Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s departure from parliament is a vulgar reminder about where Australian politics went grossly wrong, and where its vulnerable, already trimmed sovereignty went.
In a January 23 Facebook post, former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his decision to “leave parliament at the end of February to take on new challenges in the global corporate sector and spend more time with my family.” Making the announcement at this time would “give my party ample time to select a great new candidate who I know will do what’s best for our community and bring fresh energy and commitment to the job.”
This decision should have been months ago. Instead, he waited and ruminated, drawing a backbencher’s salary as federal member for Cook, milking contacts, chasing up work prospects, and toying with his consultancy options. He found time to travel to Israel to praise its brave warriors and citizens, currently exercised with the task of destroying Palestinian life. He brandished his anti-China credentials to such thinktanks as the Hudson Institute, which praised him for countering “an increasingly assertive China in the Indo Pacific and beyond”.
Being all about Morrison, his departure coincides with his appointment as non-executive vice chairman to the US consulting firm American Global Strategies. He is also assuming the role of a strategic advisor with AUKUS investor, DYNE Maritime. There, he will rub shoulders with Mike Pompeo, formerly CIA chief and US Secretary of State.
This is all fairly typical of the man, a perfect statement on Canberra’s revolving door of self-enriching politicians, overpaid consultancies and rapacious firms. Not only did Morrison help negotiate AUKUS and the termination of any vestige of Australian sovereignty, he will now profit from his deeds. As Greens defence spokesman David Shoebridge observed, “Morrison is leaving politics only to grab his very unfair share of the billions of dollars of public money that he has shovelled into AUKUS.”
What, then, of the neglected electors of Cook? Morrison could see nothing inconsistent in his conduct after losing office in May 2022. His official statement of departure is thick with busy achievements. He was, for instance, “able to deliver new and upgraded sport and community infrastructure, such as major upgrades to our local surf clubs and new artistic installations and visitor facilities being provided at Cook’s landing site at Kurnell.” He gushes and babbles about pursuing charity work, facilitating a generous spread of grants programs, all activities he would have had a minimal, personal role in.
The Morrison method is both unedifying and distinctly unattractive. It entails pathological suspicion of colleagues (his secretive, coup-dimensioned seizure of several ministries was a case in point). It involves reaping the rewards of and taking credit for the work of others. Forget, for instance, that Australia’s pandemic strategy was dominated by active, aggressive policies exerted by States and Territories. All the man did was seal Australia off in hermetic splendour, in the process condemning Australians stranded overseas in often pestilential conditions of poor health, being and resources.
So scandalous was this mockery of the “right of return” under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it went to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Australian citizens were told their rights had been infringed. The response of the Morrison government was to threaten any arrivals in defiance of the travel ban, notably those from India, with fines of $66,000.
The method of the former prime minister also involves catastrophic instances of misjudgement and legendary incompetence. When he might have ensured a reliable, timely supply of COVID-19 vaccines, he failed. His exculpating excuse: global supply chains were unreliable. When vaccines were made available, he was filled with self-praise.
As a good part of Australia was suffering in the bushfire conflagrations of 2019, he thought it prudent to make an unannounced family getaway to Hawaii. Even his apology for this display of indifference to suffering could barely be taken sincerely.
On the most vital issues, he baulked. His government heralded technology as the sole cure for climate change, ignoring the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As treasurer, he brought into Parliament a piece of coal to assure fellow members that there was nothing to fear about fossil fuels. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared.” He bullied Australian diplomats into avoiding any reference to “climate change” in climate change talks, affirming to the world that Canberra was both environmental villain and saboteur. He sneered at Pacific Island states for their existential worries about the loss of their states due to rising sea levels.
His record as a bungling advertisement of malice also included his time as immigration minister, when he became Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s attack dog in the “turn back the boats” policy. Refugees and asylum seekers arriving by sea were demonised, lacerated and condemned, to be towed out, made to disappear in watery depths or – much the same thing – taken to Pacific Island concentration camps (Nauru, Manus Island) to be sadistically tortured, sexually molested and left to moulder. When the New York Times interviewed Morrison on becoming prime minister, the paper noticed something grotesque: “His office features a model migrant boat bearing the proud declaration ‘I Stopped These’.”
Pity, then, that the man himself has not been stopped, a vulgar reminder about where Australian politics went grossly wrong, and where its vulnerable, already trimmed sovereignty went.