ALLAN PATIENCE. Scott Morrison – a politician out of his depth?

Can Scott Morrison inspire the nation to reach for a better future for our children and grandchildren? Does he have a vision for the country? Or is he floundering as he tries to ride two tigers simultaneously – his right foot on the back of the alt-right tiger with Tony Abbott’s rictal grimace spread across its face; his left foot on the back of a tiger of panicking moderates? If the tigers head off in opposite directions, Morrison will fall flat on his face. 

There have been some truly awful political buffoons leading this country in the past. The corpulent NSW free trader and fourth Prime Minister George Reid and the gargoilish seventh Prime Minister Billy Hughes are stand out examples – the latter especially during his lamentable contributions at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. Certainly Billy McMahon, the twentieth Prime Minister, belongs in this category – witness his notoriously funny rant against Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam’s visit to China in 1971 (which nonetheless proved to be a watershed moment in Australian foreign policy). 

This would be all very entertaining but for the fact that, in their time as the country’s leaders, these buffoons brought Australian democracy into ridicule, nationally and internationally. Moreover, consider the terrible price American democracy is currently paying, nationally and internationally, for the buffoon that is currently its President. 

For good or ill, leaders of a nation carry a heavy responsibility to represent their fellow citizens with dignity, ethical integrity, and high intelligence. They need to be – and to be seen and believed to be – authentic persons who in are politics not for themselves, not for narrow partisan purposes, not for the perks of high office, but that they are in politics to work for the well-being all of all their fellow citizens. They need to combine ethical integrity and evidence of a statesman-like ability to rise above the hurly burly and mindless viciousness of everyday politics. For a great leader, politics must be a sacred vocation, not a business. She or he must be able to speak with moral authority, not in slogans, advertising jingles, or by tweeting tweets. If they fail in all this, they fail their country and themselves. 

Standout leaders in recent years have been few and far between. Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961, had many of the hallmarks of a great world leader. On not a few occasions Angela Merkel has shown statesmanlike qualities that place her above all her contemporary counterparts around the world – although her time may now be ending. Many expected it of Barak Obama – but many were disappointed. The late Nelson Mandela, though humanly flawed in many ways, was a great leader of his country and a light to the world.

Will Scott Morrison, the thirtieth Prime Minister, be able to offer Australia auspicious leadership and take his Coalition to electoral victory, presumably in May 2019? Or will he be consigned to the buffoons’ gallery in Australia’s political history? The evidence is mounting that he may be heading for political ignominy. If so, how much damage is this inflicting on Australian democracy, nationally and internationally?

Morrison has not settled well into the Prime Ministership. He gives the impression of being a very square peg in a round hole. Perhaps this is unsurprising. His time as Minister for Immigration in the Abbott Government was marked by a ruthlessness towards asylum seekers that profoundly contradicted his claim to be a particular kind of Christian (although his apparent theology and religious style need deeper, more informed critical scrutiny: there are wiser souls who would seriously question whether he is a Christian at all). 

Morrison’s crudely pragmatic statements in defence of the Abbott government’s asylum seeker policies were invariably expressed truculently, accompanied by the cruelly triumphalist declaration: “We will stop the boats!” He asserted that sometimes governments have to do bad things to the few in order to guarantee the security of the many. This is an ethically repugnant form of the-ends-justifies-the-means argument. It assumes an either/or (binary) orthodoxy that is ignorant of via media argumentation in moral philosophy. His pronouncements were invariably under-mined by the smug grin he manages to stamp on his face when claiming the high ground from a low moral base. He presents as someone hamming it up. He looks like a fake.

As Treasurer in the Turnbull government, Morrison proved to be a card-carrying neoliberal – if of a rather clumsy order. He was one of the strongest opponents of a Royal Commission into the banks, referring to calls for such a Commission as “populist whinging.” We should expect some hand-wringing mea culpas once the Commission’s report is handed down next year. He took a lump of coal into the House of Representatives extolling the virtues of the coal industry while defending coal-powered electricity generation and attacking subsidies for renewable energy production.

Given his claims to be a particular kind of Christian Morrison’s neoliberalism calls out for closer scrutiny. Indeed, the so-called Christianity that many fundamentalists identify with is evidence of a grotesque misunderstanding of Max Weber’s protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism argument. The so-called fundamentalist Christian version of this misunderstood doctrine is that people become rich because they find favour in the sight God; the poor deserve their miserable lot because they lack the incentive and energy to get rich. (Remember Joe Hockey’s “lifters and leaners” slogan?) This is counterfeit Christianity at its most hypocritical and self-defeating capitalism at its worst.

But it is since he became Prime Minister that Morrison’s buffoonery has really come to the fore. The baseball caps and cheesy matiness were so confected, so contrived, as to be comical. There are moments when he looks like a mini-Trump. The flakiness of it all became embarrassingly evident when it was revealed that he flew (presumably at tax payers’ expense) between his appearances (baseball cap askew) allegedly on the “Scomo bus” in Queensland. His policy back flips and confusion – for example, climate change, the NEG, moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, attacking school kids for protesting against his government’s inaction on climate change, “saving” the endorsement of Craig Kelly – are compounding a view that Scott Morrison is a politician way out of his depth. On the world stage his training wheels are spinning backwards, not forwards, as world leaders raise their eyebrows at the appearance of yet another Australian leader.

