Frantic search for a policy to turn the polls

THE political party that sells itself as the best-credentialled economic managers looks more than willing to give up that crown in its bid to win the next election.

With consistent polling showing Labor is on track to win the next federal election – due any time before May next year – senior Liberals are beginning to look a little frantic in their search for the magic policy that could finally turn around those numbers.

Malcolm Turnbull lost the keys to The Lodge over concerns his National Energy Guarantee was not going to win public support and, since then, the two men who faced off to replace him have embarked on some serious kite-flying as they courted public opinion.

Shortly after announcing his plan to challenge Mr Turnbull for the Liberal leadership, Peter Dutton came out with the extraordinary idea of removing the GST on electricity prices to help bring down power bills.

The policy seemed to come from nowhere and, at an estimated cost to the economy of around $8 billion over four years, smacked of irresponsible populism from a politician desperate to create a good impression.

That policy died a quick death after Mr Dutton was defeated by Scott Morrison in the leadership spill, but now the former treasurer has weighed in with his own vote-grab.

Speaking on morning television on Wednesday, Mr Morrison announced he had “changed his mind” about the need to lift the Australian pension age to 70.

Instead, he said, the cabinet would next week ratify legislation to keep the retirement age at 67 once it hits that mark in 2023. What he did not explain was what had changed to prompt the backflip.

When lifting the pension age to 70 was first mooted in 2015, it naturally, sparked a furious response – especially from voters aged 50-plus who were traditionally more likely to vote Liberal.

So no doubt Wednesday’s backflip came with an eye on the ballot box, but it is still odd that Mr Morrison’s first major announcement as PM was to undo one of his major announcements as treasurer.

We can only assume the government did not think, back in 2015, that it could get this close to an election with a Labor Party led by Bill Shorten still holding the upper hand.

So more important than what has changed is what hasn’t. If the government did not take Mr Shorten seriously before, it may be starting to now.