Maybe Australians took to Scott Morrison during the election campaign for two main reasons: (1) He was not Bill Shorten; (2) He cunningly presented himself as an authentic bloke, a “daggy dad”, Mr Mainstream. There were no airs and graces. He was happy to be photographed goofily playing amateur soccer or wearing a baseball cap not so subtly in the style of Donald Trump. He made sure never to appear superior to ordinary “Mums and Dads”. He cleverly claimed to be the champion of the “quiet Australians” getting on with their lives outside the “Canberra bubble.” The remarkable fact is that all of this is shonky. Scott Morrison is not what he seems.
Long before the wheeling and dealing that saw him win controversial endorsement as the Liberal candidate for the NSW seat of Cook in 2007, the trajectory of Scott Morrison’s various careers as an ad-man in the tourism industry in New Zealand and Australia, and as a machine man in the NSW Liberal Party organisation, was one of cunningly disguised ambition to get to the top by whatever means were available. He was always the second-best guy who managed to survive disasters in his career that would have given pause to most people, or even destroyed them. The amazing fact is that he managed to come through each disaster smirking and smelling like roses, heading off into new ventures with his sizeable ego undiminished.
This determination to cut through despite the odds was evident in the ugly machinations within the Liberal Party to dispense with Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. The strategy set by the alt-right of the party was to roll Turnbull and replace him with their man Peter Dutton (possibly as a strategy to eventually re-install Tony Abbott as leader). As Niki Savva revealed in her book Plots and Prayers, the Dutton camp was confident it had the numbers.
However, Morrison cunningly blind-sided them. With his arm around Turnbull’s shoulder on the eve of the coup, and with his bold declaration, “This is my leader!” his disguise as Mr Clean-Skin fooled pretty well everyone in the party room. As Savva shows, this adroit furtiveness behind the scenes won him the day, much to the chagrin of Dutton and his fellow plotters.
We need to ask: What is the nature of Morrison’s ambition? What is driving it? Is he guided by a set of ethical principles that lead to a clear policy vision for the country? Moreover, do his colleagues share his principles and his vision? Do they agree with his strategies for making Australia a prosperous and secure nation? Are they united behind him, inspired by his ideas and ideals? Do they think he has the potential to become a great leader? Will his government be able to make Australia a prosperous, equitable, and secure nation?
Savva seems to suggest that Morrison is not loved by many of his colleagues in the government. They see him as a devious outlier, a guy not to be trusted. It would be unconvincing to try depicting him as a leader whose high principles and farsighted policy ideals have resulted in a close-knit band of ministerial and backbench supporters. For sure, they are relieved he got them back into governments rather than viewing him as an inspirational figure commanding their unabated loyalty.
Not many of his party room colleagues share his evangelical version of Christianity. His fundamentalist approach to religion requires a commitment to a narrowly defined faith devoid of deep theological reflection and historical analysis. It eschews serious biblical scholarship–especially scholarship that demonstrates major inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible. It teaches that if you obey God’s laws as they are literally discerned in the Old and New Testaments you are likely to lead a life of respectable prosperity. Respectability and prosperity are its centrepiece. Its primary ethic is to promote a remarkable degree of individual self-satisfaction with much less emphasis on loving the other, the stranger, as you would like to be loved.
Just how Morrison’s religious beliefs and his policies inform each other has to be a matter of public concern. He flagrantly demonstrated his religiosity when he invited the TV cameras into his church during the election campaign. But how his “Christian” values are reflected in policies that are, in fact, negatively impacting on Australia’s international standing is a moot point. Australia is viewed internationally as a “laggard state” on climate change, for example. On more than one occasion recently it has been singled out for scathing criticism by the United Nations Human Rights Council for its regressive human rights record on Indigenous Australians and asylum seekers.
How “Christian” is Morrison’s stance on refusing to increase the Newstart allowance? How are the teachings of Jesus reflected in his support of the United States’ wars in the Middle East? How is the “Prince of Peace” influencing Australia’s obdurate refusal to commit to a new international agreement to rid the world of nuclear weapons? How good is Scott Morrison, really?
Unlike Bob Hawke who cleverly disguised a brilliant intellect while being very much a man of the people, Morrison is without an intellectual bone in his body. While embracing the “daggy dad” image, his “ordinariness” is counterfeit. He doesn’t give a fig for the workers struggling with flat-lining wages and a flagging economy. He is committed to damaging if not destroying trade unions while avoiding punishing the “thugs” who run the big banks. His passion to destroy the medevac legislation is driven by an ideology that is as narrowly conceived as it is cruel. His extraordinarily clumsy defence of Angus Taylor last week suggests that he’s more committed to political expedience than to to his code of ministerial conduct.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that in Morrison we have been landed with a prime minister who is characterised by personal sanctimony and political deviousness. Advancing the public good is absent from his political lexicon except when it benefits him. His shouty posturing at Question Time in parliament and his craven cosying up to Donald Trump do not inspire confidence that in Morrison we have a leader for our time.
Poor fellow my country with a shonk from the shire in charge.
Allan Patience is a political scientist in the University of Melbourne.