Campaign catchup 2019: Labor tidies up after Keating's hand grenade

Guardian Web |
In a nutshell

Paul Keating does not go anywhere quietly. He’s either present, and memorably so, or absent, and entirely shtum. On Sunday, Keating arrived at Labor’s campaign launch. With a laconic expression, he shepherded Julia Gillard and Kevin Ruddwho made a show of making up – into the Brisbane convention centre. Then Keating arrived early for a conversation on ABC24, to the surprise of the hosts Andrew Probyn and Jane Norman.

Keating proceeded to share many thoughts – about Scott Morrison, about the future of coal, reinforcing various contentions by unfurling his index finger. While he was on a roll, Keating also decided to give Australia’s intelligence agencies a serve and urged Bill Shorten to “clean them out” if he wins the coming election. The context was the hawkish posture agencies have adopted about China, a position that has influenced government policy. “The nutters are in charge,” Keating declared. “They’ve lost their strategic bearings, these organisations.”

Naturally, various government bods pounced. This dreadful slight on our agencies could not stand. Shorten must disavow this wicked thought crime, otherwise... thought crime. The Labor leader cleaned it up. “Well, I don’t share those concerns,” Shorten said on the hustings. “ Paul Keating’s an elder statesman of Australian politics. He’s never been shy of saying what he thinks. But for myself and for my opposition team, we’ve worked very well with the national security agencies. They know that and we know that. And we of course will continue to take the professional advice from the people who help keep Australians safe.”

At the National Press Club, the shadow Chris Bowen followed a similar script, but there was an interesting nuance. Labor would work closely with the security agencies, and the attorney-general’s department, and also the diplomats, he said.

You could sense a but coming, and it came. Bowen referenced an ongoing difference of views about China between Australia’s intelligence community and business – “the economic establishment” as he termed it. The shadow treasurer said the country would be better served if those differences could be bridged. Bowen said institutional interests needed “to come together and talk about how we deal with the issues in our region. There is too much shouting at each other in relation to those issues”.

Too much shouting. In Australian politics. Imagine.

Elsewhere on the trail

At that press club event Bowen debated the economy with Josh Frydenberg, which reinforced two things: this election campaign is actually about something, quite big things in fact when you line the two programs up against each other; and it is hard to get politicians off their talking points. Frydenberg, who continues to side-step questions about the cost of the Coaliton’s tax cuts for high earners, got to a definitive-sounding position on company tax cuts. “I can confirm we’re not going back to the company tax cuts. There you go.” The economic universe is waiting on a decision by the Reserve Bank about whether or not to cut interest rates after its board meeting tomorrow. Frydenberg played an entirely dead bat. “I wouldn’t seek to pre-empt those decisions that may or may not be taken”. Bowen offered a small edge. Responsible treasurers and shadow treasurers didn’t preempt bank decisions, he said, but if the RBA were to cut rates, that would show “real concern about the economy under this government’s watch”.

On the ABC later in the day, Frydenberg also suggested the former prime minister Tony Abbott and the man who thought he could be leader and consequently be permitted to smile more, Peter Dutton, may not be able to make it to the Liberal campaign launch in Melbourne on Sunday. They might be busy defending their seats. One could almost hear Malcolm Turnbull laughing all the way from New York.

The big picture

No recorded incidences of space invasion.

Required reading

“We should be talking about positioning Australia economically for the low-carbon future, making use of our huge opportunities to produce low-cost clean energy, and mobilising investment,” says the ANU climate economist Frank Jotzo. “We should be having a serious conversation about what are the best policies needed for that. And we should understand the implications of Australia’s climate policy for our long-term competitiveness and international standing. Instead it’s the carbon wars once more”. Frank speaks for sense in a piece you can read here. Elsewhere, dumped Tasmanian Liberal candidate Jessica Whelanhas denied she lied to Scott Morrison about anti-Muslim Facebook posts and said she warned the party about her “strong opinions” on social media before she was pre-selected. For poll junkies, the two latest surveys suggest Labor is in front in the final fortnight. A Guardian Essential poll is due on Tuesday morning.

Tweet of the day

Scott Morrison is very energetic. Massively energetic.

Scott Morrison is like the Energizer Bunny on steroids. pic.twitter.com/de8J7XUTWI — Senator James McGrath (@JamesMcGrathLNP)

What next?

At the time of publication, the major parties are still quibbling about the terms of a third leaders’ debate at the press club in Canberra on Wednesday night which, if resolved, will see both campaigns track in the direction of Canberra for mid-week.

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