Seven months is a long time in politics.
It was only in May that Scott Morrison was celebrating a shock election victory, vanquishing a Labor opposition that had already selected drapes for their new ministerial offices.
It seemed, for a time, that Morrison was a man built for this moment. In the age of spin and bullshit, where electoral victories are built on simplistic narratives, three-word slogans and targeted Facebook smears, who better to leverage these modern tools of political warfare than an ad-man like Scotty from marketing
Ensconced for another three years, Morrison set about casting Australia in his own reactionary, small-target, IPA-endorsed image, going after unions
, attacking climate and other social activists and promoting a radical Christian agenda
During this time Morrison demonstrated an almost Trumpian tendency to look truth squarely in the face and lie regardless. From repeatedly claiming that Australia’s climate emissions have fallen under the Coalition (they haven’t
), to assuring us that the religious discrimination bill is definitely not designed to entrench Christian hegemony (it is
), Morrison’s smirking chutzpah has become nearly as iconic as Tony Abbott’s red budgie smugglers.
For a while, Morrison’s mastery of the media combined with his aw-shucks invulnerability to criticism, a feckless opposition and a malleable senate made him apparently bulletproof.
But that seems like a long time ago now. Jetting off to Hawaii for a holiday with the family while the country burned may very well turn out to be Morrison’s defining screw-up.
The mistakes began before the Morrison clan decamped for Hawaii. In Sydney two weeks before Christmas, the city shrouded in smoke from a dozen surrounding fires, Morrison spoke about the religious discrimination bill. When reporters pressed him on whether the government ought to provide more support to overworked volunteer firies Morrison rejected the notion, claiming that they “want to be out there
Having aborted his vacation and returned to Australia when the cacophony of outrage became too loud to ignore, Morrison went defensive, first apologising
for causing offence and then later attempting to pass off his decision to abandon the country in a moment of crisis as a by-product of trying to be a good parent
When that didn’t placate the nation he went on the offensive, again going after Greta Thunberg
(who is, it should be noted, a child with Asperger’s
) and launching another passionate defence of the coal industry.
Meanwhile, the country continued to burn.
Scrambling for ideas, Morrison has now relented on his initial refusal to support volunteer firefighters, pledging additional annual leave
. And he’s also resorted to some diversionary tactics, announcing an inquiry
into state bushfire management.
How bad is this for Morrison?
Terminal, according to some. Writing in The Canberra Times Nicholas Stuart
said Morrison’s prime ministership was “over”. “The trappings remain but any remaining moral authority exited with the brief interview he proffered to radio from his beach-side hideaway in Hawaii,” Stuart writes. “It will never return.”
Long term it’s hard to say. In any other era this would be the kind of dereliction of duty that a prime minister would carry with them forever. But now, when every day brings with it a new disaster and a new outrage, this appalling failure of leadership might end up being nothing more than a footnote to a political era when every time we thought we’d reached the bottom we discovered further depths to plumb.
If nothing else you can be sure that Dutton will be keeping this debacle in mind for his inevitable leadership challenge.
It doesn’t really get much better than Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan’s piece
“Aloha, little Scotty from Marketing, is it resurrection you’re looking for?”