Scott Morrison is nothing if not a marketeer. Or, to put it more precisely, he is nothing except a marketeer.

His sole area of expertise consists in convincing the gullible to buy stuff they don’t need and generally don’t want and his success can be measured by the extent that he can persuade them that they can’t do without it.

His triumph. of course, was the 2019 election, in which a relentless campaign of spin revolving around the two great motivators of greed and fear overwhelmed any serious debate over policy.

And for this he became something of a demigod to his troops, who had been resigned the idea that their manifest divisions and incompetence were finally ready to catch up with them. If substance could be abandoned and bluster enshrined, it would save them a lot of trouble – when problems multiply and the situation becomes hopeless, just unleash the master marketeer. He will have a quick word to the powers above and produce another miracle.

It sounds all very convenient, but there is a catch: Morrison is not actually invincible, even within the narrow parameters he prefers. His marketing record is, to say the least, patchy.

He was ignominiously tossed out of the prize gig of Tourism NSW, and while he has rehabilitated himself within the less demanding environment of the Liberal Party, this has led to instances of hubris and impulsiveness. In particular, he has a tendency to over egg expectations – or if he doesn’t, those around him are always keen to do it for him.

His immediate staff seem to have taken up ideas way above their station – it sometimes appears that they see him more of a puppet than a prime minister, a useful logo to be deployed as a sort of ersatz messiah to neutralize crises in the belief that what worked two years ago can be repeated at will.

Fine if it works. But if it doesn’t – if the expectations cannot be matched – there is a risk not only of disillusionment among the electorate, but a mounting anger and resentment that they have been conned. And if it happened once, perhaps it also happened in the past and can be anticipated in the future.

Which brings us to last week’s National Press Club address. In the days preceding it, the battalion of boosters belched forth a barrage of ballyhoo. This was to be the prime minister’s first major speech of the year, the one that fixed the agenda for 2020 and beyond. It would be a complete reset, the prelude for initiative, innovation and action on a scale seldom envisaged in Australian politics.

Why, there was a rumour (clearly deliberately leaked) that climate change was in the recipe, that our woefully inadequate Paris accord targets were to be ramped up to more credible levels. There was even a suggestion that some form of carbon tax could be on the table. That one had to be hosed down quickly and decisively, before the compost in the party room burst into spontaneous combustion.

But still, the optimists hoped that at last something might be offered other than bluff and bluster. However, the hope was, as so often, extinguished by the pitiful reality.

The first half of Morrison’s lecture was pure self congratulation, a list of his government’s so-called achievements over the last twelve months. Then we indeed moved on to dealing with climate change – but not really. The key words were adaptation and resilience – we just needed to adapt and resile like buggery, and all would be well.

As for emissions reductions – the usual evasions, denials and procrastinations. We are only 1.3 percent, we are doing our bit, will meet and beat our pathetic promises, we won’t destroy our economy, if we don’t flog fossil fuels some other bastard will, it’s our coal and we will bloody well do what we like with it so those interfering foreigners can shut up and piss off.

But there had to be what is delicately described as an announceable – so Generalissimo ScoMo was going to ring in legislation allowing him to declare a state of emergency, not the kind the British did to actually confront climate change, but to pretend that he is doing something when the continuing and worsening disasters stemming from it emerge in the near future. He wants to be able to send in the troops.

Okay, that sounds like action: but when and how – and also why and what? Will his emergency include conscription, rationing, censorship, night time blackouts with the populace sent to the shelters? Presumably not; in almost the next breath Morrison averred that he was a federalist, meaning that the states would be consulted (which they have not always been during the present disaster) and that in spite of the emergency, it would be essentially business as usual, his constantly reassuring slogan as things go to hell in a hand basket.

But this will not work, because Morrison, unwillingly and reluctantly, has been forced to assume a leadership role: having talked up an emergency, and involved the armed forces on a continuing stand-by basis, he has effectively abandoned his old line about the states being the ones with the responsibility.

The public never bought it; as the catastrophe mounted across borders and the news dragged on, worse every day, even the quietest Australians could recognise a national issue when they saw one. They expect, demand, that their prime minister will do the same and will take charge. So Morrison has to try, even though his immediate response has been, to put it mildly, underwhelming.

