‘… you can’t go around with unfunded empathy here,” Scott Morrison told ABC radio beginning the coalition’s second week of ‘good government’ on a cautionary note during a whirlwind of media interviews.
Poster boy for the ‘Abbott Spring’, a flowering of libertarian values and the cutting of red tape, Scott Morrison, as always was right across Textor’s ready-mix talking points, even adding value of his own by promoting his own value. He was, he proudly reflected, with typical self-effacing modesty and humility, ‘a problem solver,’ the sort of minister who ‘got things done.’
Late in 2014 Coalition ‘pin up policy delivery boy’ Morrison ‘got things done’ by supplying children of asylum seekers on Christmas Island with mobile phones to ring Ricky Muir to pressure him into supporting sweeping changes to immigration law. The changes give the minister sweeping powers while refugees’ access to justice is blocked. The new laws limit appeal options and retrospectively apply TPVs, preventing asylum seekers, including those accepted as refugees and awaiting visas, some for five years, from ever gaining permanent protection visas.
Muir believed he was getting children out of detention on Christmas Island. He would doubtless be horrified to learn that he traded away the futures of so many others. Nauru still contains 211 children in detention. No TPVs have been issued, despite the passage of the controversial legislation which flouts Australia’s international obligations. Muir was the unwitting pawn of Morrison, ‘The Fixer.’
‘… what I’ve always tried to do – in whatever role I’ve been in – is I’m there to try and fix a problem. That’s what Tony, I think, sees my key role in the government as being,’ Morrison added later in the day, exclusively, to a Fairfax scribe, although he may have alluded to this with SkyNews and possibly hinted at the same with Alan Jones and one or two others.
Morrison’s record includes creating problems, for example in his patchy career in tourism when after Howard’s win in the 2004 election, Hockey made his crony Morrison head of the newly created Tourism Australia $350,000, an unsuccessful appointment which ended in an agreed separation of $300,000 largely because of his arrogance and lack of skill in reading the political scene. According to Board members Morrison ignored advice, withheld data, was aggressive and intimidating, and ran Tourism Australia as if it were a one-man show. His slogan, nevertheless, is ripe with resonance today: ‘Australia, where the bloody hell are you?’
The electorate which has formed its own view of Morrison may struggle with the latest makeover. Morrison the boat-stopper is a ruthless pragmatist whose fanatical application to duty includes contempt for everything else including the rules that govern nations in the treatment of asylum seekers, human rights, the rights of the child and UN conventions. It has also included wilful, irresponsible myth-making that other nations such as PNG and Nauru are responsible for the operations of Australia’s asylum-seeker camps in which men, women and children are cruelly made to suffer to send a message of deterrence, or, as Morrison puts it, a message that ‘the sugar is off the table.’
‘Sugar-off’ Morrison refused to answer questions about ‘on water asylum-seeker matters’ as if we were at war and he contemptuously preferred secrecy to the honest and open accountability required by the Westminster system. With Abbott’s blessing he proceeded to militarise border protection. He spent like a drunken sailor administering his portfolio, happily splashing millions on orange boats into which hapless asylum seekers were decanted only to be sent back to their persecutors and or hostile neighbouring countries. The plan is to spend $8.3 billion on offshore and onshore detention over the next 4 years.
Manus Island and Nauru, the most punitive forms of detention receive priority funding. It costs $400,000 a year to keep an asylum seeker in offshore detention, $239,000 to hold them in detention in Australia, below $100,000 for an asylum seeker to live in community detention, yet only around $40,000 for an asylum seeker to live in the community on a bridging visa while their claim is processed. Morrison talks of unfunded empathy, as an expert in fully funded antipathy.
In other governments Morrison’s behaviour would have marred his career prospects irretrievably. His bullying of Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs in the Human Rights Commission investigation into children in custody was reprehensible, even if the theme was scandalously continued this week by his Prime Minister who lambasted the author of the Forgotten Children report as reprehensibly partisan.
