But Morrison didn’t allow this to divert him from his determination to make the Labor/Liberal choice look as stark as possible, arguing this is really about what sort of country Australians will live in over the next decade.
“Do you want to have a stronger Australia under my government or a weaker Australia under Bill Shorten and Labor?” he asked.
The attempted prime ministerial thumping of the opposition is backed by an advertising campaign on Labor’s planned tax increases on the housing market. The ads feature images of wrecking balls and lines like: “Labor can’t manage money. That’s why they are coming after yours.” You get the general idea …
Morrison’s colleagues can only hope against hope that this sort of fear campaign will get belated traction with voters after so many months, actually years, of the focus on Coalition infighting, prime ministerial coups and various ministerial scandals.
The prime ministerial appeal was also provided with a much sharper edge courtesy of Labor’s own political miscalculations on how to show up the government for losing control of the agenda and the Parliament.
With Labor’s support, an amended bill passed the Senate in December allowing doctors rather than the minister to have the final say on medical transfers of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
But with the return of the House of Representatives this week and a concerted government attack on the risks of restarting the people smuggling trade, the political equation has changed again.
Focusing on banks
After all, Bill Shorten wants to talk a lot more about banks than boats. And he doesn’t want to give the Coalition more space to decry Labor’s record on border security and to claim the boats would all start coming again.
So he and shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen are suddenly signalling a retreat from Labor’s support for the “medivac” bill initially promoted by independent Kerryn Phelps – despite the internal party ructions this will create.
Shorten has been keeping quiet for the past few days, in part to try to sort this out with his colleagues in private. But Bowen was out and about on Monday insisting that, of course, Labor wants ministerial discretion to be the final arbiter.
“A Shorten Labor government will not see the people-smuggling trade restarted. We will not,” he declared. “And that means we have to make decisions that some people, and including Labor voters, don’t agree with.”
That is also expected to mean the Greens and independents in Parliament won’t agree with the decisions enough to vote for any such Labor “tweak” either, indicating the bill won’t have the numbers to pass.
Instead, Shorten’s parliamentary success this week is more likely to be the passage of a bill requiring more sittings of Parliament next month to discuss the Hayne recommendations.
Showing his combative style, Morrison mocks Shorten for more “reckless” behaviour in wanting to scramble together some legislative responses in a “frenzied” session just ahead of an election despite the complexity of the issues and the danger of unintended consequences.
“This guy doesn’t get it,” he says of the Opposition Leader.
Mortgage brokers are also Morrison’s new best friends as he defends their contribution to purchasers and politely ignores Ken Hayne’s recommendations that the brokers should no longer get paid by the banks.
The government, Morrison argues, will deal with reform of the financial services sector in a “prudent, measured, responsible way”. The trouble with this approach is that the community has lost patience with the behaviour examined by the royal commission.
Advising caution and more time for consideration of the issues doesn’t really cut it any more.
Not when Labor has come up with a grab-bag of a few things it argues could be passed by Parliament in order to make an immediate difference to people’s lives. That includes ending grandfathered commissions more quickly, banning the hawking of super and insurance products, extending unfair contract terms to insurance and restricting junk funeral insurance policies.
The government will resist but the tightness of the numbers on the floor of the House might make that irrelevant. After all, bankers are about as popular as politicians right now. Look over there!