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So those are the constitutional consequences of the pairing of the Speaker’s deliberative vote. It is very likely to be found constitutional, but there is always the nominal risk of any Bill in the next three years being challenged by some particularly desperate plaintiff or a plaintiff with particularly deep pockets and a try-everything-once attitude causing continuing uncertainty. Of course, if the Liberals refuse the agreement there are no legal consequences whatsoever.

But what are the political consequences of the Liberals rejecting the pairing arrangement? Tony Abbott will definitely face a drop in his popularity in the short term, but will that have a long-term impact? I think the ALP has an excellent opportunity to lay an Abbott on Abbott. Abbott’s particular skill is to use very sharp media management and repetition of key messages to paint a broader picture of the Government as being economically wasteful, factionally-riven etc etc completely contrary to all evidence (at least with respect to economic incompetence). That has seriously eroded the overwhelming popular support that Kevin Rudd (and later Julia Gillard) held with the Australian public (combined with the ALP’s own political incompetence, of course). The flip side of that has been that Abbott’s combative approach has caused attrition damage to his own popularity rating. Although the Liberal primary vote has increased as the ALP primary vote has decreased, a significant proportion of the lost ALP votes have not gone to the Liberals but to the minor parties, including the Greens. And most crucially, Tony Abbott’s preferred PM rating has never, ever exceeded that of the ALP leader because his public image is not Prime-Ministerial. He looks combative, he looks like he’s out for his own rather than the national good.

The ALP has an excellent opportunity to turn Abbott’s own strategy on himself. If they can weave this huge backflip back onto Abbott, they can build onto that image that Abbott has with the public. Despite their best efforts, the Mad Monk image of Abbott has not gripped the public this election. However, if the ALP can make their case to the public that Abbott is combative, that he is risky, that he is out for his own benefit and not for the public benefit, then they can permanently damage his credibility before the Australian people.

As I said, if the ALP does nothing, then the fallout from this political backflip will only be temporary and transient. If the ALP takes its traditional approach of focussing on the short-term message over the long-term message and forgets about this episode, so will the Australian public. However, if it is weaved into a broader message of an untrustworthy Tony Abbott who backflipped on carbon emissions several times, who may bring back Workchoices etc etc, the ALP has a half-decent opportunity to inflict real damage on Tony Abbott, against whom they have been unable to land any real punches.


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