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Analysis: An awful realisation dawns on the Morrison Government

Scott Morrison started talking on Tuesday morning and it seemed for a while as if he didn't kno..

Scott Morrison started talking on Tuesday morning and it seemed for a while as if he didn't know how to stop.

There he was at Beefy's Pies in Kunda Park in Maroochydore, fresh off his "Scomobile" bus, wearing the silly hat and being fair dinkum, which on this particular occasion involved a seemingly stream of consciousness monologue that started with which horse he was backing to win the Melbourne Cup (Youngstar, it came sixth) through to why Labor was evil.

External Link: @ScottMorrisonMP:#MelbourneCup at Caloundra, QLD

Along the journey there were lightning stops at all the old reliables of the Coalition credo: infrastructure, getting taxes down, getting electricity prices down, taking on the big energy companies, reducing small business paperwork.

Just in case any of us were wondering, the Prime Minister also gave us a run down on what a few of his ministers were doing that day.

Busy, busy, busy. Your government at work.

"We're here because we're not just backing Youngstar today, we're backing small and family businesses all around the country, our Government," the Prime Minister told journalists.

"And that has been the theme over our last five years.

"You know, that's how Australia's economy is going to continue to grow", Morrison said. "By ensuring we all work together."

External Link: @ScottMorrisonMP: We're backing Queenslanders by connecting up the north to the south to keep the economy moving.

You heard him right: the economy is going to continue to grow by us all working together.

This from the leader of a Government which is so divided there is almost no significant policy issue that the Prime Minister can safely discuss.

Malcolm Turnbull's appearance on Q&A on Thursday night might have reminded everyone that the disunity ended his prime ministership, but the greater problem is not what he says, but the day-to-day reality that Mr Morrison has inherited, and is constrained by: exactly the same divisions.

Malcolm Turnbull names "the insurgents" behind the leadership spill.

But the real problem is…

But that is not the problem Australia faces, Morrison argued.

"I don't want to see an industrial landscape in this country which throws back to the 1970s with strikes and call outs which is suffocating our economy."

Yes, it appears the much greater risk is of industrial mayhem that, implicitly, would apply if Labor was in government and at the behest of the trade union movement.

There has been lots of commentary through the week about Scott Morrison and his bus, and his visit to the races, and the whole "average bloke" thing.

A blue bus with the prime minister's face on the back and political slogans written across the windows

Politicians on both sides have observed that the risks in the strategy involve giving up the one thing a Prime Minister has that the rest of them don't: authority and a certain gravitas which comes with the job.

But there is really something more important going on at the moment in politics which all the discussion about the tactics of the bus trip only really illustrate.

This is that at some point in the past few weeks, since Wentworth, the awful realisation has dawned on the government that it is actually, really, heading for defeat at the election.

Sure, it's been behind in the polls for a long time. But sometimes in politics a combination of factors changes the mindset from one in which losing is likely, but still hypothetical, to a reality.

A composite image of Kerryn Phelps, Dave Sharma and Scott Morrison.

Loss a real possibility now

In this case, the combination of factors boil down to: time — there's now only effectively a few months at best until polling day; the fact that the Coalition has played its highest risk card and changed leaders and things have just gotten worse; and the Wentworth by-election has raised questions about both Scott Morrison's campaigning skills and preparedness to bend serious policy issues to political circumstances.

Normally, governments lose their minds and do the really crazy policy announcements — for example, Kevin Rudd announcing he was moving the navy in 2013 — in the final days of a general election, not in a by-election months before.

The Senate comes back next week for a sitting, then there is just one more parliamentary fortnight before the summer break and every MP knows that once that break is over, we will be into an election campaign, declared or otherwise, with an election needed to be held by May.

As if to highlight the sense of doom, people within the government were speculating earlier in the week about holding a half-Senate in order to delay the House election: purely to hold on to government for that little bit longer.

Why call an early election?

