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Even dismissing the spin, it hasn’t been great for Anthony Albanese lately

If politicians want the governed to improve the distempered view of the governing, an easy way can be found in how they reacted to the weekend’s Fadden byelection.

A pledge to stop the schoolyard boasting about who got the bigger swing and whether the eventual swing was either Ishmael’s Great White or the one that escaped should be the first stop in rebuilding trust.

Arguing over 0.1 percentage points up or down, swings achieved when an opposition-held seat is contested or if it was a government member retiring and the hallucinatory averages politicians saw, or just made up, turned the commentary to a jumble of auto-babble.

No wonder voters think politicians talk complete, utter bull crap. They do.

Standing up and saying the 2.5 percentage point swing achieved by the Queensland LNP at the Fadden byelection was just half what the federal Opposition wanted is the height of bull crap.

More spin

As was the claim it’s half the average for byelections. More massaged spin.

A federal cabinet minister (Queenslander Murray Watt) made the first claim and he should know better. He’s negotiating free trade agreements – you’d hope he brings more rigour to the makeup of what’s in and out in a trade deal than the averaging of election outcomes.

The other highly contestable point was made by a front bar of talking heads.

As a historical footnote, let’s acknowledge the swing of 2.5 percentage points is at the high end of the average for a byelection contest in an opposition-held seat. It’s close to half what’s seen across the board but that’s skewed by understandably higher anti-government swings when an MP from the party in power bows out.

Put it all together and most of what was said by federal and state Labor ministers can be filed under bull crap. Even for jaundiced observers it was embarrassing and infuriating.

What we do know is Labor thought it would do a lot better than it did. If the ALP didn’t think it had a chance of getting a decent swing it wouldn’t have run a candidate – it didn’t need to and no one would have cared if it didn’t.

LNP over-performed

The LNP had to run and was under pressure – the taint of Scott Morrison lingers, Stuart Robert’s bad smell was beyond embarrassing and the full odour of Robodebt was released on cue. Talk about a triple stink!

In these circumstances it over-performed and can feel relieved and pleased. This is despite the wind the LNP had in its sails.

Cost-of-living pain is really biting, especially at the supermarket checkout and in freshly arrived power bills, while the political and policy baggage carried by the Palaszczuk government has never been heavier.

Queenslanders blame the state government as much as those in Canberra for inflation and a lot that flows from price rises.

More directly, voters blame Palaszczuk and her ministers for everything wrong in the administration (and maladministration) of health, public safety, under-developed infrastructure, a lack of adequate housing and – top of most people’s list of grievances – tackling crime.

None of this will hold much sway when it comes to the fortunes of Anthony Albanese’s government or the Peter Dutton-led Opposition at the next election.

Winning a 60 per cent-plus preferred vote seat mostly covering a set of canal estates on the Gold Coast is not a sign of winning power federally.

Neither is the fact the chances of Labor losing the state election in Queensland come late October 2024 are probably higher this week than last.

These are Queensland matters that boost the morale of conservatives and make them dream of what might be. They preserve for now Dutton’s position but do not guarantee he’ll lead the Coalition to the next election.

The realisation of those dreams comes from what happens south of Kingscliff in New South Wales, not north of Coolangatta on the Gold Coast.

Dutton’s way to victory

Dutton’s path to victory, if he’s to find it, lies in the once-were-Liberal seats around inner Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth and in the heads of voters aged 18 to 39 who are aching to get on the home ownership treadmill.

Circumstances can help lead Dutton towards that political upland – if the economy tanks regionally or globally or the jobless rate changes course sharply, voters’ sentiment might sour, then curdle and become hard to swallow.

The other thing in Dutton’s political favour is any change in political sentiment could be more pronounced if there’s a rancorous debate on the Voice to Parliament referendum.

If winning the referendum was going to cost Albanese political capital because the Opposition was campaigning against change, his best chance was to do so from strength.

To fight from weakness always risked being a losing hand which would harm both constitutional change and the government’s broader fortunes.

The Fadden result might suggest – this is nowhere near a settled conclusion from what happened – the public is becoming more critical and questioning of federal Labor.

This makes the job of Albanese and his Treasurer Jim Chalmers so much harder. They will own economic circumstances to a greater extent than they did just a few weeks ago.

The “it’s all the fault of the previous government” lever no longer glides into action when something bad happens.

To be defending and explaining events and rolling with punches that might be thrown first in Washington, Brussels, Beijing or Moscow is going to be hard enough. To do so while a noisy debate over the Voice to Parliament trudges towards defeat is that much worse.

Albanese agreed to run a candidate in Fadden against his better judgment. He seems determined to push ahead with the Voice vote. Maybe for the sake of everyone this might be better left for another day.

His chances of retaining power at the expected 2025 poll remain high. He should minimise the risks he can and look for a bolder domestic agenda – that would be its own reward.

This article first appeared in InDaily. Read the original here.
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