In the aftermath of Saturday's byelection results Liberal ministers are taking comfort that they lost the Ryan byelection in 2001, suffering a 10 per cent swing, only to win the federal election resoundingly eight months later. It's true that one byelection result – or even five – won't predetermine the outcome of a general election, but it's not true that there's nothing to learn from Super Saturday.
Following the Ryan rout, prime minister Howard pressed the policy reset button, cutting the GST on petrol, abandoning the automatic indexation of fuel excise and easing the GST compliance burden on small businesses. Yet there's little evidence the Turnbull government will change much at all.
Two tell-tale images come to mind from the byelection campaigns: an underwhelmed Longman voter telling an inquisitive journalist "I'll vote Labor because at least they care about the little people" and the Prime Minister eating a meat pie with a knife and fork.
LNP strategists decided to make Longman and Braddon the "Kill Bill" byelections. Buoyed by opinion polls showing Malcolm Turnbull holding a commanding lead over Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister, they sought to turn the byelections into a contest over leadership. The voter interviewee might not have been a big Shorten fan, but she was convinced the policies developed by Shorten and his team were better for battlers.
Remember, Longman voters were the Howard Battlers when Mal Brough held the seat for the entirety of the Howard period. Now they're Bill's Battlers.
As Bill's Battlers see it, Turnbull's Toffs are trying to reward the big banks with a $17 billion tax cut. To rub salt into their wounds, they know Turnbull legislated tax cuts that will place a nurse earning $41,000 a year in the same tax bracket as a doctor on $200,000 a year. And if the independent umpire decides to cut penalty rates for even more battlers, such as hairdressers, the Liberals will back it in, just as they did for retail and hospitality workers.
Conservative supporters can stamp their feet, demanding workers accept that wage cuts for them and tax cuts for big banks are all for their own good, but they'll struggle to convince Bill's Battlers. No doubt they'll claim the problem is that the Coalition isn't selling the message well enough. But as advertising guru John Singleton once said to me: "Mate, I can't sell bad beer."
While they offer tax cuts for big corporations, the Liberals staunchly protect every available tax shelter, including the refunding of dividend imputation credits. Deploying a three-word slogan, for which the Prime Minister roundly criticised his predecessor, the LNP campaigned heavily against "Labor's Retirement Tax" on Longman's retiree haven of Bribie Island. For its efforts the LNP achieved a 10 per cent swing against its candidate while Labor's vote rose 4 per cent.
When the byelections were first announced, I suggested the Prime Minister should consider cancelling them and calling a general election to avoid the Killing Season in December, the ninth anniversary of Turnbull's removal in 2009 and the performance deadline set for Turnbull by Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce.
Now the LNP has confirmation that Turnbull is toxic in Queensland. If the member for the neighbouring seat of Dickson, Peter Dutton, wasn't worried about holding his seat before Saturday he will be now.
At the 2016 federal election, LNP members and candidates abandoned the Prime Minister's esoteric campaign material promising a more agile, innovative economy, in favour of grassroots campaigning on local issues. Images of the Prime Minister eating a meat pie with a knife and fork will do nothing to reassure LNP types that he is the right leader for Queensland.
None of this is to suggest that the Coalition cannot win the next election. But its proposition of tax cuts for banks and multinationals and falling wages for workers will not fly with Bill's Battlers.
On the Labor side, Queensland voters are fiscally conservative. They will want to be reassured that Labor will not blow out the budget deficit. But with its already announced measures to close down tax shelters, Labor will be in a position to outperform the Coalition on budget repair while spending more on health and education.
Government ministers have confirmed they will put the big business tax cuts to the Senate for a vote when Parliament returns. They should be hoping Pauline Hanson does not perform yet another backflip and let them through. Labor will be praying they pass, locking the government into campaigning for them all the way to the release of the banking royal commission's interim report in late September, its final report in February and on to the 2019 election.