The Liberal Party is so acutely conscious of Scott Morrison’s unpopularity that its pitch to voters has been crafted to accommodate it.
“It’s not a popularity test,” Mr Morrison said at the outset of the six-week long election campaign.
“You go to the dentist, it doesn’t matter if you like him or not. You want to know they’re good at their job.”
Having your teeth drilled into is a particularly unpleasant experience to compare your leadership too, but it was an effort to suggest skill and hardiness are more important for a Prime Minister than likeability.
“You may not like everything we’ve done, you may not like me that much, but that’s not the point,” he said at the time.
It was an analogy used by colleagues, too, particularly Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who has returned to the comparison of his colleague to a physically painful procedure several times.
Given just a year ago he was calling Mr Morrison a “hypocrite” and a “liar” in private text messages, one might presume Mr Joyce doesn’t much like going to the dentist.
But the Prime Minister has changed his tune as he enters the final week of the campaign, trailing in the polls and momentum swinging behind Labor.
“I know (that) Australians know I can be a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to issues,” he conceded.
A promise to change, if given the chance, “because we’re moving into a different time, a time of opportunity.”
In campaign terms, it is a tectonic shift.
With eight days to go until the May 21 poll, the appeal for voters to stick with a known quantity has been re-cast as a vow to transform anew.
The Scott Morrison of the last three years will be different to the Scott Morrison in the years ahead, he offers.
Labor leader labels himself a ‘builder’
Labor sees not a dentist, nor a bulldozer, but a leopard that will not be capable of changing its spots.
“If you want change, change the government,” Anthony Albanese said, pouncing on the Prime Minister’s words scarcely an hour after he uttered them.
Said with a gusto that has often missing from the Labor leader’s stump speeches, Mr Albanese leant into the Prime Minister’s words.
“A bulldozer wrecks things, a bulldozer knocks things over. I’m a builder, that’s what I am. And if I’m elected Prime Minister, I’ll build things in this country.”
Labor’s campaign headquarters was just as quick to capitalise on the comments on social media.
Will a late strategy change shift opinions?
A long, six-week campaign was a deliberate choice by the Liberal Party, knowing the maximum amount of time was needed to make the case for a fourth term in office.
Throughout, Mr Morrison has carefully calibrated his words, his tone and his focus in an effort to work with, rather than challenge, impressions of his character.
To alter the strategy so drastically, and so late, in the campaign suggests a desperation at campaign headquarters.
The dial isn’t shifting for Scott Morrison.
Until now, the election contest has been characterised as between a man that people don’t know and a man that people don’t like.
Now, it is between a man whose election would instantly bring change and a man who is promising to change himself, if just given one more chance.
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