Paul Bongiorno: Peter Dutton abandons restraint in the quest for more political wins

Nothing exercises the minds of politicians more than the realisation that the next federal election is closer than the last, and we are already seeing plenty of signs of it as federal Parliament begins its final sitting for the year.

Come December 1, the current term will reach the halfway mark presuming Anthony Albanese follows Scott Morrison’s example and holds off until the last possible moment to go to the polls. Although the feeling in the government is the Prime Minister will more likely go a bit earlier in 2025.

The mid-term opinion polls, as we noticed last week and confirmed this week in the Sydney Morning Herad/Age Resolve poll show the government is still in an election winning position despite a trend emerging against it.

That is more the rule midterm with governments more often than not falling behind only to recover when voters decide to stick with the devil they know.

Resolve is in line with other surveys in finding the shine has come off Anthony Albanese without voters embracing Peter Dutton. Some in Labor console themselves with the thought the party won last time despite the electorate’s hesitation about Albanese and his poor campaign.

Ironically, coming to government with low expectations played in Albanese’s favour. Not only were voters clearly relieved by the departure of Scott Morrison, they gave the Prime Minister an unusually long honeymoon as his government displayed a welcome competence.

Not surprisingly, the mood soured as the Reserve Bank controversially kept tightening the squeeze on interest rates as rising prices kept rising, and not to be ignored was the toll taken by a particularly raucous and ugly referendum campaign battle.

Resolve suggests voters have changed their perception of Labor on economic management and have returned to giving the Liberals their old default edge, though how that squares with the same poll also finding the Opposition is behind the government on the primary vote is something of a conundrum.

Dutton is determined not to die wondering; he is now looking for any post he can to make a winner, including assisting the crossbench in the Senate and in the House to frustrate the government by splitting the omnibus industrial relations bill.

There is something of an irony here because independent senator David Pocock bumped a Liberal to take his seat and in the reps, six teal independents did the same.

The independents realise it is in their interests to put their names up in lights and be seen to not be mere ciphers of Labor. No doubt they are grateful for Dutton’s help.

More contentiously, Dutton is seizing on the Israel/Gaza conflict as another issue to score points. He has judged that more Australians are sympathetic to Israel than they are to the Palestinians, something the Jewish community fears is wrong.

The Opposition Leader makes no distinction between the Hamas terrorists and the besieged citizens of the territory that has become a tragic killing field.

The Palestinians didn’t rate a mention in Dutton’s parliamentary prayer breakfast address on Monday.

Ukrainians certainly did, as did “the distraught Israeli mother whose child is being held somewhere in a tunnel as a hostage”.

On Sunday Foreign Minister Penny Wong noted the growing concerns internationally about the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza, including thousands of children with hospitals put out of action.

israel gaza

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has implored Israel to stop attacks on health facilities in Gaza after a series of devastating air strikes. Photo: AAP

Wong called on Israel to cease “attacking hospitals” and to abide by international humanitarian law.

Dutton accused Wong of “reckless comments” and wrongly accused her of calling for a “ceasefire.”

Instead, what she called for was steps “towards a ceasefire” and stressed it cannot be one-sided. She said “Hamas still holds hostages, Hamas is still attacking Israel”.

Wong noted the French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks without quoting them.

Macron is of the view, as he told the BBC that “ceasefire is the only solution.” He said, “it is impossible to explain we want to fight terrorism by killing innocent people”.

Despite Albanese’s face featuring on placards at pro-Palestinian demonstrations as a puppet of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden, from the outset the Australian government has called for humanitarian restraint from Israel and has directed millions of dollars in aid to the Gazans.

The Prime Minister wonders if Dutton has abandoned the Liberals’ support for the parliamentary statement made at the beginning of the conflict calling for the protection of civilian lives and the observance of international law.

Albanese condemned pro-Palestinian demonstrators who targeted Jewish neighbourhoods in Sydney and Melbourne and added “people in positions of leadership” should exercise it “in a responsible way”.

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