06 May 2016
by Mark Kenny

Election 2016: Flat end to the 44th Parliament a bad look for Liberals

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen moves a motion during question time.

For Malcolm Turnbull, it had triumphant moment written all over it. Yet still it fell flat. Curiously so.

All the elements were there. A dominant, loquacious Prime Minister. A bullet-proof economic plan. A revitalised leadership team. A national broadcast replete with the attention of the national press gallery. And most importantly, the advantage of having the last word of the 44th Parliament with which to frame a crucial double dissolution election contest.

When the PM finally got to his feet after a fulminating tirade from Labor's economic spokesman, Chris Bowen, he could not even keep his own troops interested. Did they let him down or was it their leader's lacklustre speech? It looked terrible. At one point, as Turnbull meandered through the arguments for innovation and enterprise, defending aspiration and referencing his plan for jobs and growth, no fewer than 35 government MPs could be seen on their phones and tablets or working through papers. Others day-dreamed or lollygagged in final conversations, aware perhaps that they would not be back for a long time or in some cases not at all.

It was a marked contrast to the upbeat, even punchy mood on the opposition side. To adapt Dean Rusk's famous comment about the Cuban missile crisis, the two sides were eyeball to eyeball, and the Coalition went to sleep.

Labor had moved to censure the Prime Minister for withholding the 10-year revenue loss to the budget from his government's proudly announced 10-year "enterprise tax cuts". Bowen had used high-energy enthusiasm, more so than content, to power through 15 minutes of mostly inaudible condemnation of the government.

His speech came at the end of the last question time for the term, which had already been clearly favouring the opposition.

Christopher Pyne had a funny moment when he moved an extension of time for Bowen, aware the shadow treasurer was stretching for the end as both arguments and voice ran dry. It was a brief respite from a strange government torpor that defied the maths of this election fight.

If morale were any guide and, who knows, it might be important, Labor looks the more confident.