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The empathy deficit

Like most winners at the conclusion of an election process, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has claimed on a couple of occasions that he would consider the hopes and ambitions of all Australians while he is the Prime Minister. The first time was when he mounted his quixotic charge past Peter Dutton to take the Prime Ministership from Malcolm Turnbull, the second after he convinced enough Australians that the empty promises and meaningless platitudes that constituted his re-election campaign were actually achievable following the last Federal election.

To consider the hopes and ambitions of all Australians, you need to understand the positions of others and even if their situation doesn’t affect you personally, have some reaction and share the motivation for others’ feelings. It’s called empathy and relies on emotional intelligence and maturity to develop.

Prior to mounting the white charger and spearing the Dutton supporters, Morrison was Turnbull’s Treasurer (remember the arm around the shoulder and claims of fully supporting ‘his’ leader). In former Prime Minister Abbott’s Government, Morrison was at one stage the Minister responsible for overseeing the implementation of what is potentially the cruellest refugee treatment program in the world where people are kept in detention for years with no clear pathway to release, and a family with young children being forced from their home to be the sole residents of a detention centre on the other side of the country even though the courts have mostly agreed with the family’s legal position.

The now infamous Robodebt was devised while Morrison was the responsible Minister for social security. Then as Treasurer, Morrison was the Minister responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament, he was the Prime Minister when it ‘suddenly’ became evident to the Coalition Government that the entire process was probably illegal and the $1.2 billion decision was made to settle prior to being dragged through the court system as the target of a class action. But the Minister responsible at the time of the class action, Stuart Robert (who somehow survived clocking up a $2,000 per month taxpayer funded internet bill from his house in the Gold Coast Hinterland), also kept his job despite spending millions defending the indefensible in the lower courts, causing some to ask if there was any accountability in Government.

In October 2019, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety released its interim report in three volumes. Entitled ‘Neglect’ they were a foretaste of the final report, this time in 8 volumes, released on 1 March 2021. Morrison called a press conference to release the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Standards.

At the press conference, the following exchange occurred

JOURNALIST: This report was delivered last Friday. You gave us half-an-hour to attend a press conference. You tabled the report when we were here. How can we ask questions to know what’s relevant in the report without knowing what’s in it?
There will be plenty of opportunities to ask questions. But we’re before you now. This isn’t the only day to ask questions. I’m telling you that we’re releasing the report…

JOURNALIST: That’s a tactic, isn’t it, Prime Minister.
No, with respect, today is not about the media. Today is about releasing the royal commission report. There are 8 volumes, and I would encourage you to digest all of them. And on occasion, after occasion, after occasion, I have no doubt you will quiz me on it. Today is the day for us telling Australia that it is released. There’ll be plenty of other opportunities.

JOURNALIST: This is a major social reform and you’ve stopped us from actually looking at the report. Is that because you’ve [got] two commissioners who disagree on the reforms and the way forward?
No. I don’t understand the question.

JOURNALIST: The commissioners are split on a number of fundamental reforms.
Because it is a complicated issue.

JOURNALIST: So which of the reports and recommendations would you take onboard?
That’s what we’ll consider and include that in our response.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it a problem that you’ve got a royal commission blueprint…
No I think it’s a problem that people think this is so simple. We can’t be glib about these issues and they they’re simple to do with. I’m not surprised they are. I’m not surprised that people with that level of experience who have poured over this, heart and soul, for years… there’ll be difference of views. That does not surprise me. I don’t think it surprises Australians who’ve had to deal with this system either.

It was a pretty good bet that the final report would be damning, which it was. Of course, it didn’t stop the playing of politics (partial paywall)

A senior source within the royal commission tells The Saturday Paper that selective leaking of the final report to favoured media outlets ahead of its release was “infuriating”.

The stories stemming from the leaks said there were divisions between the commissioners on a path forward for the sector.

“[The leaking] tells us very clearly, before the public has even had a chance to see the findings, that they are willing to play politics with this historic moment,” said the source, who did not wish to be identified.

