By Ad astra
We ought not to be surprised at the multiplicity of Scott Morrison’s mistakes, given the lack of preparation he has had for the role of prime minister. Prior to Malcolm Turnbull’s ouster, Morrison was Treasurer and before that, Minister for Immigration. He had never had responsibility for making the wide range of decisions on the large variety of challenges that prime ministers face. Now, after his accidental ascent to the top job, it shows. While some conservative commentators might cut him some slack, many are already wondering when, or if, his mistakes will ever cease, and whether he can recover from the plethora of missteps he’s already taken.
Is it just inexperience that makes him look so inept, and at times stupid? Or is it his egocentric nature, his exuberant but misplaced confidence, his arrogance, or his advertising executive past? Maybe, all of the above! We canvassed the reasons last month in Oh dear – our new PM is not up to the job. We concluded then that Morrison was a dud. Every day since vindicates that conclusion.
Like almost every parliamentarian who has filled a senior position in government, Morrison has harboured lofty ambitions, dreaming about filling the top job, imagining he’s sufficiently talented to do so. Although he may never have expected to be thrust so precipitously into the job on that fateful day in August, he grasped it enthusiastically, and was soon out and about in his characteristically over-confident way, expounding on every subject about which journalists chose to probe him. Words cascaded from his mouth exuberantly, embroidered with his all-knowing smile. Doubts never entered his mind, or if they did, never escaped his lips.
No sooner was he made PM than he faced the unnerving prospect of having to fight the Wentworth by-election, occasioned by Turnbull’s resignation. It seemed not to faze him. He behaved as if he had it well under control. Indeed, he seemed to take in his stride the danger of losing a seat the Liberals had held for a century, at the time by a margin of over 17%. Surely that couldn’t happen!
So we come to his initial mistake – believing Wentworth was invulnerable, with well-credentialed Liberal Dave Sharma up against an unknown Labor opponent and a gay female Independent.
Morrison began by mistaking the depth of anger Wentworth voters harbored at Turnbull’s unseemly removal by a conservative clique stirred into action by a vengeful Tony Abbott and an egotistical, if innumerate Peter Dutton who saw himself as ‘a better man’ to lead the party. Then he underestimated the political appeal of Wentworth resident Kerry Phelps, a medical doctor, a past president of the AMA, prominent in local council affairs, and a fervent supporter of marriage equality, which Wentworth voters had embraced enthusiastically. He couldn’t see her marshalling the 17% swing needed to take the seat. Morrison’s electoral naïveté quickly became exposed.
Eventually, he got the message from the polls that Sharma was no certainty, and that he had better pull his finger out to attract voter attention. So what did he do – make another mistake – foolishly floating an idea he thought would appeal to the large number of Jewish voters in Wentworth – the transfer of the Australian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, now declared by PM Netanyahu and President Trump to be ‘the capital of the State of Israel’.
He seemed unaware of the anger that would create among the Palestinians, and oblivious to the irritation such a move would create in neighbouring Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation on Earth, which has long opposed such a move. So upset was President Joko Widodo, that the bilateral trade deal being negotiated with Indonesia was immediately placed in jeopardy. It still is.
At the recent ASEAN meeting, having stupidly wedged himself, Morrison struggled to rescue the FTA. Despite what Widodo had said, and repeated to him in Singapore, Morrison still maintained that the two issues (the siting of the Australian Embassy and the FTA) were not linked! Then Trade Minister Steve Ciobo of all people insisted that there was a “less than a 5% chance” of the move going ahead. Morrison dismissed this as a ‘complete furphy’, going on to declare that he would make a decision about the Australian Embassy by Christmas.
”Why leave it to Christmas” retorted Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong. “The cost of all this chaos to Australia’s national interest is now being demonstrated. He needs to accept he made the wrong judgment and finalise the government’s position and return to the bipartisan position.”
Bill Shorten was similarly scathing. “I think Mr Morrison made a major mistake when he floated the kite before the Wentworth by-election…Frankly, he made himself look stupid and made our country look stupid. If he has decided not to go ahead with moving the embassy, for goodness’ sake just tell us so we can all get on with everything else. I don’t see why this nation has to wait until Christmas so that Mr Morrison can climb off his high horse.”
Another error of judgement! Indeed, why let such a controversial issue drag on for so long?
