Anthony Albanese banks on ‘safe change’ to woo voters

The Morrison attack lines are also revealing. The Prime Minister seized on a series of questions to Albanese on Friday in which he was asked a simple question: “Will you be increasing taxes?” Albanese gave a quick answer by promising to crack down on multinational tax evasion and then just as quickly changed the subject to government waste.

The ABCs of media management are no secret to voters watching at home: acknowledge the question, bridge to your preferred answer and communicate your prepared line. Politicians do it all the time. And it makes people suspicious.

Only when asked the fourth time did Albanese dump old Labor tax hikes. “We’re not doing anything on the other measures that we’ve put forward during the last election campaign,” he said, without being able to say, explicitly, he would not change negative gearing, capital gains tax and franking credits.

“He fudged it, couldn’t answer it,” said Morrison later. Albanese answered it, actually, but he took the long road up and down the mountain.

There is still something missing from the Albanese campaign. Some of his policies are big but blurred. The National Reconstruction Fund is meant to “unlock” private investment of more than $30 billion in ways that are assumed rather than explained. The centrepiece of his climate policy, called Rewiring the Nation, will spend $20 billion to rebuild the electricity grid in ways that may warm the policy wonks but leave everyone else cold.

Morrison will be on the march within days with budget ideas like a $7.1 billion regional fund that will target marginal seats in Queensland and the Northern Territory. He has a $2 billion “regional accelerator program” that could mean anything. The battle for the north is under way.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd had the education revolution. For all the cynicism about it in retrospect, it was very, very retail. The Albanese campaign still lacks the energy that swept Rudd to power in 2007. There is no way for Albanese to match the hysteria of the 2007 campaign, so he offers “safe change” instead.

The opinion polls tell him this is working. History tells him not to trust them.

“This agenda isn’t radical,” Albanese said in his budget reply. “My team and I are promising renewal, not revolution.” One of the great questions of this campaign is whether he can galvanise voters by playing it safe.

Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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