“That was a vindictive act and speaks volumes about the government’s commitment to this process.”

The report paints a picture of consistent underfunding and lack of enforcement of standards by governments for a number of years. While Morrison is not solely to blame either as Treasurer or Prime Minister, in the Commissioners’ view he stripped more than $2 billion in care subsidies from the sector since late 2015 and booked the savings in the federal budget – a direct cut in funding to the sector (previous governments of both political colours emasculated the funding so it didn’t keep pace with the funding formula, producing nominal increases – albeit reductions in real terms). Morrison denies he cut the funding while Treasurer.

Regardless of the politics around what should have been the start of a process to fix the aged care system in Australia, clearly it was in Morrison’s view a handy distraction from the claims of philandering and a toxic culture in the halls of Parliament House. Morrison told a press conference that he saw no issues with the alleged rape of a political staffer by a senior staffer in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office until his wife suggested he might have a different reaction if one of his daughters was involved. Neither did he see the problem with his Attorney General staying in the role without any investigation after being alleged to be the perpetrator of an historic rape in 1988, which can never be tested in court as the alleged victim took her own life last year. When the ‘court of public opinion’ finally passed its judgement, Morrison did include Reynolds and Porter in a Cabinet reshuffle – ‘demoting’ both of them but not removing them from the Ministry.

Morrison’s delayed reaction to both matters suggests he doesn’t have the emotional intelligence and maturity to understand that it takes real courage and bravery for those that have allegedly suffered violence against them to come forward and make their claims. Rather than take his favoured position of ‘riding it out’, assault victims should be believed and if the alleged victim is unable to tell their story, there should be an enquiry to establish the facts as far as possible.

As Katherine Murphy discussed in The Guardian,

Before deciding, once and for all, whether Porter can remain as attorney general, and Linda Reynolds as defence minister, Morrison wants to assess the salience of federal parliament’s #MeToo moment. Have voters logged the Higgins story, and the rape allegation levelled by a now-deceased woman against his attorney general?

Do they have views about it? What are the views?

Murphy was suggesting that assuming the opinion polls are not catastrophic, Morrison seemed to be planning to ride the storm out. That probably wasn’t the best strategy! The hope would be good news announcements would allow him to direct us all to ‘look over there’ at some behaviour that doesn’t adversely affect his government. The Aged Care Royal Commission final report was one piece in this puzzle, as was the ‘half price airline tickets’ fiasco.

As former Opposition Leader John Hewson states in the The New Daily Morrison, like former Prime Minister Howard prefers to play politics than develop and deliver policy for the betterment of all Australians

The end game is simply winning the next election, and the daily focus is to minimise the risks in doing so. As challenges emerge, the initial response is reactive not pro-active, to let them run for a while to see how they unfold, “nothing to be seen here” – maybe they’ll even solve themselves. But, if finally there is a need to act, the response is to do as little as they can get away with.

Obviously Morrison doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to consider the views of others. It wasn’t empathic to return from an overseas holiday during the middle of catastrophic bushfires claiming that as the country’s political leader he couldn’t do anything because ‘I don’t hold a hose mate’. Neither is it empathic to release an eight-volume report detailing failures in the aged care system without expressing concern and regret, moving young families across the country to detention centres because the government isn’t getting its own way in the court system or ignoring the apparent long term toxic sexual misbehaviour on his side of politics that is far short of contemporary community standards.

As Hewson suggests, Howard lost the 2007 election and his seat because of his tone deafness on matters of importance to the community. Does Morrison have the ability to reflect on that and act appropriately?

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. Michael Taylor

    But all that empathy training.

  2. Zathras

    Another reason Howard lost in 2007 was because enough voters realised that behind the facade and media hype, he and his government were “mean and tricky”. Hopefully Morrison is well on the way to repeating that result.