But the Prime Minister is not alone in his buffoonery. He has many soul mates in the Coalition who share his bumbling, stumbling style. They are falling over each as they routinely fail to govern the country wisely and well. Australia is being demeaned by this buffoon of a Prime Minister and by this self-destructing Coalition government – nationally and internationally. Bring on the election.

Allan Patience is a Melbourne-based political scientist.

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6 Responses to ALLAN PATIENCE. Scott Morrison – a politician out of his depth?

  1. Sandra Hey says:

    Great article, I would suggest a man who stands with his hands in his pockets at the dispatch box in parliament whilst addressing parliamentarians and the public gallery, who also stands with his hands on both hips during media interviews, in my view shows a lack of respect and manners. As for his professional ability, one has to ask the question, why was he moved on from his position half way into his contract with the New Zealand Government in 2000 as Managing Director of NZ Tourism and Sport, the same again back in Australia, he was sacked from his position in Tourism Australia, by the Howard Government and this man ends up as Prime Minister of Australia. There is a much bigger picture going on behind the scenes and it has to do with the Christian Evangelical influence that is infiltrating the Liberal Party.
    Our three most influential policy drivers in this current Government, namely the Prime Minister, the Assistant Treasure and the Treasure are either Evangelicals or religion is Judaism, in fact the treasurer of Australia would not attend the parliament on two occasions when the house was sitting because of his Jewish faith.
    Lucy Gichuhi, a Liberal party Senator, has written an article for Eternity, “What Queen Esther (the Book of Esther from the Old Testament ) can teach the Liberal Party”
    Don’t be surprised if Morrison’s calls the election for March, on the first day of the Parliament on February 12th, caretaker mode will suit him better, he will not have to face the parliament nor produce a budget he will use the MYEFO update instead.
    I suspect the Australian economy will not look so healthy come April/May.

  2. Some claim they’re standing on a high moral ground. The last… well, quite a few PMs really, are quite gleefully claiming the lowest point of a moral sewer.
    Gleefully and most proudly.
    Buffoons are idiots; stupid people who know not what they’re doing.
    Morrison and Abbott and a whole lot of those treading the boards of the Parliamentary stage know exactly what they’re doing and loving it; not as idiots but as bastards. Mongrels, heartless, plague-ridden sewer rats. Every single one of their achievements -and thank Zeus they’re not too many of them- have been achieved with criminal intent and each one of them should land them in jail for years beyond their life span.
    They have broken every item on the list of human rights and they’ve done so boasting it.
    Buffoons are tolerable to a great extend. These creatures are utterly abhorrent.

    Thanks, Allan.

  3. Hans Rijsdijk says:

    This is how Morrison comes accross to a perhaps cynical old man.
    He seems a likeable guy who easily talks to people and feels at ease having a beer or a sausage with anyone. And for these reasons many people like him. You know, your average Australian male (or “a daggy dad?”)
    He also seems a hollow man, who has no ideas himself but copies everything from others. I have never seen him answering a question with a straight answer. He either changes the subject or waffles on about the opposition or just walks away. As Treasurer he simply did not seem to know what he was talking about. I really believe he simply doesn’t know the answers.
    As Prime Minister he doesn’t seem to know much more, but as we found out he is good as bullying. It is still hard to know what his convictions really are. On the international stage he looks truly oafish.
    He is highly religious (as he tells us), but doesn’t seem to practice the basic tenets of Christianity. Vide the dreadful treatment of a few (mostly legitimate) refugees in Nauru and Manus. One can only conclude that he must be a hypocrite.

    Yet in spite of all these things it is alas not inconceivable that he gets reelected by an Australian population that seem not to be able to see through all the nonsense.
    Are too many of us just like him?

  4. Tony Mitchell says:

    A few perceptive coalition parliamentarians have noted the artificiality of the sanctimonious ScoMo – and have wisely distanced themselves. Notable example among the women has been the moderately successful minister Julie Bishop; who especially does not want to be too closely associated with the calamity the governments’ misogynists will face at the election. But on the other hand, delusional handmaidens senators Cash and McKenzie are apparently quite comfortable with the alpha-males Joyce, Abbott, Kelly, et al , and neither have they any particular achievements nor reputations to defend.

  5. John O'Callaghan says:

    A lot of men have been called a buffoon, some deserve it some not so much,but Scott Morrison fits the mould perfectly, he is actually a bona fide or in his turn of phrase, a”ridgy didge buffoon”, he has left no one in doubt what so ever about his status!………….

  6. john tons says:

    Many may read this analysis as merely a leftist partisan hatchet job but the article points to a wider malaise in western democracies – polities are dominated by politicians without any real vision of what constitutes a fair society. John Rawls opened his theory of justice with the statement: ‘institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.’ (Theory p3) When we analyse the way this government has functioned on issues such as Same Sex Marriage, Border Protection, Climate Change and Social Welfare to name but four, we can only assume that there is no coherent ethical vision guiding their decisions. Instead their decisions lack the moral courage to describe policies that may be unpopular but are justified and demanded by their considered political philosophy.
    When I contrast Morrison’s performance in the migration portfolio to that of Amanda Vanstone then whilst I disagreed with her she at least framed her policies in terms of a considered political philosophy.
    We currently appear to have a government whose ministers are out of their depth, it is as if cabinet is comprised of kids on work experience.

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