Tricky week for leaders as a very-2022 twist turns narrative on its head

Analysis: As the page turned to week three of the campaign it entered an unusual and quintessentially 2022 chapter.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese remained holed up in isolation after getting something he desperately did not want: Covid-19.

Scott Morrison got something he had clearly had wanted – but it was delivered with a healthy dose of ‘be careful what you wish for’.

The Prime Minister wanted the election to be about the economy and national security, areas the government regards as its key strengths.

But the conversation presumably did not go the way he would have hoped.

On the economic front, Australians were confronted with a shocking set of numbers, which confirmed inflation has climbed to a 20 year high.

Consumer prices are up 5.1 percent for the year, and 2.1 percent in the first quarter. The Reserve Bank’s target is to keep inflation between 2 and 3 per cent.

These latest figures increase pressure on the RBA to deliver its first interest rate hike since 2010 when its board meets next week.

The last time a Reserve Bank board lifted official interest rates in an election campaign was in 2007, when John Howard was pitted against Kevin Rudd.

Just over two weeks later, Australians voted the Coalition government out in an election where John Howard lost his own seat of Bennelong.

While international volatility has largely driven the increase, it doesn’t change the fact many Australians are staring down the barrel of an increase to their mortgage repayments just weeks before they head to the polls.

And that will have many government MPs squirming in their seats. On the national security front, Scott Morrison also appears to have found himself on the back foot. For months, he has wanted this issue to be in focus, appearing in various military settings, warning Australians of the need to stick with what they know in uncertain times.

But this week he been forced to deny claims a weakness has appeared in his national security armour.

Labor has accused the government of a massive foreign policy failure, for failing to anticipate and dissuade the Solomon Islands from signing a security pact with China.

While Scott Morrison has dismissed such suggestions, he’s also stepped up his warnings to the Solomon Islands, cautioning that if Beijing builds a military base there, Australia and its partners would see it as a ‘red line’ in the Pacific.

Peter Dutton wound the rhetoric even higher in an Anzac Day interview on Today, saying ‘the only way you can preserve peace is to prepare for war’.

And while a slanging match began between Australia, China and the Solomons over the new agreement the Opposition sunk the boot in.

On Tuesday, Labor released its own $525 million plan to strengthen ties in the Pacific, promising to boost development assistance, improve visa access, set up a Pacific Islands defence training school and fund the ABC to broadcast into the region.

While the Covid-stricken Labor leader remained in isolation this week, his frontbenchers were marched out each day, to campaign on his behalf.

The media appearances were shared around, to minimise the risk of any Shadow Minister becoming an Overshadow Minister (particularly after Jason Clare gained early attention for his strong performance in a zinger-filled press conference and was asked by a reporter why he wasn’t the leader).

For a crew operating without a captain during an election campaign, Labor would have been pleased with its performance this week.

But the Labor leader is no doubt more pleased to be out of isolation and back on the hustings as the week draws to a close.

While Anthony Albanese wanted his team to excel, no political leader wants their understudies to perform too well in their absence.

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