PM leaked staff message flags early election

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A Freshwater Strategy poll published by The Australian Financial Review this week showed Labor had a 51-49 two-party-preferred lead over the Coalition, three weeks after breaking a political promise and announcing a major re-design of the Morrison government’s stage 3 tax cuts which slashed the amount of money being returned to highly paid Australians and redistributed it to lower and middle-income earners.

An election this year would potentially hold significant political risks for the Albanese government and could also clash with the Queensland and ACT state and territory elections in late October.

The May federal budget is likely to contain more household-friendly measures to tackle the cost-of-living crunch being felt by Australians and will be put together with one eye on the possibility of a poll in the second half of the year.

The result of the Dunkley byelection on March 2nd – a seat Labor is desperate to hold – and the possibility of interest rate cuts late in the year will also be critical factors in determining the timing of the next poll.

Epstein, who was Kevin Rudd’s first chief of staff when Rudd became prime minister, served in the same role for Kim Beazley when he was opposition leader and worked for Hawke-Keating education minister John Dawkins. Gartrell said his appointment would bolster the ranks of “grey beards” in the prime minister’s office.

Epstein’s exit from Rudd’s office in late 2008 was considered notable at the time because of the loss of experience in the prime minister’s office.

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The veteran political staffer also ran that government’s National Media Liaison Service – which was nicknamed the “aNiMaLS” – which managed whole-of-government media strategy and did opposition research. Since leaving the Rudd government he has worked for Qantas, BHP and Optus and been executive director of Labor think-tank the Chifley Research Centre.

A second senior Labor source, who asked not to be named so they could discuss the appointment, said that Epstein was “what the office has been lacking – as long as he is given the freedom to punch people in the nose”.

“That’s not Anthony’s style, he is very much like ‘my office doesn’t run the government’.”

The appointment is the latest in a series of changes in the prime minister’s office since his former media chief Liz Fitch left at the end of last year.

Fitch has been replaced in the media office by former Guardian political editor Katharine Murphy and Fiona Sugden, another veteran political staffer who had worked for Rudd when he was prime minister and for Albanese when he was opposition leader.

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