Labor's locked in on a strategy to win the next election. Unfortunately, it relies on Scott Morrison to do all the heavy lifting.
The way the opposition tells its story, voters can see through the PM's empty words and marketing spin and are desperate for a change. It's a path to The Lodge although it relies (firstly) on voters rejecting the Coalition and (secondly) accepting Labor offers a better alternative.
According to the strategists, the problem back then was that Labor got in the way of voters rejecting the government. This time it will stand back and let the government loose.
Let's call this the "fingers crossed" strategy.
What could possibly go wrong with that?
The problem jumps into focus in regional, working-class areas like Hunter, inland from Newcastle, where Labor's primary vote collapsed 14 per cent at the last election. Joel Fitzgibbon's held this seat for the past 25 years (his father Eric held it securely for the 12 years before that). Although a redistribution changing the boundaries explains part of the swing, Fitzgibbon's urgently trying to drag the party away from what he thinks are marginal issues that pander to the "woke" agenda of the inner city. He wants to guarantee jobs and security first; so-called "big agenda" items are relegated to second place.
The problem for party leader Anthony Albanese is that every time Fitzgibbon opens his mouth he risks upsetting Labor's whole strategy. Instead of just papering over the deep ideological splits within the party and focusing on the government, the squabbles jump onto the front pages. This ignites the party's left, which has a very different take on how to win.
They point out that in the past 70 years, Labor's only won government three times: Gough Whitlam in 1972, Bob Hawke in 1983, and Kevin Rudd in 2007. Each time the winning strategy's been simple: relying on a charismatic leader presenting a unified, dynamic program, very different to the incumbents. Today the party can't even agree on a unified position on climate change.
The party knows it doesn't need a huge win - just enough. Scrum in behind Albanese, focus on the marginal seats, ignore the fringe, and hold the centre. The key is to make the government the issue but if that's not sustainable today then it will certainly fall apart in the heat of an election campaign.
Under another leader it might just work. It was, however, Albanese who originally wrote the rules that are now protecting his position at the helm and he's showing no sign of standing down voluntarily. After so many years of waiting he'd rather bring the party down around him than hand over to someone else.
In a fortnight we'll have the final two-week sitting period before the winter break. It's Labor's last chance to clean itself up before the next election.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.