MUNGO MACCALLUM. The marketeer in the Lodge.

Feb 19, 2019

In the world of marketing, there are no such things as losses – only opportunities; and Scott Morrison, if he is nothing else, is a dedicated marketeer.

Some people would regard an almost unprecedented humiliating defeat on one of his signature policies, one he had claimed was vital to the nation’s security, as something of a set back – especially when it was followed by an undignified scramble to hamstring parliament in case of a second or even third one.

But even as he was cutting and running from the building, ScoMo was launching a new campaign. No, not the one about Bill Shorten being weak and untrustworthy, preparing to destroy the lucky country only the coalition can protect and preserve – that is the old campaign, as if you hadn’t noticed.

The new one is more akin to his days in tourism, assuring potential visitors that the way is open, the obstacles have been cleared: so where the bloody hell are you?

According to our prime minister, the medivac legislation will end border protection as we know it. Armadas of people smugglers with their hordes of boat people have been poised on the shores of Indonesia, preparing an irresistible invasion which even the doughty sentries of border force will be powerless to turn back.

They may have to spend a few days on the pacific paradise of Nauru, but very shortly naïve or corrupt medicos will order them sent to the Australian mainland, where they will proceed to devastate the peerless culture all real Australians love and cherish. And murderers, rapists and paedophiles will be especially welcome.

If there could be any doubt, huge sums of money which could be used to nurture countless hard-working Australians now have to be diverted to re-open Christmas Island, to be ready for the influx – whether it eventuates or not. And it bloody well better, after we have done all the work preparing for it.

Morrison has no doubt; addressing an audience of people smugglers visible only to himself, our great war leader challenged them in the style of a lone Horatius holding the bridge: “I’m standing between people smugglers and bringing a boat to Australia. Last time I did that, you didn’t get here.” So bring it on – I dare you! Please!

As some of the more rational commentators have pointed out, Morrison’s bluster will do far more to encourage people smugglers than deter them, and suspicious minds might think that this is precisely the idea; Morrison would just love another Tampa before the election, and he and his chief enforcer, Peter Dutton the dictatorial Dutch cream (heil Kipfer!)  are broadcasting the news that there is really nothing to prevent it.

But hang on: what if you invited an armada and no one came? What if the people smugglers, unlike the frothing combatants of the coalition and their allies, have actually read the new legislation and realised that far from being a blank cheque, nothing much has really changed?

The core of the medivac procedure is that it only applies to those already  detained – new arrivals will be incarcerated brutally and indefinitely, just as they have been in the past. A mere nuance in the Canberra bubble, dismissed ScoMo – this is about advertising, and that means spin and lies.

True, but it is not always believed, and we are told by The Australian that the people smugglers know it: the policy of turning back the boats has been highly effective, and so, they say, they are unlikely to be paid and it is not worth their while to set out unless and until the borders really are opened – which is not going to happen.

Which must disappoint Morrison greatly. Every arrival, he thundered, would be on Bill Shorten’s head. Well, no actually; this was not a unilateral action by Shorten but a decision of majorities in both houses of the parliament of Australia, surely the most definite and democratic verdict the system can provide.

But even if a boat or two tried to run Morrison’s blockade would it really matter? Indeed, even if the 50,000 arrivals in the Labor years were repeated, it would hardly be a catastrophe. It sounds a big number, but in practice it would hardly be a decent crowd at the MCG – about 0.2 per cent of the population.

But since it is not going to happen anyway, ScoMo’s apocalyptic warnings are, as so often, pure myth. Medivac is a small but welcome gesture of humanity – it will almost certainly save lives, and it might also allow some of the paranoid secrecy of the whole sordid conspiracy of the Pacific Solution to be revealed to a public increasingly sceptical of the government’s overblown rhetoric.

An obvious example: Tony Abbott said evacuations were unnecessary, because there were already 60 doctors on Nauru – the island was better served than many outstations in indigenous Australia. This is a strange boast from a former prime minister and current indigenous envoy, but it  is precisely the point: when patients in the outstations need treating in bigger centres, they are medivacced out automatically, as the doctors request.

All that is happening now is that asylum seekers will be given the same access. And they will still be in detention, especially the murderers, rapists and paedophiles – most if not all of whom will fail the stringent conditions for evacuation on character grounds anyway.

Morrison is running a scare campaign, pure and simple. Some suckers will fall for it of course – some always do.

But let’s be clear about it: this is not about protecting the borders, it is not even about policy. This is about marketing, about bullshit. And the good news is that Morrison’s career as a marketeer was not very successful in his first incarnation either.

He has failed to convince people smugglers that they should resume their business. It is to be hoped that a majority of the electorate is equally sceptical. But the noise will be deafening.

Before the decision of last week, Morrison said if the vote went against him, he would just ignore it. In fact, he has shouted about nothing else ever since. And there are still three months to go. Well, if the asylum seekers can survive five years of mental torture, we can put up with 12 weeks.

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