Morrison reverts to pre-bulldozer type

May 20, 2022
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Monday, May 16, 2022
Image: AAP /Mick Tsikas

The super-salesman’s ploy is working: since his claimed character reformation last Friday – when he said he recognised he had been ‘a bit of a bulldozer’ and that things were going to have to change – the debate about some of his worst behavioural faults as Prime Minister has shifted dramatically.

On Friday he spoke only about the ‘bulldozer’ image; conveniently ignoring the accusations that he has been an overbearing ‘bully’, particularly in his treatment of women, both inside the Liberal Party and more generally. Now he would have everyone believe the bulldozer image is really about whether he has been too ‘strong’, rather than that he is, as the former NSW Premier was reported to have texted (which she didn’t deny, but could not recall) ‘a nasty, nasty man’.

A brilliant piece of defensive marketing by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Not that anyone who watched his subsequent television interviews would have been persuaded that he had undergone a change for the better, and that he is now more empathetic. His refusal to accept criticism, to deny it any credibility, is unchanged; his arrogance undiminished.

And if he were to achieve yet another miracle and win on Saturday, there would be absolutely no chance that the prospective (once promised) change would happen.

He virtually conceded that point talking to the media on Wednesday morning, while defending himself against his bulldozer (not ‘bully’) style. Asked if he was worried voters would see his pledge to consult more during crisis situations, such as bushfires and the COVID pandemic, as a political ploy, he replied: ‘I have been very conscious about my approach for a very long time, and I have to tell you, in the roles I have had, it has served the country extremely well.’

He said, ‘You could not have been weak and stopped the boats, you could not have been weak and stood up to the Chinese government, you could not have been weak and made the decisions we had to make during the pandemic where there wasn’t time, as you say, and rightly, to be going and consulting on every decision, and in crises, that’s what you do have to do … Australians know that when things really get down to it that I can make those calls, that I can have the confidence to make those calls and that’s what has enabled Australia to come through what has been one of the biggest challenges we faced since the second world war.’

Even the bulldozer has disappeared in this explanation. As might be expected we are taken instead to a critique based on the strong-versus-weak dichotomy – and who would want a weak Prime Minister?

Actually a great deal of the criticism about what Morrison has failed to achieve as Prime Minister flows from his weakness, not his occasional show of strength. Lack of leadership is what it is mainly called, but that equates in many cases to weakness on his part – in the bushfires, in not taking important decisions during the pandemic about ordering vaccines, or establishing proper quarantine facilities and leaving it to the States and Territories to make vital health, economic and educational decisions.

Morrison’s narrative about the future continued, ‘What I am talking about is we’re coming out of that period, we are putting the pandemic behind us, and the crisis and urgency of those times gives us the opportunity as a government to move into another gear. I am very optimistic about the next three to five years …

‘We have big opportunities ahead of us, and I am intending for Australians to realise those and we can move out of the mode where we have been in where decisions have been difficult and tough. There will be many challenges ahead, no doubt about that, and I can assure you the same strength that I have demonstrated as a prime minister over these last three and half years, you can count on that strength in the future, but what you can also count on is shifting into this new gear of realising these opportunities.’

So, no change. No apologies, no more empathy. No concession now (five days after the bulldozer episode) that things ‘were going to have to change in the way I do things.’

Friday’s concession can only have come about because at that point he was desperately concerned about losing this Saturday. A few polls later suggesting he still has a small winning chance, and he has reverted to type. Besides, about a third of the electorate has already voted – its probably too late to win votes by suggesting he might reform his ways. Apart from which, he is probably incapable of doing so.

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