The fallout from the Super Saturday by-elections received top billing on Monday’s Q&A, with the Labor and Liberal representatives on the panel, not surprisingly, offering differing breakdowns on the results.
Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield faced off with a triumphal Opposition spokesman for Finance, Jim Chalmers, who was keen to play up the importance of ALP’s wins in Braddon, Longman, Perth and Fremantle and the defeat of Liberal Georgina Downer in Mayo.
The two were joined by editor of The Guardian Australia, Lenore Taylor, communications consultant Parnell Palme McGuinness and people’s panellist Tony Winwood.
Could Tony Abbott rise again for the Liberals?
The spectre of Tony Abbott reared its head when an audience member asked whether the former prime minister might be poised to lead the Liberal Party once again.
Taylor and Ms McGuinness agreed the time was not right for an Abbott comeback.
“I don’t really see that there is a real coalescing of anyone around Tony Abbott at the moment,” Taylor said.
“But I do think there’s lessons for the Coalition. I do think they need to have a think about it.”
“‘No’ is the simple answer,” said Ms McGuinness.
“Post election we can talk about who might need to lead a reformed party. It needs to be reformed around a new vision. It’s not the leader that will make the difference. It’s the vision.”
Mr Fifield pushed the “nothing to see here” narrative.
“This was an expected status quo result for an incumbent government,” he said.
“I think we’ve got to come back to the fact that no incumbent government in Australia has won a by-election from their opponent since the Kalgoorlie by-election of 1920.”
On a possible leadership spill, he offered: “We are incredibly united as a parliamentary party”.
“Malcolm [Turnbull] is leading us extremely well. If you look at the parliament, this is the parliament they said would never work.
“This is a Senate they said the Government would never be able to transact business through. Yet we’ve secured the passage of more than 200 pieces of legislation, almost every item on our legislative agenda.”
Mr Chalmers was quick to play up the fact the PM had billed the by-elections as a head-to-head leadership battle between himself and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
“[Mr Turnbull] did say to the people of Longman and Braddon, ‘this is a test of the leaders of the major parties’. His vote went backwards,” Mr Chalmers said.
“What if it isn’t actually about the politicians or the opinion polls? What if it’s actually about what is a better use of $17 billion — investing it in our schools or boosting the profits of the four biggest banks in Australia?”
Trickle down or trickle up economics?
Mr Fifield defended the Coalition’s company tax cuts policy, one of the issues which may have been behind the Liberals’ by-election woes.
Mr Turnbull pledged to look “seriously, thoughtfully and humbly” at the results, but Mr Fifield was standing behind the company tax cuts policy.
“We stand for our principles and our principles are allowing the community to have more of their own money in their pockets,” he said.
“It’s about creating the environment and the circumstances where business can thrive, when business does well, then they can employ more Australians.”
He could not guarantee, however, the legislation would end up as law.
“We always take things one sitting week at a time. That’s what we’ve done with every piece of legislation we’ve had.”
Mr Chalmers said the Government was pushing a policy which didn’t work.
“The trickle down stuff has failed before,” he said.
“It’s failed overseas. It has failed here. The only people who still want to cling to this long discredited notion if you throw heaps of money at the top end of town and somehow everyone will benefit is the party Mitch Fifield is part of and the party Malcolm Turnbull leads for now.
“For everybody, except I think Malcolm Turnbull and his Cabinet, to understand that a time when we have stagnant wages and people feel like everything is going up except wages, when we have declining living standards and insecure work and all of these sorts of things that people live and feel and experience in the economy, they see the PM of this country saying the highest priority in economic policy is to give a company tax cut where most of the benefit will go offshore, and where the banks get $17 billion of that at the same time as they’re before a royal commission and having all kinds of rorts and rip-offs exposed.
“I can understand why people are filthy about that.”