DUNKLEY DEBUNKED: Dutton’s disaster, Albo needs Jim and why the Greens are so damn happy

Headshot of Christopher Dore
Christopher Dore
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers shake hands as Peter Dutton looks on.
Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers shake hands as Peter Dutton looks on. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Ignore the cheerleaders, they’re crackers: the result in the Dunkley by-election is an absolute stinker for Peter Dutton.

A stinker for the Coalition and a disaster for Australia.

The Coalition unambiguously flopped in the outer reaches of Melbourne. It didn’t take any votes off Labor. None. The very working class suburbs, those with look-at-moi, look-at-moi households grappling with one-sided family budgets, that Dutton wants to win over at the general election. Must win over at the next federal election.

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The second major take-out, this one for Labor: Anthony Albanese needs to start listening to Jim Chalmers more. This is Jim’s win. Without the Chalmers stage three tax cuts, Albanese would have been stuffed in Dunkley.

Instead, the PM was stuffing his face with rainbow birthday cake on Saturday night. Not because bank accounts were suddenly bulging thanks to a tiny tax cut that won’t land for months, but because the my-word-is-not-really-my-bond policy switch pulled Albanese out of a funk and into a fight about something fair dinkum families actually want to talk about — themselves.

The reality from the result and why it points to a diabolical scenario for Australians: Dutton’s Coalition will be in no position to form a majority government after the Federal election, that’s a given. Almost impossible.

And Labor is unlikely to be either.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (left) and incoming Labor member for Dunkley Jodie Belyea arrive for a press conference in Frankston, Melbourne, Sunday, March 3, 2024. The Albanese government has managed to hang on to the Victorian seat of Dunkley in a by-election. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (left) and incoming Labor member for Dunkley Jodie Belyea. Credit: JOEL CARRETT/AAPIMAGE

Unless Albanese can manage a miracle with the help of a big bang budget from Chalmers in May and carry the momentum through for months thereafter, Labor is falling into minority. Period. Scraping back over the line is not impossible, but based on the electoral math, unlikely.

The Greens, that clammy collective of clowns and connivers, hypocrites and hound dogs, will be measuring up the curtains in anteroom next to Cabinet ready to rock n roll with Albo. That’s the reality.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese listens to Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers speak to the media during a press conference tat Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, February 28, 2023. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese listens to Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Cutting through all the crap, Dunkley confirms Labor will be rustling up numbers on the Sunday after election day ready to paint the walls green to form a government. Could be bright-green or blue-green or a bit of both. Either way, the post-election Dulux colour scheme for the nation is going to be Midnight Yuck.

Who knows what the mixed bag of truculent teals will stand for when they get a sniff of relevance. Themselves, yes, but then what?

We know how the gaslighting Greens will act: talk up climate change, only to vote against an emissions trading scheme. Rally against racism, while vilifying Australian minorities based on race and religion. Fight for the rights of renters, while lording over them as landlords.

ALBO NEEDS JIM

For all the pre-Dunkley insecurities in Labor ranks, Albanese’s Government is in good shape at this time in the electoral cycle. He’s ahead in Newspoll. Always has been. He’s not had to manage any major self-inflicted scandals, no bonk bans, no punching on with a parade of pugnacious premiers, no army of ABC attack dogs. How strange. Two years in and Four Corners is busy with other more important stuff. Like Malcolm Turnbull.

Yes, Albanese has got some hopeless ministers, and shortcomings with the pool in which he pulls advisers.

But having witnessed it first hand, he is not making the vainglorious mistakes Kevin Rudd made. Albanese is championing stability and collegiality. As much as he might love Kevin, he’s going out of his way to not be Kevin.

And unlike Kevin’s Julia Gillard, his deputy Richard Marles is actually loyal.

Oh, and his Treasurer can count.

Chalmers and Albanese’s second favourite mean girl Katy Gallagher are the most important ministerial coupling in Cabinet.

Chalmers has managed, for the moment at least, to blunt the Coalition’s most lethal weapon against Labor — management of the economy. He laid the foundation by delivering a surplus, whatever trickery was employed to do so, and now, after the rate hikes, the inflation pain and cost of living crunch, voters have been sold on the idea that it just might get better. And that maybe this bloke Chalmers knows what he’s doing.

Chalmers and Albanese’s favourite Katy Gallagher are the most important ministerial coupling in Cabinet.

Albanese, as cautious as he is, needs Chalmers to deliver a Budget that will comfort families. Chalmers, eyeing the long term, will want to keep his surplus. Albanese won’t go all John Howard on him and demand he parachute buckets of money into backyards but the PM will need to feed the chooks a bit too. Get it right, then Albanese should get on with it, roll straight into a December election.

The numbers in the Budget might be okay, but on the floor of Parliament, not so much.

This is Labor’s problem. In order to avoid relegation, they need to win seats, and not lose any. Dunkley says loudly. Good luck with that champ.

DUTTON NEEDS A MIRACLE

It’s pure lunacy to suggest there is anything remotely positive for the Coalition out of Dunkley, other than it wasn’t the debacle of the previous by-election in Aston, in which they went backwards.

Labor increased its first preference votes. More people voted for Labor this time than they did in 2022 election, even though a quarter of the electorate didn’t even show up to vote on Saturday. The Liberal also got more primary votes this time too, but mostly, if not entirely, because other right wing parties, United Australia and One Nation, didn’t run candidates. The Liberal, the apparently wildly popular three-time mayor of Frankston, hoovered up those votes. Nothing more. Just the facts.

For all the talk about the need for an Albanese reshuffle to get rid of Andrew Giles, his hopeless mate in immigration, the reality is Dutton is presiding over the dud front bench.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton
Peter Dutton is the only thing the Coalition has going for it, writes Christopher Dore. Credit: AAP

Dutton is formidable, and underrated. No question. But he is literally the only thing the Coalition has going for it at the moment.

James Paterson is very good. Angus Taylor is improving. Dan Tehan is OK. The rest of them? Forget about it. Ley, Cash, Fletcher, Ruston, Birmingham? Nup. The Nationals? Well, Bridget McKenzie yes, but the rest are either sinking reds or sinking their boots into Barnaby. And where is Jacinta Price, a sensation, but MIA since the Voice?

Dutton needs more talent. He needs more ideas.

He needs to go nuclear on policy, not just on energy.

And he needs a simple message. Positive. Negative. Doesn’t matter.

Call Tony Abbott, get onto Peta Credlin, whatever you need.

Land on a simple message. And don’t shut up about it.

Even then, barring a miracle, good luck in 2028.

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