Will the real Scott Morrison please stand up?

Since what has often called a miracle federal election victory, there has been a strange ongoing discussion about Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Who is he? What does he believe?

Having set the bar so remarkably low throughout his Prime Ministership, in particular during the bushfires that ravaged Australia only a few short months ago, there has been something of a grateful shock to find Morrison currently presiding over the COVID-19 catastrophe.

Yet these are the superficial preoccupations of our mainstream media who rush to grab their share of political soundbites, gossip and talking points from Australia’s lamentable political class – like crumbs from the masters table.

There is a saying, ‘never waste a good crisis’ and although a slow learner, Morrison is now enjoying COVID19. He is riding high in the opinion polls, the ALP opposition are almost invisible, and its likeable leader Anthony Albanese is remarkably comfortable in becoming almost irrelevant. There is much in his very deliberate image positioning that reveals to us that the Scott Morrison of COVID-19 is little different from Morrison of the bushfire crisis, the Treasurer, Immigration Minister, or Abbott’s opposition attack dog.

In his COVID-19 press conferences, he openly speaks about his wife Jenny, or angrily scolds Australians as if they were his own children. The often-patronising parade of marketing ploys, slogans and attention seeking statements are presented down the lens with an ever-increasing Cheshire cat smirk. The COVID-19 Morrison show is only occasionally interrupted by an actual medical expert, or a rare probing question from a journalist. Otherwise, any federal COVID-19 announcement is almost entirely about Morrison.

This is not substantially different from the Morrison who attempted to force people to shake his hand, or who received personal abuse from fire victims as he sought photo opportunities in their bush ravaged towns. He must be the centre of attention, because this is what Morrison’s personal brand of marketing and image conscious politics requires. He is desperate to win the opinion polls and be the centre of attention. Yet he is often contemptuous of scrutiny, criticism or being held to account.

Is there any real mystery as who the real Scott Morrison might be? Is he not a marketing salesman who sells promises and perception? He has shown himself throughout his parliamentary rise to be a ruthless win at all cost’s performer. Former PM Malcolm ‘Lord Fauntleroy’ Turnball has described Morrison as untrustworthy, and a former political colleague described him as an ‘absolute arsehole’. Morrison has made his entire career saying and doing whatever helps him to win. Whether that was attacking the idea of stimulus and government debt under Labor during the GFC (in opposition and as Treasurer), demonising and locking up asylum seekers as immigration Minister, or engaging in climate denial in support of coal and mining. Morrison was also an integral part of Tony Abbott’s feral opposition to Rudd and Gillard. His sudden discovery of massive stimulus packages during COVID-19 and press conference heavy “management” of the crisis, has left some asking if Morrison had discovered some better angels. We should be highly sceptical. The record is spotty.

His management of National Cabinet reveals an inability (and displeasure) at failing to force the Australian States and Territories to accept his edicts. On some of the big issues, they have openly disagreed with him and gone their own way.

For this, Australians should be very grateful.

Morrison’s initial response to was that he was still going to go watch the footy! The debacle of the Ruby Princess and performance of Border Force cannot be ignored. Nor was Australia prepared for COVID-19, lacking test kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). His messaging on schools has been confusing, unnecessary and often politically motivated. The Morrison government is now increasingly focused on businesses and corporations, the most vulnerable of our workforce and society becoming little more than an afterthought. International students and the university sector have been abandoned by the federal government.

There is also more than a small amount of authoritarianism in Morrison’s approach to government, often exemplified by Peter Dutton and Morrison himself. Legitimate media questions about the honesty and integrity of the Morrison government (and Morrison himself) are simply brushed aside, naturally with the trademark smirk.

Morrison has promised big during COVID-19 and on the back of big money announcements, closed borders and social distancing, things like opinion polls are looking good. However, when you are dealing with a clever salesman, promises made are very different from the promises kept.

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Adam Hughes Henry is an honorary lecturer, School of Culture, History and Language, ANU. He is a former E.G Whitlam Whitlam Research Fellow, Western Sydney University in 2018-19. He is currently an associate editor for The International Journal of Human Rights (Taylor and Francis).

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