If Morrison wasn’t troubled about Widodo’s concerns about siting the Embassy in Jerusalem, perhaps the views of the wily Malaysian PM, Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, recently elected leader for a second time, might trouble him. He had forcibly expressed the view: “adding to the cause for terrorism is not going to be helpful”. Before Morrison could respond though, Deputy Liberal Leader Josh Frydenberg, citing previous anti-Semitic remarks by Mahathir, jumped in, airily dismissing him by accusing him of “…having form in making ‘derogatory comments’ about Jews in the past, including calling them ‘hook-nosed’, questioning the number of people killed in the Holocaust, and banning the classic Holocaust film ‘Schindler’s List’.” Josh added, with a touch of truculence: “Australia will make its own decisions in its own national interest”. As if Morrison was not in enough strife already!
At a subsequent press conference in Darwin, Morrison tried to pour oil on the turbulent waters Frydenberg had created. He said that Mahathir “had raised his concerns ‘courteously’ at the end of their bilateral meeting and his view was ‘not unexpected’. I think what Josh said today was filling in the history of Mahathir’s record on various issues over time. I think those issues are well known and … his contribution to the public record on those topics is well known” adding, “I do not resile one inch from the fact that I think this is an issue that the Australian government should be able to consider.” Never far out of the picture, Eric Abetz was soon complicating the issue by provocatively tweeting: “If Indonesia really wants to dictate Aus foreign policy on the middle east, should we rethink the $360 million each year we give them in aid?”
This matter has become a major political headache for Morrison, and has prompted colleagues to question his judgement. Some moderates want Morrison to dump the idea, but the conservatives favour the shift. More trouble ahead for the hapless PM!
If you need to be reminded of any more instances of Morrison’s mistakes, think about his ridiculous bus tour of Queensland to drum up support among disenchanted voters, so nicely described in Morrison’s latest prop. He’s not really on the bus much, flies between cities so he can get on it again, gets off to drink beer from a can, eat pies without a knife and fork, debate the problem that’s dividing the nation: whether onions go above or below a sausage, don a variety of promotional baseball caps (we’re waiting for an ‘Australia First’ version), and make pronouncements on any subject journalists throw at him, always augmented by his growing collection of pedestrian slogans, and an abundance of ‘fair dinkums’. Policy has been thin on the ground; overinflated rhetoric has been in ample supply, and smiling exuberance abundant.
Add to this unseemly catalogue the mess Morrison got into with the Islamic community over the Bourke Street terror attack and his ill-conceived visit to Pellegrini’s Expresso Bar, ostensibly to foster the ‘good bloke’ image, but opportunistically to promote State Coalition leader Matthew Guy’s ‘law and order’ meme; the decision to cut $323,000 of annual funding from the charity Foodbank, reversed within 24 hours, evoking the headline in the satirical Betoota Advocate: “Morrison Backflips On Initial Idea Of Letting People Starve To Death”; the belated decision by Greg Hunt to extend the time to opt-out from My Health Record; and the decision, announced by Dan Tehan, to institute an enquiry by former High Court chief justice Robert French into ‘free speech on university campuses’, which university figures immediately criticised as ridiculous meddling on the grounds that ‘free-speech’ has always been the very basis of the intellectual endeavour of all universities. To add to Morrison’s woes he thoughtlessly angered China’s leaders by calling the Pacific ‘Australia’s patch’, into which he said he would pour $3 billion in aid. Add to this list the substitution of a ‘big stick’ approach to power companies to provide cheap, ‘far-dinkum’ energy, in place of a coherent climate and energy policy for which business is pleading, and cap it off with his ‘smutty’ response to Pamela Anderson’s plea to bring Julian Assange home, and you have an impressive list of stuff-ups.
Michele Grattan’s piece in The Conversation: Morrison government brings back memories of McMahon days summarises well the Morrison debacle to date. He is now looking as much a clown as did McMahon, a dangerous place for any politician. The resemblance is striking! It will appeal to those of you who can still remember Billy’s pitiable final months. Rated by many as our worst-ever PM, Morrison is giving McMahon a run for that ‘accolade’.
The longer this piece grows, the more Morrison’s mistakes multiply, day after agonizing day. So to avoid it becoming encyclopaedic, I had better stop, and let you add your own ‘Morristakes’, or would you prefer the tag: ‘Morristuff-ups’.
This article was originally published on The Political Sword.
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