‘You have got to get all of the systems lining up. Your welfare system, tax system, your industrial relations – workplace relations system – they have all got to be lining up to achieve growth.’ Scott Morrison
For all his media appearances our ambitious new treasurer Scott Morrison is a dark horse with a patchy track record. Head of Tourism Australia, a $350,000 PA job arranged for him by mate Joe Hockey after the 2004 election which ended with an agreed separation. Fran Bailey, his successor said ‘his ego went too far.’ Morrison did get a $300,000 payout.
Entering federal parliament in 2005 Morrison the ‘supreme opportunist’, in one senior Liberal eyes, has come a long way in a short time. His rapid rise and his changing roles don’t make it easy to follow him; know what he stands for at any one time. In two years he is on to his third makeover; his third ministry, a steep step up from Immigration and Social Services, a step which he could well trip over. More likely he will follow the boss’s orders. For as long as it suits him.
Morrison is good at reinventing and promoting himself. The human chameleon began as a moderate who was elevated to the shadow cabinet because he supported Turnbull five years ago. Yet he quickly became a rabid Abbott political conservative to follow his new leader.
Expect further changes in Morrison Ver3 to suit the political climate again. Expect his ruthless pragmatism, his unbridled ego, his ambition to remain the same. Morrison excels at selling himself and quick to change to take advantage of any situation. Beyond these limited political skills does the man really know what he’s doing? His record is thin when you get beneath the spin.
ScoMo, the border enforcer, bills himself as the tough guy who stopped the boats. In fact the boats were pretty well stopped by PM Kevin Rudd’s announcement on July 19, 2013, that any persons arriving irregularly by boat would not be settled in Australia. Boat arrivals fell quickly and dramatically. Yet ScoMo, like his then boss Abbott, never let the facts get in the way of a good fiction. And like Abbott, he loves to whip up hysteria.
Morrison made news with his attack on the Labor government for meeting costs of flying 21 survivors of the shipwreck of an asylum-seeker boat on Christmas Island to Sydney for the funerals of family members who had died. How dare they, he raged, determined make political capital out a simple act of compassion and basic human decency.
Some say this marked him as a ‘tough man’. Most see it as a sign of a grub, a politician who would have no compunction in cynically whipping up our worst prejudices; our basest instincts. Morrison ranted on 2GB about the wasting of taxpayers’ money. Listeners on the right of politics would be easy to arouse, he calculated shrewdly. He was right.
78,000 of readers of The Australian who voted on the issue in an online poll, were 97 per cent behind Morrison. In a similar poll of 18,000 Sydney Morning Herald readers, however, only 31 per cent agreed with him. Clearly Morrison has a talent for tapping into right wing prejudices, inflaming the passions of those who resent and would punish asylum seekers. It’s ugly and despicable stuff.
Morrison and Abbott lied that being ‘tough on border protection’, to use their jargon for punishing asylum seekers for their misfortune, saved lives at sea. It was a specious claim at the time but it was repeated so often that it became accepted as true. Morrison’s brutality was completely exposed, however, in the scandalous way he whipped up hate over the funeral expenses. Lives had already been lost. His cruelty could no longer be explained away so readily.
Former Liberal leader, John Hewson, called his remarks “insensitive, lacking appropriate compassion, even inhumane”. Nick Xenophon described him at the time as “the greatest grub in the federal parliament”.
Morrison moved on to see himself as the ‘tough cop on the welfare beat’ when he became Minister for social services. ScoMo soon got attention for all the wrong reasons. Women who claimed maternity leave from their work and from the government were ‘rorters’ who were ‘double dipping’. Of course, he did not mean any offence, he quickly added. His gesture of retraction was to blame the system. Not that he is letting go of his crusade against the rorters.
He will, he says, this week, continue his mission as treasurer. Women will be stripped of the ability to claim the 18-week government-funded PPL along with any employer-paid benefits. Not only will this save buckets of money to give to multinational corporations setting up coal mines and the like, it will signal his toughness. It is a message he is fond of. Or no messages at all.
Everything is secret with Morrison. Kate Ellis, Labor Early Childhood shadow minister, says he’s obsessed with secrecy and control in whatever ministry he heads. In six months as social services minister, only two media inquiries were responded to. In six months his media team of fifty received 390 inquiries. It chose to respond to two.
Now having cut his reputation as a hard man headed for the top, Morrison sounds, in his second week in office as if he’s gone all mystical with a mission to ‘line all of the systems up’. Lord knows what he means.
Is he raising Kundalini? Aligning his chakras? Getting his ducks in a row? Just what the country needs right now is another Liberal treasurer who doesn’t know his job to patronise the electorate with more nonsense. It’s not like in Peter Costello’s day when you could do little, know little and rack up a lot of credit because you had Ken Henry as secretary of Treasury. Morrison will get little spoon-feeding from Abbott appointee, former investment banker John Fraser who doesn’t sound like he knows what he’s doing either, for all his self-awareness. ‘I am a prick’, he volunteers. ‘I really am.’
Perhaps Morrison is ‘lining up systems’ to avoid lifting and leaning. It worked for Joe. Hockey went back to 1942 to Menzies’ lie about lifters and leaners, dangerous, divisive nonsense then as it is now. Hockey, you recall also said that the age of entitlement is over. Except for him.
Joe’s being sent to Washington as Ambassador, as a consolation prize for failing to measure up after two years as treasurer. God knows what Washington will make of our human deficit but they won’t feel indebted to us.
Kim Beazley won’t be too flash on it either. Abbott renewed his term until the end of 2016. Being recalled early so that Hockey can be looked after would make anyone feel undervalued, despite being rated highly his peers. Yet the point of getting rid of Hockey – surely – is to start afresh. That’s another reason Morrison makes no sense at all. He’s either gone barking mad or he’s reading Hockey’s notes.
The debut performances from our tyro Treasurer are uninspiring. His interview with Leigh Sales a few days after he got the gig was a shocker. Morrison has a closed mind on ‘fixing the budget’. As far as he is concerned we have an expenditure problem. We have a spending problem not a revenue problem, he repeats in the maddening sloganeering which was one reason Abbott dudded out. Morrison just doesn’t get it.
No need to raise revenue? No. No need to be in step with a wealth of credible experts including Ken Henry, former Head of Treasury who points to a revenue AND an expenditure problem? Having made a belly-flop of a dive into his portfolio, the newborn treasurer appears to be threshing around not waving but drowning in the baptismal font of his new ministry. Another MP says, of our new treasurer’s lack of expertise, ‘Morrison would drown in the shower’.
When Abbott was challenged, which was not infrequently, he would retreat into three word slogans. Morrison is already doing the same. Is he deaf to his new Prime Minister’s plan that government MPs talk sense? Or could it be that he is not the messiah but just a naughty boy? By being wilfully disobedient to this leader he can diminish Turnbull’s authority in the party room.
Turnbull called for: ‘a style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take, and makes a case for it’. ‘Advocacy, not slogans’, would be the style of his new government. Except when it comes to his appointment of one he knows who can’t do the job of Treasurer. Someone he can control by giving him the job. Someone who has no option but to follow the PM’s instructions.
Barely a day later, cuckoo in the nest, Morrison is sloganeering like there’s no tomorrow-‘work, save, invest.’
We will all have to put up with the noise, for a while, I guess. Especially Turnbull who has taken a calculated risk in an appointment where the job is clearly too big for the man. Let Morrison waffle on about lining up his systems. We all know who and what he wants to line up if we will never quite know what he means. We all know he will never step out of the wretched cruelty of his past avatars.
If Morrison as Treasurer is Turnbull’s answer, already the 29th PM is asking the wrong question.