MARK BEESON. Morrison’s surprising character defects: faith and optimism

Being a leader, even of a lucky country like Australia, isn’t getting any easier. To be fair, these are difficult times for any leader, even the most competent ones. It’s worth asking how FDR, Churchill or even Bismarck would have coped with today’s problems. Even though some of the current crop of international leaders are awful by any standards – Donald Trump and Boris Johnson being the quintessential cases in point – it’s far from clear that leaders from any other era would have coped with climate change in all its mind-bending complexity.

In such circumstances, it’s not unreasonable to cut Scott Morrison some slack. After all, we’re not at war (at the moment), the economy is going pretty well (ditto), and no one from his own party is actually conspiring to bring him down (as far as we know). Even more surprisingly, perhaps, he seems to be quite popular with the punters: his unpretentious Everyman style clearly touches a chord with at least some of the electorate.

Unfortunately, most of his supporters tend to be among the more senior elements of the population. This does not bode well either for the Liberal Party or – much more consequentially – for the future of the planet. Part of Morrison’s problem – as it is with much of his generation – is that he simply doesn’t get some of the concerns of the younger generation who have recently taken to the streets in ever larger numbers.

His recent comments about the need for young to avoid ‘needless anxiety’ by adopting the ‘right context and perspective’ only highlight how out of touch he is with the concerns of the young. Many of old guard in the Coalition will blame the supposedly all-powerful left wing media and the universities, no doubt. The latter are especially dangerous, of course, as they’re packed with people who actually understand the science behind climate change and its seemingly unstoppable consequences.

Morrison, on the other hand, is fortified by his faith and his apparently genuine optimism. Without wanting to get into an inconclusive theological discussion, if God’s around He (or She) seems to take an increasingly laissez faire approach to the world and prayers go unanswered, to judge by the empirical evidence, at least. We are consequently left to our own devices and the abilities of our leaders to understand and address the problems we collectively face. This is what makes Morrison’s ‘she’ll be right’ approach so dangerous and out of touch with both reality and the hopes of the young in particular.

Even though Morrison seems capable of compartmentalising his values and his policy principles at times – he was the minister for immigration and border protection, after all – his belief in the resilience and potential of Australia seems boundless and genuine. No doubt these are admirable psychological qualities for individuals, but they are less useful for those charged with addressing formidably complex policy problems with no obvious solutions.

Failing to recognise that there are problems to actually confront compounds the difficulties. It may be the case that Morrison and many in the Coalition really believe that the problems have been exaggerated or, like Mr Micawber, hope that something will turn up, preferably a technological fix that will allow business as usual to go on as normal.

Perhaps it will, but you wouldn’t want to bet the house on it, much less the planet. That is precisely what the Morrison government is doing, of course. The possible consequences of this failure to act are increasingly recognised by a smart, politically savvy younger generation who are increasingly disenchanted with the status quo. And why wouldn’t they be? If the overwhelming scientific consensus on the likely impacts of climate change is only half right, the future of the young looks increasingly bleak.

The problems are formidable and unprecedented. The solutions – if there are any in the time available – are equally unimaginable and will almost certainly require major changes to the way we live. Having the capacity to recognise this is an important start. The pessimists and ‘alarmists’ have some of the most compelling arguments. For the sake of the young we should listen to them before it really is too late.

Mark Beeson is Professor of International Politics at the University Of Western Australia. His latest books are Rethinking Global Governance and Environmental Populism: The Politics of Survival in the Anthropocene.


Mark Beeson is Professor of International Politics at the University of Western Australia.
Tel: (08) 6488 2487
Series editor, Critical Studies of the Asia-Pacific
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7 Responses to MARK BEESON. Morrison’s surprising character defects: faith and optimism

  1. Avatar Norm Stone says:

    Just imagine if the only viable alternative party, a Green /ALP coalition, did some real forward planning and engaged the school strikers as a regular set of young advisers (or something with a genuine voice) Looking firstly at, the next term elections when perhaps 1/3 of the young people will be eligible to vote and secondly at the following when the great majority are eligible. They would harnesses genuine passion rather than becoming Liberal Labour Light.