The two real scenarios for election timing are for a May poll, or for the Prime Minister to call a slightly earlier March election, which would be called when the political year traditionally kicks off on Australia Day.

Why, you might ask, would anybody bring forward an election they think they are going to lose?

Someone who has been in this position — of leading a government that believed it was doomed — observed this week that, in such a situation, you gaze forward over the months towards a later date, you contemplate how you are possibly going to fill them when you have no real policy options, you contemplate how on earth you keep the messages on track and your colleagues disciplined, and it weighs you down like a physical burden.

How do you limp on until May? You just want it to stop.

And calling an election campaign holds the prospect of both disciplining your colleagues and creating a momentum that may have been eluding you.
You know how much trouble the government is in now because, not only do the internal divisions mean there is not a lot of room for Scott Morrison to move (other than by splashing money around after an improvement in the mid-year review of the budget is announced), but because suddenly everyone has started to focus on what a Labor government would look like and do.

Policies that go back to before the last election are being scrutinised afresh with all sorts of alarming predictions of economic collapse attached to them.

Bill Shorten, standing on a stage in front of a bus with Labor advertising, speaks to a crowd on Sunday June 26, 2016.

What if Labor won?

Bill Shorten, meantime, is giving serious speeches about foreign policy and his frontbench is calmly batting back the policy scares.

The pragmatists of the business community are presuming now that Labor will win the election and are brushing up their contacts and their briefs on what that would mean for their operations and the economy more broadly.

Coalition MPs are still finding ways to explain how they can win the next election. And the reality is, of course, that stuff just happens in life and politics which transforms the playing field — like the Tampa incident — which mean it can't be ruled out. Just ask NSW Labor and Luke Foley.

But this does not change the reality that a psychological bridge has been crossed in federal politics in the last few weeks, and everything that happens from now on will be seen from the other side of the stream.

Laura Tingle is 7.30's chief political correspondent.

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China deploys anti-ship missiles in the desert making them harder to intercept

Beijing has announced it has deployed intermediate ballistic missiles to the country's north-we..

Beijing has announced it has deployed intermediate ballistic missiles to the country's north-west region, saying the weapons have the capacity to destroy US ships entering disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Key points:

  • The missiles can fire long distances and would be difficult for US ships to shoot down
  • Defence strategy expert Dr Malcom Davis said the move means China can back up its threats
  • The news came after a US guided missile destroyer passed through the South China Sea

The DF-26 missiles — which have been previously dubbed the 'Guam Killer' or 'Guam Express' by Chinese media and defence experts — are capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads.

They have a range of 4,500 kilometres, making them capable of reaching as far as Guam in the east and Indonesia in the south, providing Beijing with a powerful weapon as tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea.

External Link: @globaltimesnews: China's df-26 missiles

According to Chinese state media publication The Global Times, the DF-26 missiles are now stationed in north-west China's sparse plateau and desert areas, carried on the backs of trucks able to traverse the harsh terrain.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Beijing-based military expert told the Times that positioning the missiles deep in China's mainland made them more difficult to intercept as it allowed the missile to enter its final stages at a high speed.

Footage on CCTV showed trucks carrying the missiles driving through rough terrain and sand dunes.

The missiles were first paraded in 2015 and China confirmed they were now operational in April last year, but this is the first footage of the missiles outside of a parade.

It is unclear when the missiles were moved to the northwest region, the Times reported. (more…)

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Melbourne driver who cheated death when sign fell on car in no rush to drive again

Related Story: Dashcam footage shows moment car was crushed by falling freeway sign

The Melbourne ..

Related Story: Dashcam footage shows moment car was crushed by falling freeway sign

The Melbourne driver who cheated death when an overhead road sign fell and crushed her car says she cannot believe such an accident could happen in Australia.

Key points:

  • A second sign on the Tullamarine Freeway has been taken down as a precautionary measure
  • An inspection of similar-sized sign and gantries is underway
  • VicRoads says an independent investigator has been brought in to determine what happened

Extraordinary dashcam footage shows the moment the five-by-four metre sign fell in front of, and then on top of, Nella Lettieri's car as she was travelling on Melbourne's Tullamarine Freeway earlier this week.

