The haunting of Parliament House

As Albanese shrinks from view, Peter Dutton fills the void by simply being there

If you were Anthony Albanese, you’d be asking yourself, is it me? Or is it him? Am I that boring, or is Peter Dutton’s charismatic presence catching fire?

Either way, there can be no news worse for a sitting prime minister than to be told that more Australians would now prefer Dutton to be doing your job than you – the man once so universally considered unelectable that his own wife had to publicly declare him “not a monster”.

Conventional wisdom says that Albanese has screwed the pooch; so successful has he been at making himself the smallest target possible, he has become entirely invisible, leaving everyone with nothing more than a vague memory of voting Labor last time because literally anything was going to be better than another three years of Scott Morrison.

Nature, so the theory goes, abhors a vacuum, and the Albanese-shaped hole that Albanese left where his substance was supposed to be has been filled instead by the blunt force trauma one feels every time Peter Dutton speaks.

Really what this means is that the Australian voting public still has undiagnosed PTSD from the decade of Coalition rule and is unable to recognise that it’s being lured back into the same black hole by Dutton’s siren song of fact-free negativity. For want of anything better to do, since the current government exists only in theory and not at all physically so far as anyone has noticed.

Perhaps. That is a very harsh assessment of the Labor government, which has in reality undone a lot of the damage its predecessor’s vandalism left behind. What it has not done is inspire, preferring instead to present like sternly disapproving parents cleaning up the mess.

Which is fine, except it turns out that the old truism about what people expect from the Australian Labor Party is true. The clue is in the name, folks. If we wanted you to be a grey, sensible party of the centre-right, we’d have called you the Liberal Party. Cognitive dissonance is still a thing.

Dutton, meanwhile, has simply taken the next logical step for whatever the Liberal Party now is (definitely not liberal, certainly not conservative, in truth almost indistinguishable from the “I don’t like it” studied ignorance politics of One Nation). Having no policies at all is very freeing (no I do not consider his “seven nuclear power plants by 2050 pledge” to be a policy, it has as much substance as a fart at the dinner table), and he also understands that completely ignoring the mainstream media no longer matters at all.

Can you win an election with no policy program? Abbott did. Morrison did. If you critically examine the Coalition’s period of government – particularly compared to what Julia Gillard pulled off in two years with a hung parliament – its record of legislative achievements is risible. It promised very little and delivered even less.

However, it’s arguable that the only reason voters gave up on the experiment was the sheer embarrassment of being associated with Scott Morrison. While it’s impossible to like Dutton, it’s also impossible to recall anything he’s ever actually said. For much of the population, that’s enough to draw them back to the default position that, when it’s the economy, stupid, you go with the “conservatives”.

Which is not to say that Dutton has much chance of becoming prime minister, because the other (positive) forces that have been happily filling the vacuum Labor is providing are the soothing colours of green and teal.

Both major parties will fight the wrong election next year, as they always do, pretending to themselves that they still have a duopoly on power. How it ends anywhere other than a minority Labor government I’m not really seeing.

If Labor would like a different result then it will need to remember that, fairly or not, the Australian electorate does not see it as the natural party of government and never has. I mean, seriously, Dutton? Come on.

Michael Bradley is a writer and managing partner at Marque Lawyers.

“Dutton’s nuclear fantasy a disaster for the Aust economy, energy prices & climate action. This is a Trojan horse policy to keep coal and gas firing.”

Zali Steggall on the costs of delaying – or scrapping – renewables.

“Lighten up.”

James Ashby, Pauline Hanson’s chief of staff, to Robert Irwin after Irwin issued a defamation concerns notice over the use of his character in a One Nation cartoon.

10 million

The amount of people displaced in Sudan because of war and severe food shortages – the highest number of displaced people in the world.

No change

The Reserve Bank has again left official interest rates on hold, where they have been since November last year.

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