OPINION

Major parties on a unity ticket in an imaginary universe

We're told Scott Morrison's a brilliant retail politician - but that doesn't mean we'll buy what he's selling.

Perhaps his best-ever stunt was sneaking a lump of coal into Parliament and caressing it during question time. His precious. "See", he was asserting, "it doesn't bite!" And that's been the PM's shtick, his performance style, for the full entirety of his brief period in office.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the campaign trail. Picture: AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the campaign trail. Picture: AAP/Tracey Nearmy

He plays the ordinary guy. Watch as he holds up his hands as if to say "nothing to see here", and then gasp in amazement as the body of Malcolm Turnbull tumbles away in front of him. Marvel as Morrison proclaims you can do whatever you want and we'll still meet our emission reduction targets. And, finally, stand in awe as this ordinary dad turns the snags at the barbecue while wearing that goofy-dad baseball cap.

Morrison likes to pretend he's suddenly stumbled into the spotlight, blinking as if surprised to find himself there, which is why it's worth remembering that there's actually been a great deal going on in the darkness to ensure his ascent. Perhaps this explains why none of his former leaders were present at his launch. Perhaps this also explains why his campaign has been such a one-man band and so many people have chosen to leave the party.

But while we're talking about knifing leaders, it's extraordinary that Bill Shorten managed to get both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard to attend his launch. Having blood-stained hands is no bar to becoming prime minister, of course, although it's a pity it seems to have become a requirement for the job.

It may indeed be that this similarity best explains the apparent lack of enthusiasm for replacing the current government. At least Labor seems to be comprised of more than one person.

Last week Chris Bowen tried his hand reprising the famous knife scene in Crocodile Dundee.

"Call that a surplus? This is a surplus." Slamming down Parliamentary Budget Office costings, the shadow treasurer not only proved his figures added up, but also demonstrated Labor will continue to grow the surplus.

Bowen smiled a confident smile; everyone looked at the figures and nodded. There were certainly a lot of numbers, some of them very big ones, stretching as far into the distance as anyone could see. Yet this, of course, is the problem - the figures are totally unbelievable. Everything's predicated on straight-line growth, yet we know this won't happen.

Climate change is about to wreak havoc; grain exports are at record, 50-year lows; a trade war's about to erupt between the US and China; demand for resources is down; and education, our third-biggest export, is highly vulnerable to rapid change. Accepting the predictions underlying those numbers requires a leap of faith. While Bowen spoke, the Reserve Bank was dramatically lowering forecasts for investment and consumption while admitting inflation - an inevitable partner of growth - has plunged. This means we won't be back in the black next year, no matter who wins the election.

This is a global slowdown, although you'd never know it listening to the confident predictions from both political parties. They're on a unity ticket that only exists in an imaginary universe.

The numbers are based on guesswork. The only thing you can be certain of is that this is not where things will end up.

So what do the politicians really think? Well, neither of the putative treasurers will promise to resign if they fail to reach their target surplus. This gives us a pretty good idea of just how fanciful their economic assumptions really are.

Disillusion is spiralling through the electorate. It's spinning voters off into the arms of the minor parties, even though deep down most know their blandishments and promises are equally ridiculous. These are simplistic, faux "answers" to the wrong questions, that only appeal because we recognise there's a problem at the centre of the Australian project. Our society isn't working for an increasingly large number of people and nothing the major parties are promising to do addresses this. Instead they're predicating policies on the continuation of the current model, when it's increasingly obvious we need a new one.

The party that best harnesses the preferences of this huge, disaffected minority will be the one that wins on Saturday.

Currently, the wonks think this looks like Labor. What could go wrong? It's been ahead in the polls for so long, and is facing such an implausible opponent in Morrison, that it seems impossible to think the party won't surge to victory. But this election will be decided on preferences.

Here Labor's ahead, but only just. If there's a widespread mood for change, it's not showing up in the polls. Gough Whitlam ('72), Bob Hawke ('83) and Kevin Rudd ('07) have been the only Labor leaders to seize government since World War Two. The worry for the party is the mood for change might be more like Kim Beazley in '98 (majority of votes nationwide but not enough seats) or John Hewson's challenge to Paul Keating in '93 (when the opposition lost an "unlosable" election after the Liberals proposed new tax measures).

That's why your vote counts, even in safe seats. Voting thoughtfully is important. In the ACT the major parties face serious challenges from both the Greens and Anthony Pesec. This is a critical election. They all are.