    Nah not a chance. Too mind-bendingly complex? Or too much against self agrandisment and out dated plain old power hunger

  2. Avatar Richard Ure says:

    I doubt he is “out of touch” so much as a marketing man with a brief containing a message to be sold. And if you don’t care about young people (because they can’t vote or there aren’t enough to matter), you still have to keep your supporters from getting the wrong ideas.

  3. Avatar Tony zeeher says:

    Thank you to Evan Hadkins and the response from Stephanie Dowrick.
    You have both articulated my thoughts eloquently and far clearer and concisely than I could have done.

  4. Avatar Evan Hadkins says:

    What complexity.

    We have options for sustainability (from power generation to farming) that we can buy off the shelf.

    Shifting people from one industry to another isn’t impossible.

    The blockage is the elites and vested interests. Not complexity.

    • I totally agree with Evan. Many of the possibilities have been taken up by countries with concurrent problems far graver than Australia’s; meanwhile, Morrison offers hot (and ever hotter) air.
      There are three problems surely – at least – with Morrison’s utterly phoney “leadership” : 1) He is strikingly fundamentalist in his religious and political beliefs. This is immensely dangerous as it renders him virtually incapable of anything but the most disastrously dualistic thinking, closed to all views, experiences, or FACTS that differ from his own rigidities. 2) He is strikingly anti-intellectual as well as anti-science. What’s more, he is surrounded by people – in politics, media, and the corporate world – whose primary interest is to make money; plundering the planet and trashing the Common Good; telling whatever lies are necessary to maintain their grossly self-interested fictions…confident that in the Gospel of Hypercapitalism this is all justified. The utter tragedy is that some of this aligns with Morrison’s own “pray and grow rich” Pentecostalism which itself is trashing the public’s understanding of what Christianity is or should be. 3) Morrison has a massively inflated sense of his own importance. A more insightful person would not be…well, would not be Morrison. He believes his own rhetoric and does not hide his contempt for anyone who would challenge or contradict him. Certainly, he seems seldom to examine the content or consequences of anything much that he says, especially where he is rigidly opposed to something morally decent or socially just. Or ENVIRONMENTALLY VITAL! His indifference to the fate of the planet mirrors his indifference to the fate of refugees, the poor, the long-term unemployed – anyone really who is need of thoughtfulness and compassion. He mistakes his own rigidity for strength; that’s dangerous.
      Where he is something of a “master” is in manipulating the narrative so that almost every scandal in which his government has been temporarily or deeply involved seems to slide by as the media lose energy or interest. This includes multiple events which would have brought down ALP ministers… Twitter keeps us well informed on this, more than mainstream media does.
      I need also add that the “elites and vested interests” to which Evan correctly refers includes those wrecking our world through their vile, intense normalisation of the “defence industries”. I’ve written about this here often, but this IS the world’s biggest global industry and it does depend on greed beyond imagining and also the primitive, unforgivable mind set that wars can be justified. And yes, of course those man-made horrors add to the horrors of what the hyper-capitalists are doing to our planet.
      But let’s never believe things cannot change for the better. They will. If enough of us care. And our small efforts via P&I and in all sorts of other ways are part of that. There may yet be peace in our time – with our earth and its people. As the Buddhists would say, we have only to wake up.

  5. Avatar John Walpole says:

    I wouldn’t cut Horrisum or any of his parliamentary colleagues any slack at all. Him and his party’s fascist policies need to be called out for their ideological bent and also, I would implore anyone who hears “it’s a complex issue” in the narrative to be extremely cautious and employ the bullshit metre.

  6. Avatar Pierre Louys says:

    Needless anxiety of the young generation caught in the constantly swirling toilet bowl of job stagnation, terrified of the climate crisis, unable to afford their commute let alone their own home, swiping through an endless series of failed online attempts at love, staring down the barrel of their finite fertility, squeezed by austerity, watching the worst government in living history take their seats, standing by in horror as our health system, care system, transport system, housing system and political system is broken up for the short-term profit of a tiny minority of invisible oligarchs …

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