  3. pierre wilkinson

    even the tone deaf are hearing the outrage of women over Scotty from marketing’s lack of compassion, understanding or empathy over any women’s issues
    his handling of the Brittany Higgins case exemplifies his pathetic attitude
    where was the confected outrage over $12000 watches when faced with a rape near his office
    how did he treat a CEO that has turned the PO around, saving thousands of jobs and hundreds of banking outlets in regional areas
    will he consider apologising to Christine Holgate
    how could he so casually dismiss the serious allegations against his AG without acquainting himself with the details
    and let us not even discuss the reprobates in cabinet who in private business would be facing severe penalties
    so does Morrison have the ability to reflect and learn, oh yes, but change? act appropriately? I doubt it

  4. LambsFry Simplex.

    All the empathy of a Tiger snake.

    Still wants to jack up taxes for working people while letting the ultra rich off?


  5. leefe


    As a snake lover I object to that. Your average Notechis scutatis is a sweet, harmless creature compared to Moriscum and his appalling cohort.

  6. GL

    His empathy node has been squeezed dry and is continually crushed by his rat cunning brain and smirkosity cluster and has shrivelled to such an extent that it will never recover.

  7. wam

    I think that Scummo is as safe, in his view that he is the instrument of god’s will, as the rabbott believed. Therefore whatever he does is sanctioned. Albo would do well to monitor what Scummo and fryberg say to sunrise and today then follow up with questions designed to get Karl baby or Nat to follow up, on his promise to take questions later.
    Leafed, I too love snakes and there is no animal that deserves comparison but the jawless hagfish comes close with its production of slime when threatened.

  8. Margaret Johnson

    Morrison’s “empathy” is completely directed toward his salacious love of money and success. Lesser beings are simply a casualty of his motivation, and he has found a manufactured religion to back his beliefs. The courting of small business tradies through footy and beer is a calculated ploy that he is hoping will continue his career. Meantime, around him is assembled the most corrupt bunch of parliamentary players this country has witnessed. God help Australia, this PM is far too busy with his own interests to care.

  9. Charlie

    Pollies represent a wide spectrum of personal wants – some fair, some selfish, some this, some that. It’d be good if empathy became central to our shared existence. But, the corporate structure of govt is a firewall against empathic responses. Our govt is registered as a corporation in Washington DC and via signed agreements takes direction from the WHO, the UN etc.

    We are in the final phase of a corporate-fascist takedown of civil society and all the freedoms won over centuries. Jeremy Lee (economist) and Aaron Russo (film maker) have left a body of work that details what is happening in regard to a NWO, a world described by Klaus Schwab (founder of the World Economic Forum) in terms of ‘you’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy’.

    It is up to each person to get an overview of what is happening or flounder in a morass of distractions perpetuated by msm.
    MSM has painted some doors on the walls of the crèche and the children are arguing about which door is the exit. Wake up and see the elite, through msm proxy, are running a psy-op on the community in order to get you to waste your energy debating personality politics. Barking up the wrong tree is a waste of your barking power. Take back your barking power. Expose msm and its agenda.

  10. Matters Not


    what is happening in regard to a NWO,

    Yes the new world order.

    A term used to refer to a right-wing conspiracy theory that became popular among anti-government extremists from the 1990s onwards. … New World Order” conspiracists also commonly believe that hundreds of concentration camps have been built in the U.S., ready to house dissenters; that the government will declare martial law, possibly on a pretext such as responding to a terrorist attack; and that the government will engage in mass gun confiscations. …

    Shakes head because it has several manifestations.

  11. totaram

    “Our govt is registered as a corporation in Washington DC and via signed agreements takes direction from the WHO, the UN etc.”
    Hilarious if it wasn’t also sad.

  12. Terence Mills

    In his a speech to the Business Council of Australia last night Morrison again used his favourite strategy of dividing the nation when it comes to policy on climate change. This is what he said :

    “we will not achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities. The nation would chart its “own course” and achieve its aims through “the best technology and the animal spirits of capitalism”, not “taxes”, like a carbon price. He said that net zero will be “won” by the energy, industrial, agriculture, mining and manufacturing sectors, pointing to work BHP, Andrew Forrest and AGL are doing to reduce emissions as examples. “It will be won in places like the Pilbara, the Hunter, Gladstone, Portland, Whyalla, Bell Bay and the Riverina”, he said.

