It’s no surprise that the two of them rated near-identical scores for untrustworthiness, smugness and arrogance in a YouGov Galaxy poll this month.
It’s a contest between an angry dad figure in a baseball cap and a sad sack who looks like he learned public speaking at a funeral parlour.
Morrison, at least, has a positive approval rating. This week’s Ipsos put him on the modest score of plus 9 per cent, which only looks impressive when you consider that Shorten’s is minus 15.
Yet the low-charisma contest occurring in the shallow end of the inspiration pool isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Australia has had enough of Messianic leaders for a while.
The electorate swooned over two recent prime ministers. Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull took office with record-breaking approval ratings and left the country with heart-breaking disappointment.
Yet, just because God has given Australia an election without candidates is no excuse. We still have to vote on May 18.
Perhaps the Lord is trying to tell us something – that we have to consider the choice of parties and policies, not personalities.
Because there are big differences between the parties. Under the banner of fairness, Labor plans to make Australia’s system of income redistribution even more re-distributive.
Where the government essentially is offering to keep the status quo, Labor is proposing a change in emphasis. Labor promises to take money from high income earners, real estate investors and self-funded retirees. And to give benefits to people on lower and middle incomes, some cancer patients, and some welfare recipients.
The Coalition also promises some benefits to low and middle income earners, but without taking anything from the better off. This allows the government to campaign as the party of lower taxes, which, based on the promises so far, certainly would be true.
Labor is also promising to change the balance between profits and wages, tilting it towards workers and away from shareholders.
It’s pledged a gradual increase to the minimum wage to turn it into a “living wage” for some 700,000 workers, without being specific about details. And it’s prepared to allow “pattern bargaining” to replace enterprise bargaining in low-wage sectors like childcare.
This would increase the bargaining power of workers. Labor has also promised to restore weekend penalty rates in the hospitality sector.
Labor’s program is more activist, more reformist, and fairer. It is also in keeping with the times.
Conservative agencies like the International Monetary Fund used to demand lower taxes and economic efficiency but today put a premium on progressive redistribution and greater fairness.
In a world of stagnating incomes and angry populism, the guardians of austerity have become the advocates of equity.
The Reserve Bank of Australia used to stand vigil against any sign of a breakout in workers’ wages. Today, the central bank’s governor, Philip Lowe, urges workers to ask their bosses for wage rises.
Even the Business Council of Australia agrees that some wages in some sectors should be raised.
But Labor’s reformism carries risk. Its strongest campaigner for workplace reform is the ACTU secretary, Sally McManus. She maintains that it’s cool to break laws if the laws are unjust, and sets herself up as the judge. How radical will the McManus ACTU be? Could a prime minister Shorten resist its demands?
Bob Hawke deregistered the law-breaking construction union of his time, the BLF. Shorten celebrates the law-breaking construction union of his, the CFFMEU. Who’d be in charge of a Shorten government?
Another risk of a Labor government is its plan to curb negative gearing for investment property. This is a sensible policy for its time, conceived during the housing boom. But can it be imposed on a housing bust without aggravating the downturn?
The Coalition will do everything to whip up these fears, and any others they can come up with, because it’s their only hope of winning.
But there are risks in the status quo, too. The electorate is sick of the Coalition’s paralysis on climate and energy policy. It’s unhappy at the government’s answer to weak wages growth – hold on, and hope.
More than anything else, it’s sick of a government that only takes fleeting interest in the people at election time. Then reverts to the infighting that Morrison himself likened to The Muppet Show.
All indications are that the people are about to bring the curtain down on a leader they’ve judged to be no better than his party, in the hope that Labor is a party that can be better than its leader.
Peter Hartcher is Political Editor and International Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.