Scott Morrison shouldn't be underestimated. The left will need to be at its collective best to defeat him, and the conservative agenda he represents.
While many are feeling relief that Peter Dutton hasn’t become Prime Minister, no-one should doubt that Scott Morrison is a dangerous political opponent.
The latest Newspoll has Labor ahead on two-party preferred terms 54-46, with a 6% jump in Labor’s primary vote to 41%, with the Greens steady on 10%. If this were to be replicated on election day, Labor would win 99 House of Representatives seats.
As they say in sport, you’d rather be in our dressing shed than theirs, but there can be no room for complacency. The Liberals will seek to claw back votes any way they can.
Morrison will run hard on defence, immigration and security, and take any opportunity he can to drive home the right's perceived advantages in those areas. Events - whether tragic or commonplace - will be harpooned to the conservative narrative. His skills as a communicator shouldn't be underestimated, nor the big end of town's desire to see him win.
While he was a single-minded and callous Immigration Minister, and never deviated from the neoliberal line as Treasurer, he has managed to avoid the opprobrium that Dutton, Michaelia Cash and Tony Abbott attract. He isn’t perceived as a toff, or as a RWNJ - a right wing nut job. He's harder to pin down than Turnbull - the twiterrati have struggled to come up with an apt emoji to use for him, whereas Turnbull's top hat avatar was unmistakable. He has some of the pragmatic flexibility of John Howard. He will be comfortable being attacked on his record as Immigration Minister. The Liberals made the electoral calculation long ago that being seen as 'hard' on immigration and refugees policy was a net positive.
Morrison is already getting the benefit of the title and position. There will be some in the press, like Bernard Keane, who want to ‘give him a go’, to see if he’s any good as PM. With an election due by late May, it’s unlikely we will see any great reforms from a Morrison Government, but he may accrue some personal following over summer. Once Parliament rises on 6 December, he’ll hit the public relations circuit - a Christmas appearance or two, the traditional ABC radio cricket commentary stint, perhaps a nationalistic dig at the radicals on Australia Day. Summer isn’t a bad time to be PM in Australia, comparatively.
So despite favourable polls, the left will need to be collectively at our best in order to defeat Morrison PM, and the common agenda that Turnbull, Dutton, Morrison and Bishop all represent. It appears Morrison will not go to an early election, and that gives us some time to develop and campaign for a broad progressive and left agenda. The reactionaries and conservatives must be defeated electorally, and their worldview challenged and overcome across society more broadly.
There's plenty of reasons to be positive. The worst of the corporate tax cuts have been defeated due to a sustained and united campaign. Dutton was rejected by his own party room because activism against his cruel refugee policies has tarnished his reputation. The disunity on display last week may well be fatal to Morrison's chances of winning the next election. The labour movement has been energised by the Change the Rules campaign.
In fact - this weekend the union movement is holding its 'Australia Needs a Payrise National Doorknock' - register here to join in. It's a good time to get involved and drive home the political advantage created by the Liberal Party's disunity.