Campaign catchup 2019: close race sparks pre-election jitters

In a nutshell

Almost everyone is saying it. This election is t-i-g-h-t. Backstage predictions in both camps range at the moment between Labor victory and a hung parliament. Some enthusiasts/nervous nellies say it’s possible a late positive swing in the marginals could push the Coalition over the line.

Perhaps the current “down to the wire” narrative is absolute crap. It’s possible campaign insiders are actively massaging perceptions, because it helps both the Liberals and Labor to maximise their first preference voters if people believe the contest is on a knife’s edge. Perhaps it’s true. This is certainly true: the contest has been stuck for the best part of five weeks, and it’s about to break, and how it breaks will determine who forms the next government of Australia. If the swings to Labor happen in their safe seats and in the Liberal party’s safe seats (where concern about climate change is a big issue) then Bill Shorten could fall short. If the picture is more mixed, then the result is much harder to pick because of the sheer number of seats that are currently too close to call.

Just a couple of observations. The last Guardian Essential poll of the campaign suggests the Coalition’s negative messaging on tax is cutting through at the time when undecided voters will be making their decision. As well as the Liberals gaining the upper hand in the framing of the campaign at the business end, and Clive Palmer’s advertising drowning out other messages, Labor is also concerned about the impact of apparently widespread voter perceptions that Shorten will introduce a death tax if elected on Saturday night. This fake news is circulating widely on Facebook, apparently organically, so there is very little anyone can do about it. If you refute it, you elevate it. If you don’t refute it, you are at the mercy of invention.

As well as the fake news as we hurtle towards polling day, there has been a truly extraordinary story. The Morrison government resettled as humanitarian migrants two Rwandan men who had been charged with murder, on request from the US government – and this happened at the same time as Scott Morrison and others were launching sonic booms about Labor and crossbenchers letting rapists and murderers into the country through the medical evacuations bill. Truly gobsmacking that you’d be shouting about your political opponents bringing in murderers (which, for the record, was always hyperbole) when you are bringing in two people charged with murder, and not disclosing that fact to anyone. Words don’t often fail me, but they really do on this occasion. I’m speechless.

As well as that particular shoe dropping, Morrison went off to the National Press Club and said vote one Coalition, and he promised he would “burn for you” if people kindly returned him to the Lodge (yes that really did happen, and I insist on hearing INXS version of that in my head rather than the John Farnham version because that’s somehow easier to cope with). Shorten went to Blacktown to try and summon the spirit of Gough Whitlam to persuade the swingers it was time for a change of government. Shorten said vote one Labor, for the future.

In the remaining 48 hours, Morrison will get out the foghorn about risky Labor taxing Australia to a standstill and Shorten will get out the foghorn about voting Coalition being a vote for chaos in perpetuity in Canberra. Now which proposition worries Australians more? Labor “taxes” or Coalition “chaos”? Not long until we get an answer to that question. Not long at all.

Elsewhere on the trail

At five minutes to midnight, the Coalition produced its campaign costings. We can keep this short and sweet, except of course, if you happen to be a public servant. Mathias Cormann and Josh Frydenberg announced a further $1.5bn in cuts to the public service to pay for its $1.4bn in election promises – a move that could reduce jobs in the public sector by 3,000. That distant sound you hear is public servants hoarding canned goods and bottled water.

The big picture

It’s no use pretending/That I understand/The hide and seek we play with facts/It changes our demand/Tilt my hat at the sun/And the shadows they burn dark/Light me and I’ll burn for you/And the love song never stops

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the National Press Club in Canberra, Thursday, May 16, 2019.

Prime minister Scott Morrison at the National Press Club on Thursday. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Required reading

For the poll tragics. Labor remains ahead of the Coalition in the final Guardian Essential of the 2019 campaign, and a majority of voters believe Shorten will be the winner on Saturday night. Danni Wood from the Grattan Institute says: “The lowest blow of this election campaign may have come from a firm of real estate agents that abused its position of trust to scare renters about Labor’s proposed negative gearing changes. If you are one of those renters, relax. You have nothing to fear from the changes. You might even benefit from them.” Related to this, prominent businessman Mark Bouris has breached electoral laws by robo-calling voters to warn them against voting for Labor, the electoral watchdog says. Finally, come with Anne Davies to Warringah.

Tweet of the day

Bernard Keane

Just trying to think of the absolute, ear-splitting hysteria we’d be getting from News Corp and 2GB right now if a Labor government had allowed two accused mass murderers to resettle in Australia to solve a political problem.

May 16, 2019

What’s next?

Complete ear-splitting madness. This too shall pass. Most likely.

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