Scott Morrison is fighting the 2007 election again. It can only backfire | Greg Jericho

The PM’s suggestion Labor would change everything is a free ad for the opposition – because change is what voters want

Governments often try to win elections by fighting the last one again. And to an extent you can understand it – after all, they did win it. But this week the prime minister adopted a rather more bizarre strategy of trying to win the next election by fighting the 2007 election over again. It is about as likely to result in victory for Scott Morrison as it did the first time round for John Howard.

In Monday’s question time, the Morrison was at his shouty worst. Coming off the Victorian state election drubbing, the government MPs were hardly in a jocular mood and yet, oddly, Morrison decided to attack the opposition by invoking one of the more infamous jocular moments in Australian politics.

After railing at the ALP benchers for being “very cocky” he suggested that there was a warning ahead for voters, and it came in the form of Peter Garrett.

Yes, a man who left parliament five years ago.

The prime minister cast his mind back to 2007. The ALP were leading in the polls and Garrett had a conversation with Steve Price in Melbourne airport, in which in response to Price’s suggestion that it was “turning into the ‘me too’ election campaign”, Garrett replied, “Oh, don’t worry about that. Once we get in we will change all that.”

Garrett later told the media that he was not serious and that it was just “a casual conversation, jocular in manner.”

On Monday Morrison took us back to that time, telling parliament “I’ll never forget what Peter Garrett said back before the 2007 election. We all remember it. While they were all trying to pretend there wouldn’t be anything dramatic, that they would just be John Howard-lite if Kevin Rudd were elected, Peter Garrett let the cat out of the bag when he said, ‘We’ll change it all.’ That’s what the leader of the opposition’s plan is. That’s what the Labor party’s plan is. They want to change it all”.

Such history lessons are always quite fun, if only to recall that “me too” now has a very different meaning from the one ascribed to the Rudd strategy of being Howard-lite.

Yet, ironically, “me too” remains part of this election campaign – except now in its current meaning. The greater empowerment women feel, and their utter lack of patience with being told by those in power that changes take time, has meant the position of parties on gender issues is now a strong player in how people vote.

And the Liberal party knows it – Kelly O’Dwyer was reported to have told colleagues this week that voters saw the party as “homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers”.

Gee, I wonder why?

This week in the Senate, the LNPs Barry O’Sullivan said of Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young that she had “a bit of Nick Xenophon in her” and his fellow senator Ian MacDonald responded to Greens senator Larissa Waters wearing a pair of earrings that said “Stop Adani” by asking the Senate if he could wear his “coal hi-vis jacket”.

And then of course there was the minister for resources, Matthew Canavan, who responded to the news that the Adani coalmine would begin construction (albeit on a much smaller scale than previously proposed) by tweeting reference to the bushfires in central Queensland caused by extreme heat conditions and referring to Adani as a “little Aussie battler”.

The problem with Morrison’s reference to the 2007 campaign is that there are a number of things the same, but also much that is different, and none helps the government.

Back then the Liberal party sought to engage in fear and also hoped that budget surpluses would be enough to have people overlook other economic concerns such as industrial relations. It didn’t work.

Now we again see the Liberal party clinging to the budget surplus as the ultimate aim of any government. The prime minister this week announced the date of next year’s budget and that it would be in surplus. He and the party hopes this will be enough to counter any concerns about flat real wages growth over the past four years. Thus far the polls suggest it is not working.

The big difference is that in 2007 the presumed fear was that the ALP would get in and change everything; now the real fear is that it won’t.

Morrison suggesting that if the Labor gets in it’ll change everything is actually a free ad for the ALP. The worry is that Labor’s big talk of change will become, once in government, a repetition of the same.

For example, Labor’s energy policy is basically a resurrection of the Liberal party’s national energy guarantee – albeit with much greater emissions reduction targets. As Katharine Murphy has rightly noted, so damaged has climate change policy become in this country that the reformed Neg is probably a smart ploy. But all the same, it is hardly the bold policy that is needed.

On Friday the latest greenhouse gas emissions targets were released. And, once again, total emissions (excluding land use, land use change and forestry) rose, the annual level of greenhouse gas emissions jumping 0.6% - the biggest quarterly jump in over 13 years.

2007 was also an election that featured climate change – indeed, it was an issue that severely wounded the government, as under Howard the Liberal party was lost in a haze of denialism and wilfully ignorant intransigence.

Once again climate change politics is back in a big way. The extreme temperatures and early start to the bushfire season have placed the LNP’s policy shambles on the issue in the spotlight.

The demonstrations by school students this week is the work of a generation holding their elders in rightful contempt. Their voting parents may not have also taken to the streets, but the Victorian election showed they have had enough of the LNP’s inability to even come up with a plausible energy policy that deals with climate change.

The 2007 election was one where the economy was growing well and the budget was in surplus, and yet the government was caught out on issues of workplace relations and climate change and was seen to be out of touch with the way the times were headed.

It is not an election that members of this government should wish to recall. And if Morrison believes the best tactic is to make people afraid the ALP will change it all once they get in, then he might as well give Bill Shorten the keys to the Lodge right now.

Not only do voters not want Shorten to be Morrison-lite; the problem for the government is they don’t particularly want Morrison and what his party stands for either.

• Greg Jericho is a Guardian Australia columnist


Greg Jericho

The GuardianTramp

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