Scott Morrison has stopped even pretending to mount a coherent argument over his sports rorts plagued administration.
From the moment the Audit Office report arrived on his desk, the verdict was damning – the system had been sabotaged, public funds had been subverted, convention and even law set aside in the name of party political advantage.
And as more details emerged, ScoMo’s already threadbare defences were swept aside as the Audit Office comprehensively and forensically proved they were not only misleading, but deliberate untruths designed to conceal an egregious scandalous disgrace of the kind that used to shake and even topple governments.
We were told that all the grants signed off by the minister, Bridget McKenzie, were eligible – until they weren’t. They followed the caretaker convention – until they didn’t. The PM’s office was never directly involved in the decision making process – until it was. This was all shown conclusively under evidence given under oath in the Senate.
But the Prime Minister is utterly unconcerned: he had his story and he was sticking to it, and that was all that needed to be said, or more usually shouted, yelled, bellowed and howled across the parliament. The pork had been delivered; now for the porky pies.
What is delicately described as misleading the parliament – what normal people would call telling barefaced lies – used to be a hanging offence. Ministers cannot survive it, and even their leaders are vulnerable – more than one state premier has been forced to resign when called to account, even when they have been guilty than little more than lapses of memory.
Morrison cannot plead that excuse: he knew and knows damn well what he said and says, and is not resiling from it. His actions are, quite simply unconscionable, which is no doubt why he asks for neither justification or forgiveness. His malfeasance should be terminal, or at the very least seriously damaging and his obstinacy should do no more than delay the inevitable backdown, as has happened so often in the past.
But this time he is not for turning, and this is probably more than blind pig-headedness; there is at least an element of the rat-cunning he has used to propel himself up the greasy totem pole while feigning to have done more than take advantage of circumstances determined by others, the ones without his squeaky clean hands.
In this scenario, Morrison calculates that once the initial corruption had been revealed, subsequent disclosures would not materially alter the issue – the smoking gun was already lying beside the blood-stained corpse of good government, so if he could finesse his way past this blatant crime, he would survive.
Actually finesse is the wrong word – he depended on bluff and bluster. But apparently it has worked. The more the accusations escalated, the less interested the voters appeared. They knew the government was crook – many had already factored that in long before the scandal erupted and those who hadn’t were hardly surprised.
Exactly how where and when it was crook was irrelevant: details about precise times and places only confused the issue. So Anthony Albanese’s well constructed and irrefutable campaign simply passed them by. As Morrison correctly surmised, they had other worries, more pressing ones than the knowledge that their government was on the take – after all, aren’t all governments?
Cynical, dangerous and deeply dishonest. But it works. Such are the rewards of debasing democracy.
Mungo MacCallum was a former senior journalist in the Canberra Press Gallery.