But even the long-winded and half-arsed speech last week has raised expectations; don’t you worry, the government has your back, we will get things back under control. But what if we can’t? What if the nostrums offered so far prove to be too little and too late?

This fire season is far from over, and there are two more to confront before the next election. We can all hope that they will not be as frightful as the current one, but they are unlikely to be totally innocuous. And next time there will be nowhere to hide: Morrison, having been dragged to a leadership role which he did not want, now owns it.

He has already been politically charred; and it will he much harder for him to market his way out of the next crisis. But given that he has no other skills ,marketing is his only hope.




Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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8 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. The Marketeer

  1. Avatar Jocelyn Pixley says:

    I agree with your analysis of Morrison’s speech. But I don’t think he has the skill set of a marketer or sales person. Sure, he says “trust me”, but once that’s asked for, our trust disappears. I think his skills are as a flak catcher for others. I give the analogy of the over-greedy specialist (I am sure there are not many of them) who over-book patients. Everyone sits in the waiting room. Some question the administrative official about the waiting time; he/she has been ordered to deny, even lie about say, fee-paying, and lecture to stay quiet, so as not to upset other patients (who may also be impatient). The usual suspects order Morrison flak-catching role.

  2. Avatar Richard Ure says:

    With the assistance of his glove puppet colleagues, Morrison has closely aligned himself with the self-seeking and dishonesty of Bridget Mackenzie’s choices for preferment. Her standards and behaviour are now his standards and behaviour. Many sports club volunteers are angry and many others are appalled at their official contempt of process. Standing by her might have appealed to Morrison’s short term marketing instincts, but was it wise politically to stand by her beyond the death?

  3. Avatar Andrew McRae says:

    Good work as usual, Mungo. But I don’t hold with this ‘Scotty from marketing’ stuff. Morrison has no marketing qualification as far as I know, and wouldn’t know what marketing is or how it is practised. If his two ingloriously terminated national tourism jobs were comprised of ‘marketing’, then it surely bears out what I’ve said. Morrison is ‘Scotty from advertising’; he’s nothing but a spruiker, which I suppose is another way of saying he’s from ‘Spin’.

  4. Avatar Geoff Upton says:

    Personal abuse and rants are fine in some media but more constructive comments are appreciated and expected in this august publication

    • Avatar Felix MacNeill says:

      But it’s necessary to quote the person you are writing about, so it’s almost inevitable that there will be a fair bit of “personal abuse and rants” getting into the text

  5. Avatar Peter Martin says:

    “The key words were adaptation and resilience – we just needed to adapt and resile like buggery, and all would be well.”

    I see what you did there..

    Bloody marvellous. Like the Saturday crosswords.
    And apropos of nothing, I’ll sneak in thanks and public acknowledgement for your single-handed saving of Gough’s Blacktown speech when Richo’s grand organisation skills in getting himself a good seat near the front of the hall seemed to miss out on a few details like the provision of volunteering help. Years later Freudy told me Gough saw what was happening with the curtains and the carpentery and was awake to what happened. Couldn’t have happened right without your kind intervention.

  6. Avatar Allan Kessing says:

    I’m glad that Mungo pointed out that, even as a marketeer, SmoKo is not just useless but has that special Sadim magic, everything he touches turns to …
    He must wish that Barnaby had returned to the gNats leadership because then there would be an even better target for public ire.
    A wonderful irony that the return of Parliament is being devoted entirely to a Condolence Motion, even as the a/c works overtime to make the air breathable and the fires south of Canberra continue to rage.

  7. Avatar James O'Neill says:

    You omitted to mention that Morrison was also fired from his New Zealand job for incompetence. It is really difficult to muster much sympathy for Australia. Morrison is PM not least because this country has an electoral system that rewards the deal between Liberal and National at the expense of representative democracy. As a simple illustration, compare the share of the vote obtained by the National and Green parties in the House and then look at their respective numbers of seats. It is an affront to one’s intelligence to call that a democratic system. As far as I know Australia is the only country in the developed world with such a system and it is not hard to see why.
    Australians may now be discovering what a useless phony Morrison is, but they have only themselves to blame.

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