The question the PM couldn’t answer
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was keen yesterday to spruik his new jobs and debt announcement but 7.30 host Leigh Sales wasn't quite ready to let him move on from the past.
Sales began the interview on ABC by pointing out the Coalition's poor poll numbers, ministerial resignations and cashed-up groups targeting marginal seats; and then headed straight for the jugular.
"Is the kind of talk you were engaging in today of re-election and 10-year-plans wishful thinking?" she asked.
"No Leigh," Mr Morrison quickly responded. "Just as well I'm a fighter. What I've announced today is that we've got a goal of 1.25 million new jobs. That's not a vain promise, because we've already delivered 1.2 million jobs as a government since we were first elected."
Mr Morrison went on to defend the Coalition's promise, announced today, for an extra 1.25 million jobs in five years and for no government debt in a decade.
Pushed on whether the promises were realistic given they were based on a "best case scenario", Mr Morrison said the forecasts were not based on the peak rate of jobs growth.
"One of the marks of our economic management is that we've always exceeded expectations," he said.
"I have a track record of under promising and over delivering whether it's on the economy, border protection, welfare reforms.
"My record, our government's record, is delivering."
But his response gave Sales the opportunity she needed to re-open an unhealed wound.
"If your record is so good, why did you need to dump Malcolm Turnbull?" Sales asked.
It's a question that Liberal MPs have struggled to answer since the former prime minister was dumped last year.
Given it's now a new year, Mr Morrison went with a fresh tactic - of brushing off the question as yesterday's news.
"That was last year," he said. "What we're focused on is the plan we're taking to the next election".
But Sales wasn't done, asking again "aren't you confusing voters?"
Mr Morrison responded by talking about his summer break and how he spoke to people interested in job security, congestion and infrastructure.
"That is our policy record. What you're talking about is politics. That is different."
However, despite his determination to move on and focus on the future, he wasn't quite ready to reveal whether he would remain in politics and remain as opposition leader if the Coalition lost the next election.
"I'm committed to winning," he said, adding: "The leadership of the Liberal Party is always the gift of the parliamentary Liberal Party and I never make any presumptions on it."
MORRISON PROMISES 1.25 MILLION JOBS
Earlier today Mr Morrison promised Australia will have an extra 1.25 million jobs in five years and no government debt in a decade if the coalition remains in power.
He also raised the prospect of the nation suffering its first economic recession in 28 years if the opposition wins general elections due by late May.
Mr Morrison outlined the government's economic credentials in a speech in which he promised to detail in April Australia's first surplus annual budget in a decade.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten accused Morrison of fearmongering.
"They've run out of anything to say about themselves, all they can do is talk about us," Shorten told reporters.
"The problem is this economy is not working in the interests of everyday Australians and their families."
Australia had not experienced recession - defined at consecutive quarters of economic contraction - since July 1, 1991.
Updated Treasury Department forecasts released last month showed Australia's economy is expected to expand by 2.75 per cent in the current fiscal year ending June 30 and by 3 per cent the following year.
Deloitte Access Economics, an economic forecaster, predicted on Tuesday Australia's economy will be affected by slower global growth in the next two years.
The forecaster also said Australia's growth would be weighed down by tightening credit, widespread drought and falling rates of housing construction.
The government argues the Labor Party was a threat to the economy through its policy of reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The government's target is a reduction of 26-to-28 per cent in the same time frame.
The government also opposes Labor plans to reduce tax deductions for landlords as property prices moderate in Australia's largest cities.
Mr Morrison argues that Labor would raise $200 billion new and higher taxes that would weaken economic growth.
A Newspoll also published today in The Australian showed the Coalition had improved its polling numbers since the last survey was published in December.
But opposition frontbencher Brendan O'Connor warned the latest result was within Newspoll's margin of error.
The Coalition's two-party preferred vote is now at 47 per cent although if the numbers hold, it means Labor's vote of 53 per cent will still give it the party's biggest win since Bob Hawke's in 1983.
Both leaders now seem to be in election mode with Mr Morrison revealing new jobs and debt targets to be achieved through the next stage of an economic plan.
In a speech in Brisbane, the leader lauded the economic record of his "jobs government" and stressed the benefits of a strong economy to voters.
"At this next election only half of those of voting age will have experienced a recession during their working lives," he said.
"So it is important to remind all of us that our economy cannot be taken for granted, that the economy is real, its impacts are real and, most importantly, it's all about people."
The prime minister also argued a Labor government would produce a weaker economy.
"It's taken us all of the past five years to get back to the strong position that the Howard Government left us, more than 10 years ago, when Labor took over," he said.
"Our Budget in April will be the first surplus budget delivered since the Howard Government."
He said the result had also been achieved without increasing taxes but by getting spending under control.
"Our government has achieved greater spending restraint than any government, Liberal or Labor, in the last 50 years, with real spending growth less than 2 per cent.
"Under our plan we've managed to keep our AAA credit rating - after it was put at risk by Labor's reckless policy of spending money they never had."
But Mr Morrison has stopped short of suggesting Labor would cause a recession, as cabinet colleague Christopher Pyne did in November.
He also rejected suggestions he was running a scare campaign.
"It's a fact. They are going to put $200 billion in new and higher taxes on the Australian economy and they boast about it," Mr Morrison told ABC's AM ahead of the speech.
Mr Shorten says fear-mongering is exactly what is going on.
"They've run out of anything to say about themselves, all they can do is talk about us," he told reporters in regional NSW.
In his address, the prime minister pointed to the creation of 1.1 million jobs since the coalition won government in 2013 and a current low unemployment rate of five per cent. He pledged to help create another 1.25 million positions over the next five years and eliminate government debt within a decade.
Labor has repeatedly highlighted that government debt has doubled in the past five years but Mr Morrison says that is because the coalition still had deficits to deal with.
"We no longer, for the first time this year and this budget, will have a deficit. That means you can start paying down debt," he told Seven's Sunrise.
The coalition's jobs and debt targets would be achieved through key pillars of the coalition's economic plan, including a strong budget, lower taxes, support for small business and reliable and affordable energy.