ALLAN PATIENCE. The shonk from the shire.

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.

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12 Responses to ALLAN PATIENCE. The shonk from the shire.

  1. Jerry Roberts says:

    You are all repeating the error of the American liberal Left who constantly express their outrage at Trump, thereby giving us another five years of the Donald.

    As Alan Patience knows better than most, Scott Morrison has appeared on the scene at the end of 40 years of neoliberalism. One of the deadliest features of this tragic period is the arrogance of politicians towards the professional civil service. Morrison’s most dastardly move to date is his most recent butchering of Commonwealth departments.

    Australian sociologists Michael Pusey witnessed the origins of this tragedy and wrote an excellent book on the subject called “Economic Rationalism in Canberra.”

  2. Neil Walsh says:

    I agree Allan. One comment said he is ”nice” – many sociopaths can feign niceness. As for physical fitness, lol? I see a deeply inadequate man, arising through a cruel bureaucracy. A touch of the Eichmann – though God forbid anything that monstrous.

  3. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    After Albo – do the words Tanya and Plibersek come to mind?

    • Allan Patience says:

      Maybe it’s time to contemplate a co-leadership arrangement – Albo and Tanya alternating, co-leading.

  4. Jerry Roberts says:

    You were on firmer ground in your earlier criticism of neoliberalism, Alan. Once an ideology pervades the academic, political and business worlds the individual politicians are much of a muchness. They are puppets on a string pulled by long-dead philosophers. Don’t expect much change until the economics faculties start teaching a broader curriculum. I know people of all ages and stages who find Morrison’s personality agreeable, both on television and in the flesh. His physical fitness helps him maintain a remarkable work rate. We swim at the same suburban pool when he is in Perth. Best to avoid personal attacks in politics. The constant hammering of Donald Trump is not helping the Democrats.

  5. J.Donegan says:

    Thanks Alan – interesting summary but, alas, we are stuck with the fact that he was re-elected, and therefore what precisely that might say about the electorate at large is not something on which I would be game to speculate.
    I note with interest your reference to Nikki Savva’s book and the fact that “..the Dutton camp was confident it had the numbers.” So also I believe did Mr. Murdoch; as did anyone else after seeing the double-page spread (with happy-snaps) in the Melbourne Herald-Sun devoted to the task of making Mr. Dutton look appealing.
    Ever since then, any photo I have seen of Mr. Dutton reveals to me a person seething with impatience.

  6. Rob Stewart says:

    Great piece Allan, and all too true.

    Problem is it’s a pox on all of them and their houses. Morrison is everything you say he is which isn’t much, but compare him with the alternatives (Dutton etc) he’s in the mix. Turnbull blew it, too cowardly, Abbott – utterly atrocious…….Morrison can fit in with that mix.

    The thing about Morrison I find the most disdainful is how he kicks and spits down at those below him and grovels upwards.

  7. Wayne McMillan says:

    Alan, your summary of our current Prime Minister is adroit and accurate. Sadly ordinary hard working Australians have been duped by this fundamentalist,folksy con man and the writing is on the wall for Australia. Australia Wake Up!!

  8. Rory McGuire says:

    Yes, he’s the latest in a line of unelectable PMs we have elected, usually because the alternatives have appeared even worse. Our democratic system isn’t working very well.

  9. Andrew Deakin says:

    … and yet, when offered the opportunity to turf him, a majority said no. Further, the front page histrionics & melodramas that characterised federal politics for a decade ended with the 2019 election. Morrison seems to be the PM for whom Australians have been waiting. Stable, right of centre, and impervious to the siren calls of fashion politics (climate change alarmism, gender dysphoria, et al). Mr Patience will find comfort only within his academic circles.

  10. Ken Dyer says:

    The saying, “a mile wide and an inch deep” generally refers to a persons knowledge. However, in Morrison’s case, it can be attributed his lack of honesty, integrity and morals.

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