While the 53-year-old was not seriously injured, she is bruised and battered — and wondering how she is still alive.

"It felt like a roller door had slammed shut in front of me," Ms Lettieri said.

"I've gone to swerve, but as I swerved, it just felt like the sign was actually falling on the car.

"And it just kept bouncing, and I felt like it was pushing me to the right, and I'm thinking, 'OK, is it going to stop?'"

A woman smiling and looking off camera.

She thought the metal object may have been from a plane landing or taking off from the nearby Essendon Airport, or from a truck on the freeway.

But she was shocked to discover it was actually an overhead sign, meant to be directing drivers to their destination. (more…)

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In his Brexit speech in Wakefield, Jeremy Corbyn again demanded the impossible

Speaking in Wakefield this morning, Jeremy Corbyn restated his demand for a solution to the Brexit i..

Speaking in Wakefield this morning, Jeremy Corbyn restated his demand for a solution to the Brexit impasse that appears effectively impossible: a general election.

In what is likely to be his last major public statement before MPs vote on the withdrawal agreement next Tuesday, he attempted to redefine the terms of the question facing both the Labour leadership and its MPs – from those that threaten to stretch his fissiparous electoral coalition to breaking point, to those which, on paper, unite it.

That resulted in a speech whose thrust was an appeal to class consciousness from Remainers in Tottenham and Leavers in Mansfield, rather than any meaningful debate over the validity or viability of Brexit itself. “Youre up against it,” Corbyn said, citing austerity, stagnant wages, and the cost of living crisis, “but youre not against each other.”

Accordingly, his cursory repetition of Labours policy – that a second referendum should remain on the table as an option in the event a general election does not happen – came with a caveat so huge that it amounted to an implicit dismissal of a so-called peoples vote. “Any political leader who wants to bring the country together cannot wish away the votes of 17 million people who wanted to leave, any more than they can ignore the concerns of the 16 million who voted to remain.”

But despite the fact that his attention was more or less exclusively focussed on the question of what sort of future relationship with Europe would negotiate – with the fact of the divorce undisputed – Corbyn categorically ruled out doing anything but whipping his MPs to vote against the withdrawal agreement. The vast majority of them will do so on Thursday, after which point Corbyn said, as expected, that Labour would table a motion of no confidence in the hope of securing an election and with it the chance to renegotiate Brexit (rather than, say, holding a second referendum).

Notably, however, he did not specify a timescale for tabling a confidence vote after Mays deal falls – despite several of his shadow cabinet ministers insisting that he would do so “immediately”. He instead put on the record the more cautious line briefed by his team yesterday: “Labour will table a motion of no confidence in the government at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success.”

That statement of intent was followed with a caveat seldom offered by shadow cabinet ministers sent out to spin the partys line on Brexit. “Clearly,” Corbyn said, “Labour does not have enough MPs in parliament to win a confidence vote on its own.” As he himself alluded to when he urged opposition MPs to join Labour in voting against the government, Labours chances remain slim until such time that the ten DUP MPs drop the government. (That every other party will is a racing certainty.) Paradoxically, the defeat of the withdrawal agreement – and with it the backstop Mays sometime coalition partners object to – will make that chance even slimmer.

We know from what Corbyn said this morning that the Labour leadership will not whip its MPs to approve Theresa Mays Brexit, back a second referendum out of choice – both courses threaten its electoral base in different ways – or support any attempt by Downing Street to make the Brexit deal more amenable to Labour MPs by tacking on guarantees on workers rights. That strategy has held until now.

But failure to roll the pitch for any alternative at all – or, indeed, for the inevitable breakdown in party discipline after Mays vote is defeated and Labour has no way to bind MPs who seek mutually exclusive Brexit aims – will make the messy politics of the aftermath of next Tuesday rather more difficult to finesse.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. (more…)

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