that he was seen as a no-nonsense guy who would stop the boats (people smuggling), and axe Labor’s new and extra taxes.
Mr Dutton has a similar reputation, so Labor strategists need to be aware.
Turning up to the cricket and rubbing shoulders with sporting elites will not be enough.
To make 2024 an effective year, being the lead-up year to the next election, Labor must remove some very real barnacles and provide a fresh, new focus. This will not be easy.
Having been overseas for an inordinate length of time the Prime Minister will have to restore the Australian people’s trust that he is genuinely interested in them and not globe-trotting.
Once having established a reputation for globetrotting, every overseas trip will be perceived in the wrong light, even the vital ones such as the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government) meeting in Samoa later this year.
More time at home and travelling to meet his fellow Australians are going to be needed.
While having established himself as a “fighter of Tories,” Mr Albanese needs to remake himself as prime minister for all Australians.
His massive personal defeat on the Voice referendum was a clarion call to stop dealing in ideologically woke, feel-good posturings that have no on-ground beneficial outcomes.
A refocus on the cost of living, interest rates, energy prices, and future energy security is what the people rightly expect from their government.
Yet it appears this admonition by the people at the referendum ballot box has not taught the government a lesson to truly refocus.
While acknowledging the defeat of the Voice has set back the government’s policy of destroying Australia’s highly effective constitutional monarchy in favour of a republic, which was scheduled to be held in its second term, the government persists with a taxpayer-funded ministry for the republic.
It reflects a perverse set of priorities by a government whose citizens are fully invested in concentrating on real-life issues such as cost of living pressures, not republics with all the uncertainties that would of necessity create in uncertain times.
As the international status quo (if ever there was such a thing) continues to be shaken to its core, a consistent message from the government is needed.
In politics, you have to be brave enough to lose votes to win other votes. You cannot be all things to all people.
With various ethnic and culturally diverse segments in the Australian population, the government cannot straddle the barbed wire fence on issues. If it does, it will upset both sides.
The response to the ugly Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, which saw the killing of the most Jewish people on any day since the Holocaust, sees the government with a policy looking like a pack of Licorice Allsorts, minus any hint of alluring taste.
Similar policy afflictions are seen in the response to the communist dictatorship in Beijing and the Pacific.
With the need for such a comprehensive refresh of policy positioning for the government across a suite of portfolios, the best start may well be for the Prime Minister to undertake a substantial ministerial reshuffle with a focus on matters domestic and practical real-world issues, while crab-walking away from issues like Voices, republics and emission targets.
A few heavy-hitting ministers in areas such as housing, infrastructure and finance may well help clean up the 2023 leftovers (with emphasis on the Left).PC