Before he became Prime Minister, you never saw photos of Scott Morrison wearing a baseball cap. Or building a chicken coop. Or cooking a curry. Or injecting himself into kids’ footie training. Or wearing boardies and thongs whilst on the phone to an international counterpart.
“You’re not a celebrity, you’re an elected representative, you’re a member of parliament,” said Julie Bishop once, referring to a photo shoot by Julia Gillard.
So why are we subjected to this very staged presentation? Are the cheesy shots by Scotty’s “official” photographer supposed to make us forget what Morrison has said and done… or not done?
Mind you, this fixation with marketing is nothing new for ProMo.
During his first year as Immigration Minister, Morrison and his Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash spent nearly $120,000 monitoring the media for mentions of their names and the immigration portfolio, eclipsing cabinet colleagues including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
They had changed the language regarding asylum seekers – those who travelled by boat were now called “illegal arrivals” and those held at detention centres became “detainees” rather than clients – and they wanted to track how their dog-whistling was being received.
The Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, Stephen Ames, exposed Morrison’s real intent.
“It is misrepresenting the state of people who are fleeing for their lives, and to call them illegal and to perpetuate that and other dehumanising kind of labels, just doesn’t acknowledge their situation. The impression gets formed in the community that… they’ve broken a law, there’s something wrong here. It heightens fear and suspicion. These stereotypes get going, it produces a toxic atmosphere about these people.”
And it wasn’t just the church that deplored Morrison’s inhumanity. When he was invited to speak at a function at his old school, the alumni did not hold back in their criticism.
“We call on the Old Boys Union to immediately rescind the invitation so as to spare the organisation, and the school itself, the embarrassment of being seen to celebrate the achievements of a man who has so flagrantly disregarded human rights.”
A similar sentiment had been expressed by the students of Tony Abbott’s old school.
“We look for heroes among our alumni, for insignes (generous and influential people, as Ignatius styled them). Instead we see only allegiances to parties that trade human lives for political expediency, that choose the lowest common denominator to woo the populace, and that speak of economic problems rather than the dignity of the human person, especially the most vulnerable.”
This was never about “saving lives at sea” as shown by Morrison’s dogged determination to make life even harder for those who had come seeking our help, particularly in getting his way about Temporary Protection Visas.
Former Dept of Immigration employee, Shaun Hanns, describes in detail the lengths Morrison went to – that the minister was informed of the dubious legal nature of these tactics and was “comfortable” with them.
Hanns speaks of the concessions to Clive Palmer, which created a pathway to residency and citizenship for those with lots of money and how that undermined the system. He also spoke about the blackmailing of crossbench Senator Ricky Muir.
“Morrison made a clear threat to crossbench senators. The 1,550 people then residing on Christmas Island, including a substantial number of children, would be sent to Nauru and Manus instead of being resettled in Australia if the legislation failed to pass. As several politicians observed at the time, the government was in effect holding children in detention to ransom. What I personally can’t get past, though, was the decision to use 31 infant children as a bargaining chip to convince Ricky Muir to vote for the bill.”
We have since paid, and continue to face, huge compensation claims from refugees who have been incarcerated indefinitely in terrible conditions, suffering physical and mental harm and a shocking loss of opportunity to become productive citizens.
When Morrison moved on to Social Services Minister, the reaction from many was that he now had a whole new group of vulnerable people to persecute.
In a speech at an ACOSS summit in 2015, Morrison detailed his desire for the private sector to take a greater profit-making role in the welfare system – cue Indue’s cashless welfare card and JobActive providers.
“What I am basically saying is that welfare must become a good deal for investors – for private investors. We have to make it a good deal – for the returns to be there, to attract the level of capital that will be necessary.”
Because privatisation has worked so well in aged and disability care… so well, in fact, that we have Royal Commissions into both sectors that have heard horrific accounts of the litany of failures to care for and protect our most vulnerable.
When Bill Shorten said three years ago that aged care was in “a state of national crisis”, Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt responded by accusing Mr Shorten of “fear-mongering”.
“I’m slow to anger but I must admit that recently the Opposition Leader commenting that the system is in crisis and a national disgrace was not becoming of what I would expect in a bilateral and bipartisan approach to aged care. This demeans every one of those dedicated aged care workers and it achieves nothing but instilling fear into the hearts and minds of older Australians… For the Opposition Leader to continue this fear-mongering is verging on the abuse of elder Australians and it must stop.”
Four months later, in filming for the Four Corners expose Who Cares?, Wyatt dismissed the idea of a Royal Commission saying it would be a waste of money because the government was already reviewing the sector.
“A royal commission, after two years and maybe $200 million being spent on it, will come back with the same set or a very similar set of recommendations,” he said.
One month after that, Wyatt stood next to Scott Morrison as he announced the RC into aged care the day before the Four Corners series was to go to air.
Morrison was the Social Services minister when robodebt was conceived. He was the Treasurer when it was enacted. He continued the welfare debt recovery program as Prime Minister and pinned a promised return to surplus on its projected windfall.
Emails have since revealed that the Morrison government was warned the scheme was illegal and the ‘debts’ were not lawful, but apparently Scott was, once again, ‘comfortable’ with that – as if the poor can make a fuss. But they did. And the government settled for $1.2 billion hours before court proceedings were to begin.
On becoming Prime Minster, Morrison assured us he had nothing to do with the coup against Turnbull. He told us that the bullying that Liberal women endured had been fixed.
He has variously reminded us that ‘I don’t hold the hose, I’m not the Police Commissioner, I don’t go to Marches, the premiers and health authorities are responsible for any restrictions, vaccine hold-ups are nothing to do with a lack of planning and preparation by the Commonwealth government, and no-one told me about… pretty much anything bad’.
No amount of photo shoots and image massaging or efforts to silence dissent and exhortations to all row together along the Kakoda Trail (or some such inane analogy) can hide the man beneath the baseball cap.
How good is Scott?
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