Labor warms up election campaign attacks on ScoMo while the PM does a hot lap of Bathurst

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP</span>
Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

While Scott Morrison raced around the Bathurst 1000 track on Sunday, the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, and his deputy attacked the prime minister and his larrikin persona – “ScoMo” – as inauthentic and not fit to lead the country.

Albanese offered Australians “renewal not revolution” at his first pre-election rally in the Sydney marginal seat of Reid, while Morrison engaged in a photo op, one of many we can expect from both leaders during the unofficial summer campaign ahead of the 2022 election due by May.

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For Albanese, after two and a half years of offering a small target on everything from income tax cuts to the pandemic response, the time had come to fatten the pig before market day, unveiling two new major policies on emissions reduction and tertiary education in the past three days.

For Morrison, speaking with legendary driver Mark Skaife in the cabin of a Ford Mustang, Sunday’s outing was about generating the sort of imagery that made swing voters feel he was one of them – which helped the Coalition to a come from behind victory in 2019.

Morrison later visited the Forbes State Emergency Service to hear about progress recovering from recent floods, accusing his opponent of “politicking in the inner city” when asked if the flurry of activity meant the election campaign was underway.

Albanese sought to contrast Labor’s vision for “A Better Future” (its election slogan) with “a government that is simply spent and a prime minister whose tank is on empty”.

Albanese promised an agenda that would be “ambitious” but “just as importantly, affordable [and] achievable” in a speech pitched at undecided voters who Morrison is courting by warning against the risk of changing government.

Albanese suggested Labor supporters ask undecided voters “do you really think this government led by Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce will get better in its fourth term” to encourage them to believe “Australia can be better”.

As well as arguing against “another three years of division and inaction”, Albanese and his deputy, Richard Marles, targeted Morrison over his relationship with the truth.

In his warm-up speech, Marles used the words “lie” or “liar” 24 times, levelling the accusation at the prime minister over his trip “to Hawaii while Australia was burning”, to the way he succeeded Malcolm Turnbull, to the cancellation of the French submarine contract, “lies about Labor’s policies” and “lies about lying”.

While Albanese was more measured in tone, the Labor leader argued Morrison was “a prime minister who has no regard for what he said yesterday, so you should have no regard for what he says today.”

Albanese referred to some of Morrison’s lowest points as prime minister – during the black summer bushfires and the vaccination rollout – by declaring “in tough times, every one of us has to ‘hold a hose’” and “when it comes to skills and knowledge, it is a race”.

“I won’t run and hide from responsibility,” he said. “I won’t go missing when the going gets tough. I think leadership is about facing up to problems and looking for solutions. Actually, I don’t think. I know.”

Marles said Morrison was “completely full of it”, arguing his trademark imagery including “the baseball cap, the Sharks scarf, the cringey, corny slogans” were examples of an inauthentic identity: “ScoMo.”

“You know who came up with that nickname? He did. This guy gave a nickname to himself. Everything about Scott Morrison is fake. It’s all made up.”

Related: Labor pledges extra university and Tafe places to help rebuild industries hit by pandemic

Marles accused Morrison of not having “a single memory of the Cronulla Sharks that predates his Liberal preselection – because that’s precisely when he picked up that scarf.”

“He never tells the truth – that he switched codes and switched teams, that the Sharks is an affectation not a passion, because it suits him politically.” By contrast, Albanese supports the Rabbitohs “not for political purposes ... it’s just him”, Marles said.

On Sunday, Labor announced $1.2bn for 20,000 extra university places and free access to 465,000 Tafe places, following its promise on Friday of a 43% cut to greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in a bid to create jobs and lower electricity prices.

The deputy Liberal leader, Josh Frydenberg, argued on ABC’s Insiders on Sunday that Labor couldn’t be trusted, because in government the Greens would bid up the ask on emissions reduction.

Albanese sought to reassure voters: “Labor has announced exactly one energy policy and it is the one we will implement in government.”

The reason the rally focused so much on character is that the election will be less about the specifics of the policy offerings and more about whether voters believe Labor can deliver it in a way that won’t harm them through higher taxes or broken promises.

The opposition believes the best way to win an election fought on the question “Who do you trust?” is to cast doubt on Morrison’s character. To convince voters that despite the Sharks scarf the PM is not like you – he is pretending for the cameras.

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