There’s an interesting quote in Donald Trump’s book Art of the Deal.
“You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”
Malcolm Turnbull heads into the final fortnight of parliament before the May budget facing an electorate which feels conned and is waiting for the “goods”.
His Liberal colleague in WA, Colin Barnett, found out to his detriment what happens when governments talk the talk but are seen not to be delivering.
There are two other takeaways from the WA election.
Voters are happy to dump governments – and do so with big swings.
They can also see through the bleating of minor parties, but large pockets of voters in rural and regional areas are still willing to back the likes of One Nation.
Turnbull’s answer is to start engaging with some of the more pressing issues.
He sat down with gas chiefs in Canberra this week, securing a promise from the big producers to ensure fears of a shortfall in supply don’t come to fruition, and travelled to Talbingo to unveil a plan to massively expand the Snowy Hydro scheme.
But he was beaten to the punch by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, who unveiled his plan for battery storage, a gas-fired plant and ministerial powers to keep the lights on in emergencies.
The political irony is if Weatherill and Turnbull succeed in shoring up the state’s electricity grid, the Liberals’ chances of winning the March 2018 state election are lessened.
Turnbull’s success could be Labor’s success.
Another aspect of Turnbull’s deal-making is delivering on a new regional ministers’ taskforce.
He met with senior Nationals and Liberal ministers in Canberra this week to discuss how to tackle concerns about jobs, health, education and transport outside the major cities where the government is suffering the strongest backlash.
Labor’s response, also rolled out this week, was a more grass-roots approach – a roadshow of backbenchers and shadow ministers talking to people in regional areas mostly about jobs and pay including penalty rates.
Penalties will again be a parliament focus as the deadline looms for the government’s submission to the Fair Work Commission’s decision for retail, hospitality, fast food and pharmacy workers.
The government is talking down its submission as a “factual” proposition.
But it’s hard to see how this will win them any points in voterland.
Labor’s response, partly undermined by Bill Shorten’s record as a union boss who negotiated away penalty rates, is a blunt instrument – a private bill to be introduced to parliament on Monday.
It will give Labor a week to talk about government inaction, bolstered by media attention on the newly elected ACTU secretary Sally McManus.
McManus has ensured the government will have an attack line by saying she’s OK with unions breaking the law if they feel those laws are unfair.
Deals will be required to tidy up loose ends prior to the budget, including billions of dollars in so-called zombie measures, childcare reform, and schools and university funding.
Corporate tax cuts will either have to be dropped or whittled down to small business relief, with big business given an assurance of other incentives such as accelerated depreciation and innovation-focused tax breaks.
A housing affordability plan will be fleshed out in coming weeks, linked to Turnbull’s election promise of “city plans”.
There is another time factor to tidying loose ends this parliament fortnight – the prime minister is about to engage in a busy international program, including a visit by the US Vice President Mike Pence and overseas trade talks.
Delivering the goods will not only be good politically for Turnbull, whose personal approval rating is at a record low, but for driving the jobs and growth he promised.
Originally published as Voters want the goods from Turnbull