Morrison’s use of children as bargaining chips to persuade the senate to allow him to rewrite Australia’s international obligations is one of the lowest points in our history as a nation. Yet Morrison was promoted to the new super-ministry of social security with childcare added in. And, now, behold. Sugar-off Morrison is departed; Sugar-on Morrison, aka The Fixer arises in his place.
Morrison recreation of himself as ‘The Fixer’ is an incredible makeover given that he is a big part of the problem. The coalition is paralysed by a self-inflicted existential crisis in which good government consists of avoiding the next leadership spill. Morrison has stirred into the brew his own special blend of arrogance, duplicity and secrecy.
Fixing the Abbott government’s inability to govern is beyond anyone. Even the egomaniacal Morrison with his ‘can-do’ humble artisan pose cannot repair the mess. Undaunted, The Fixer continues to blitz the airwaves and print media opting to fix his own future first as his government falls daily further apart. A shattering of irreparable Humpty-Dumpty fragments. And unfunded empathy, according to Doctor Morrison.
The Abbott cabinet’s pathology has long intrigued experts. Tentative diagnoses include endemic narcissistic personality disorder, paranoia and dementia pugilistica. Yet now Morrison has now cleared it all up. Unfunded empathy is the villain, eroding the foundations of good government; clogging the arteries of the body politic.
As always, it is common sense, once it is pointed out – especially on talkback radio. You wouldn’t do a favour for a mate without sending him the invoice for your services. Society would break down completely. It’s the same with politics, evidently. Morrison, a man for all seasons, is a man of the times.
Morrison is on a mission. Important news about pensions must be aired. ‘We need a deep national conversation.’ In reality he was standing up to be counted in LNP party leadership stakes, sticking his head up over the parapet again now that his mate Tony was on the skids. The former Immigration Minister, who put children into indefinite detention and defended this by arguing that incarceration was better than drowning was keen to show everyone know that he was a moderate who would be handy when the next spill took place. This would be either next week or the week after by all accounts. Not, of course, that he would challenge Abbott. Of course not.
On 7:30 Morrison archly pretended to Leigh Sales that he did not know the difference between challenging his leader and being drafted. Craftily he would keep his powder dry, or so he thought. It was quite a transformation from hard-nosed bastard to fluffy bunny in the blink of an eye.
Morrison’s pretext was also unconvincing. Pensions? He announced a minute change to deeming rates which meant that those pensioners who already had a bit of money might be able to have a bit more. Of their own money. Important news? No-one else would have had the chutzpah.
What a windfall! Pensioners across the nation have been partying hard, kicking on into the wee hours after learning that their deeming rate will be increased. Some are now hot on the phone booking luxury ocean cruises, buying investment properties, bonds or just having their teeth fixed as a result of the massive $80.00 boost to their annual pensions.
The extra $1.53 per week would come in very handy in all sorts of ways pensioners happily agreed and they would all be guaranteed to overlook the fact that the government was taking the same amount off them by indexing pensions to the CPI and not to wages. They will ignore completely the chatter about including the family home in any future assets test. In the real world, however, it will be very tough for the new kid on the Centrelink block.
Apart from getting himself noticed, the rebirthed, rebadged softer Morrison has to get in early if he is to convince pensioners that they should take a cut to their indexation because it is too hard to tax high-earning superannuees. For a man who can talk under a tonne of wet cement, Morrison must now convince a more discerning, wiser and mature audience that will not be bluffed by his verbiage. Above all most are struggling to get by and will not take kindly to his wielding the knife on their already paltry allowances.
Unfunded empathy? Breakfast listeners choked on their cornflakes at his latest phrase. Whatever you may think of Morrison, he is a natural spinner. A national conversation was to be had soon, he bull-dozed over the top of each jock. Conversation? Bullshit Morrison has never had a conversation in his life. Empathy? He doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Watch closely as he jockeys for power within the chaos of a party he has helped to destroy. For as sure as ‘unfunded empathy’ is an abomination newly revealed to us all, the rise of Morrison will be even worse.