    Make of it what you will but it seems he was talking to the National Party and the coal miners. Barnaby and Matt Canavan may still get their coalfired power station in Qld.

  13. New England Cocky

    @Zathras: remember Howard’s “Headland Statements”? Empty platitudes about aspirations and unlikely government spending …..

    NOTE the deceptive language ….. a ”Headland” is synonym for a ”Bluff”. Obviously somebody in the PM Press Release team had sufficient education to recognise this relationship, and labelled it accordingly.

    Scummo could not lie straight in bed ….. ….

  14. Geoff Andrews

    As one of the self-appointed resident pedants on this shower, I object to the use of the phrase “empathy training”. It is an oxymoron.
    I’m sure my teacher of English in 1957 would have it that one can only empathize with someone’s misfortune if one has suffered the same misfortune but one can sympathize by imagining what it must be like being in that person’s place. I can’t empathize with the trauma of childbirth but I can sympathize with a woman experiencing or describing it.
    Happy to be corrected as long as the tired old “it’s common usage” is not hauled out.

  15. Lambchop Simnel

    Choice morsel up on the Drum.

    Whole categories of disabled are booted out of apt treatment in a new “Review” of NDIS and information is kept secret.

    Lovely creatures, Scotties lot.

    Still, the mortgage belt Ponzies and ultra rich love him to bits, this ls like out of a Dickens novel

  16. Lambchop Simnel

    All right, a stump lizard then…picky!

  17. Harry Lime

    paul walter,Jongen is the human equivalent of a cockroach, having survived the nuclear fallout of a series of different governments.It is said that he glows in the dark.Wouldn’t be surprised to find his name under one of the pyramids.

  18. Matters Not

    Charlie re:

    from my reading the US govt is bankrupt

    Perhaps a reasonable starting point would be the US debt clock. Here’s a link. (And remember it’s changing by the second so all figures cited will be approximations.)

    You will notice that The US National Debt is currently north of $28 trillion dollars and with Biden’s spending proposals that debt will continue to rise at an ever increasing rate as it has over recent years. But even though there’s lots of head shaking and tut tutting, no-one is jumping out of any windows. (Not yet at least.)

    Because the US is a sovereign nation with its own fiat currency, it can’t run out of US dollars. Why? Because it can create some more. Same here in Australia – because we too have a fiat (government created and backed) currency. So when COVID-19 hit here in Australia and people started losing jobs, the government brought in a range of measures such as Job Keeper and Job Seeker and financed such programs through creating money. And most economists applauded. Economists (most anyway) are now booing because the government is ending these programs – claiming we can’t afford the debt . (Even though the debt in large part is owed to itself or at least a government created entity.)

    But back to the debt clock. Note that the (theoretical) debt per citizen is slightly above $85 000 per citizen but the debt per taxpayer is almost $225 000 per taxpayer. That’s because taxpayers include companies (large and small) as well as other people who are living in the US as well as children etc. Taxpayers don’t have to be citizens. And it’s citizens who are the only ones entitled to vote.

    Enough! (Stay away from the links you cite because they’re second rate and usually well wide of the mark.)

  19. Michael Taylor

    I listened to an interview on the ABC – during GW Bush’s second term – with a fellow who had just published a book – I think it was Blowback, though I could be wrong – where he claimed that the US was borrowing $1B a day from China to help fund their war on terrorism.

    Despite my pricked ears I’ve not heard anything else on the matter since.

    One wonders if such claims are factual. In this case, it would be most interesting if it were.

  20. Matters Not

    The US sells Us Treasury securities to those who want to buy. And many Nations do just that. Hence:

    China has steadily accumulated U.S. Treasury securities over the last few decades. As of January 2021, the Asian nation owns $1.095 trillion, or about 4%, of the $28 trillion U.S. national debt, which is more than any other foreign country except Japan. (As of 16 Mar 2021).

    It’s all on the table. Nothing secret about who buys what and when..

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