OPINION

Is Scott Morrison gambling on an open borders poll?

The Prime Minister went on a media blitz on Wednesday morning. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
The Prime Minister went on a media blitz on Wednesday morning. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Scott Morrison's unequivocal reaffirmation he is committed to a full-term election in 2022 indicates the government is backing itself and its budget, and expects Australia's position will continue to improve.

While most voters will take assertions such as "I will leave the politics to others" and "[I] couldn't care less about politics" with large grains of salt it appears pundits who said the budget was the curtain raiser to an early poll got it badly wrong.

It would be impossible for the PM to repudiate the commitments he gave during several interviews during his media blitzkrieg on Wednesday morning.

When asked by the ABC's Michael Rowland if he would keep previous pledges to take the government to its full term the PM responded: "As I've said the election is next year ... my focus isn't on that. My focus is on this pandemic".

Minutes later he told Nine's Karl Stefanovic: "The election is next year, mate. The election is next year. I've said that".

So, if the conventional wisdom is it would be smart to go to the polls while still riding high on a post-budget bounce what is the LNP playing at by apparently squandering an opportunity?

Logic suggests that by not going to the polls until 2022 it is putting as much distance between itself and the well-documented problems, many of its own creation, that marred the first half of 2021 as possible.

These include the Brittany Higgins and Christian Porter matters, women's welfare and security, ongoing state border closures, the Indian border closure bungle, and the stumbles with the vaccination program.

Coalition planners will be hoping Ms Higgins and Mr Porter won't be such hot-button issues, and that almost every Australian will have been vaccinated, come March or April 2022. And, by staying its hand the Coalition is also giving Tuesday's announcements, particularly in the areas of job creation and social spending, time to work.

It also has some significant aces, and an estimated $8 to $9 billion, up its sleeve ahead of a 2022 poll.

The first of these is the possibility of a significant investment in purpose built federally funded Howard Springs style quarantine facilities. The PM, who was initially profoundly unenthusiastic about the Victorian government's proposal was talking it up on Wednesday: "The Victorian government has put forward, I think, a very good proposal and we're working through the detail of that right now. And so we will [also] work with the states and territories".

The second is the ability to determine the timing of the reopening of international borders. Is it entirely a coincidence that in the last 48 hours we have been repeatedly told both the border reopening and the next election are going to occur in 2022? Which will come first? The PM would surely flag any border reopening as a "team Australia mission accomplished" moment.

All of this adds up to a very tough sell for the ALP which has yet to do more than snipe around the edges at individual elements of the budget to date. It has been outflanked by the government on social investment and spending. It will also have to win over nervous voters who will be hard to persuade changing horses in midstream during an international pandemic is a good idea.

That said, as the first half of 2021 has shown, there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip. These are volatile times. The risk of unpleasant surprises remains high.

Or, as Anthony Albanese said: "The election is next year; if they go earlier it will be because they think things are going to get worse".

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