While the government felt this played into its narrative of the Albanian being an economic dunderplunken, Labor consoled itself with the observation that at least the conversation had moved to its turf – the failure of wages to keep pace with inflation over recent years.
“Everything is going up except your wages” has been its signature slogan of the campaign.
The government, business and economists made the point that a wage rise of such a magnitude would be inflationary, and would drive up interest rates and put many out of business, thus hurting most those it was supposed to help.
No one opposes a wage rise. The government’s own submission to the Fair Work Commission’s wage hearing argues for any increase to be balanced against the need to maintain the viability of business,
In terms of inflationary impact, however, most economists agree a wage rise of 3.5 percent is as much as could be tolerated right now.
Albanese’s response was to dismiss all this as “nonsense” and claim that Scott Morrison opposed wage increases for the low-paid.
“The cost of everything that they buy is going up, but their wages aren’t. Scott Morrison says that’s OK,” he said.
‘It’s fear and loathing time’
He dumbed down the whole argument to one about Morrison opposing a wage rise that was worth a meagre “two cups of coffee a day” to a minimum wage earner.
Based on his own reluctance to commit to making a submission to the Fair Work Commission advocating a 5.1 per cent increase, Albanese knows he’s talking through his hat.
But it’s an election campaign, and he also knows he can make such simplistic arguments in the knowledge that most people don’t understand the complexities behind the minium wage.
All they hear is Albanese wants them to have a 5.1 per cent wage rise, and that’s pretty good, while Morrison wants them to go backwards, and that’s not so good.
“It’s fear and loathing time,” noted one Labor strategist, adding that the goal now was to put the election result beyond doubt and worry about the details later.
It is a logic not that far removed from Clive Palmer promising, without consequence, mortgage rates no higher than 3 per cent. The difference is Palmer will never have to deliver.
As one senior Liberal noted, Albanese’s wage rise push would have been of deep concern to small and medium business operators, but most of them are already in the Coalition’s column and Labor, which has a stark absence of business experience in its ranks, doesn’ t really care about them, let alone understand their world.
There are a lot more workers than bosses.
Morrison alluded to this during the Channel Nine debate on Sunday night, the one that reflected the reality of the depth of ill-feeling between the two leaders and actually generated real news.
Albanese had asked Morrison whether all Australian workers should be paid at least the minimum wage of $20.33.
“It depends on whether they are running a business or not. I mean if you are running a business, I can tell you who doesn’t get the minimum wage necessarily – small business owners when the money is not coming in,” Morrison said.
Labor thought that somehow this was the prime minister saying not everyone deserved at least the minimum wage.
Voters have made up their minds
Ultimately, however, while the Coalition took a hit in the polls for the interest rate rise, Labor is feeling pretty confident about the impact of Albanese’s wages foray. It is not bracing for any adverse impact in the next round of polls.
Indeed, with just over a week to go, there’s a growing sense that voters have made up their minds and are prepared to look through the foibles of the opposition leader, such is their desire to remove the prime minister.
By any objective assessment, Albanese has had a poor campaign. Apart from his period in isolation, he has pretty much averaged a gaffe per week, but the polls have stayed solid.
We saw this in 2007 when, in the lead-up to that campaign, Kevin Rudd was unscathed by revelations he was once tossed out of a New York strip club, or by his involvement with a fake dawn service from Papua New Guinea as part of his role as a regular on breakfast television.
By comparison, Morrison has campaigned well in that he has been disciplined and relentlessly on-message. Events around him have gone pear-shaped, such as the rate rise and the China-Solomon Islands deal.
But in the end, a good campaign may not be enough to undo the damage built up over the preceding three years.
Morrison still believes things can break his way in the final week, as they did for John Howard in 2004, and that minority government is at least possible. He feels up to 25 percent of the vote being reflected in the polls is soft.
The prime minister’s personal unpopularity is a major impediment, not just in terms of the drag on the national vote but in that it impedes his ability to campaign in certain seats under threat, especially the so-called teal seats.
Defending these was supposed to be the job of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is quite popular in Sydney. But, as he did this week, he is destined to spend the final week of the campaign trapped in his seat of Kooyong, manning early-polling booths in his own desperate bid to survive.