Builders and bulldozers: Anthony Albanese rubbishes Scott Morrison’s late attempts at change

A buoyant Anthony Albanese declared himself a “builder” on Friday as he scoffed at Scott Morrison’s pledge to learn from mistakes he made as a “bulldozer” throughout the pandemic – a late attempt by the prime minister to recast his character in the final days of the election campaign.

With his personality and record under siege from Labor, Morrison has promised to change his leadership style and admitted he had lessons to learn from his first term as PM.

“As we go into this next period on the other side of this election, I know there are things that are going to have to change with the way I do things,” he said at a press conference in Melbourne.

With eight days of the campaign to go, polls have indicated Labor is on track for majority government. A recent YouGov poll in the Australian newspaper projected the Coalition would lose a swathe of seats across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, where Labor and other minor parties have run strongly negative campaigns focusing on Morrison’s personality and behaviour, as well as highlighting missteps during the pandemic and natural disasters.

Morrison told a press conference in the ultra-marginal Coalition-held seat of Chisholm that he had “learned many lessons” in the last two years, escalating a mea culpa and admission of fault that he had laid out in recent weeks on the campaign trail.

“Sure we haven’t got everything right, I haven’t got everything right,” Morrison said.

“We have been in one of the most extraordinary times known and there have been so many lessons learned and that’s going to enable us to be better in the future.”

The attempt to recast his own character came just hours before the defence minister, Peter Dutton, revealed a Chinese intelligence ship had been travelling along the coast of Western Australia for over a week. The headline announcement suggests the Coalition will turn its focus to national security again in the campaign’s final week.

Morrison described his style throughout the pandemic as a “bulldozer” and said that would have to change.

“Over the last three years and particularly the last two, what Australians have needed from me going through this pandemic has been strength and resilience,” Morrison said.

“I admit that hasn’t enabled Australians to see a lot of other gears in the way I work. And I know Australians know that I can be a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to issues.”

The fresh rhetoric from Morrison directly counters key Labor attacks on his character, including claims from Albanese that he never learned from his mistakes and that his leadership style puts key allies offside. Labor has constantly referenced scathing criticisms of Morrison from the former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, and other Coalition colleagues.

Political commentators likened Morrison’s mid-campaign character shift to Julia Gillard’s 2010 pledge to show Australians “the real Julia” partway through that year’s election – a tactic which failed to win over the public. That election ended in a hung parliament.

Three times Morrison repeated a promise for a “better future”, echoing Labor’s key campaign slogan.

“We have learned a lot during this pandemic, and we are going to apply those lessons in the years ahead so we can continue to do better, to be better, and assure that better future, which is a stronger future,” Morrison said.

Responding to the prime minister’s comments shortly afterwards, Albanese rubbished Morrison’s pledge to change his style.

“This government has been there for almost a decade, this prime minister had four years in office, and what he’s saying is, ‘if you vote for Scott Morrison, I’ll change’ … well, if you want change, change the government,” Albanese said at a press conference in Cairns.

Asked to respond to Morrison’s “bulldozer” self-assessment, Albanese gave another construction-themed answer.

“A bulldozer wrecks things. A bulldozer knocks things over. I’m a builder, that’s what I am,” he said.

“I will build things in this country.”

Asked at his own press conference “what piece of machinery are you most like?”, the deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, responded: “I’m like a beautiful balloon that floats lovingly”.

The Labor leader accused Morrison of “desperation”, but rejected suggestions he had the election sewn up.

“We have a mountain to climb,” Albanese said.

“It is hard for Labor to win from opposition. That’s the starting point here.”

In response to Morrison’s pledge to learn from his mistakes, Albanese claimed the PM was unable to do that.

“This guy has no plans for the future, he struggles with the present, and he never learns from past mistakes. That’s why he keeps repeating them,” he said.

“If you want change, don’t look for Scott Morrison to change, because that’s not going to happen.”

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