Australian election still Malcolm Turnbull’s to lose

Labour closes gap on coalition at half-way stage in campaign

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull: criticised by  Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia for appropriating military terms to score political points. Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull: criticised by Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia for appropriating military terms to score political points. Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA


When prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an eight-week election campaign it was technically spring in Australia, but it was really part of a seemingly endless summer that started last October.

Last week, winter arrived bang on time with a deluge of rain and storms on the east coast and sub-zero mornings in the capital, Canberra. Not that the politicians are spending much time there.

Canberra is too easily predictable. Labor will win both its lower house seats and split its two senate seats with the Liberal-National coalition government. The real action lies in the margins, where elections are won and lost.

If the weather is on Turnbull’s side (people are less likely to think about global warming and how little the government is doing about it if winter arrives as expected), then so are the economic indicators.

Unemployment in May remained steady at 5.7 per cent, while figures announced last week show the economy grew 3.1 per cent in the year to March 31 and 1.1 per cent over the March quarter. Almost all of that 1.1 per cent came from a surge in exports, mainly liquefied natural gas.

This led Labor’s Chris Bowen to say that “beneath the headline figures, we know that there is an economy struggling with falling demand and falling income growth”.

‘Taxes as bullets’

The Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia was outraged at the appropriation of military terms to score political points. Association president Ken Foster said Turnbull’s comments were “tasteless in the extreme”.

“With a war situation you go in there literally to destroy the enemy,” he said. “I don’t believe our political parties should be using a comparison of the way a war is fought to a political argument.

If Liberal Party politicians could have chosen their words more carefully, a Liberal Party member allegedly used extreme racist language about Labor senator Nova Peris.

As part of Australian hockey team at the 1996 Olympics, Peris was the first Aboriginal to win an Olympic gold medal. She has served her country well on the sporting field and in politics, where she was the first Aboriginal woman elected to the federal parliament.

But that didn’t stop her from being called a “black c***” on Facebook and told to “go back to the bush and suck on witchity [sic] grubs”.

Chris Nelson (64), a chiropractor, was arrested and charged over the comments. He is now an ex-member of the Liberal Party and denies he was responsible, saying his account was hacked.


Clive Palmer, a white multimillionaire, is also retiring after three years in parliament, but nobody accused him of shirking responsibility.

Peris’s replacement candidate Malarndirri McCarthy (who is also Aboriginal) was the subject of some ridiculous sniping, too. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which should know better, reported that McCarthy is not enrolled to vote in the Northern Territory where she’s running. Well of course she isn’t. She has been living in Sydney since 2012, working as a journalist. She has also previously worked for ABC.

When Turnbull took over as prime minister from Tony Abbott last September, the election looked like a foregone conclusion. An unpopular right-wing prime minister was replaced by a very popular moderate. Things looked very bleak for Labor, so it is to the credit of its leader Bill Shorten that the latest polling shows it is 50-50 after preferences.

However, with the economic good news and the government outspending Labor two- to-one on advertising, this election is still Turnbull’s to lose.