Federal politics

A portrait of Scott Morrison
With the prime minister, what you see is what you get

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: Facebook

People close to Scott Morrison, the ones who like him, all say the same thing: “What you see is what you get.” They intend it as a compliment.


Morrison struggles to imagine experiences that are not his. He governs in his own image. He says he won’t send his children to public schools because he doesn’t like the morals taught there. He is the first prime minister to make such a distinction.


Morrison lets the cameras in for one song. He puts his hand into the air and lets it wash over him. The lights tint his shirt a misty lavender. His face goes cerise. It is Easter Sunday and the Horizon Church is full. His eyes close as he sings.


An agent saw Morrison in a church production and signed him for work in television commercials. He was in one for Hungry Jack’s and another for AMP and one for Vicks cough drops.


Morrison’s career is marked by plotting. As a tourism executive, he undermined his rivals. He would create vast, intricate schemes to get ahead. His own party does not know what faction he sits in. He has a knack for accidents and he made his leadership look like one.


In the video they are making for the Coalition launch, Jenny Morrison says her husband used to buy her flowers but then he stopped. She says the day he proposed was unromantic. They were sitting on a bench at the top of Martin Place. She laughed at him: she didn’t think it was serious.


When Morrison speaks in numbers, that’s all there is. Context leaves him. Figures overwhelm the words.


Morrison rolls his shoulders when he stands. The tail of his tie reaches not quite to his sternum. He has taken off his jacket: his paunch is over-satisfied and his nipples are erect.

There are no questions. Jenny goes to the bathroom. Morrison shakes hands with everyone.


Morrison tells Alan Jones that action on climate change is not the issue. He says Bill Shorten doesn’t know the price of anything because he doesn’t have to pay for it. It is the opposite of Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic.


Morrison wants life to be simple. His Sundays are sacrosanct. He loves rugby league and his daughters’ netball games. His faith is enormous. He sees virtue in long hours, the time of day a marker of his diligence. He goads colleagues if the lights are out in their offices. He adores Tina Arena.

He loves the military and the police. Before he became treasurer, he would have liked the defence portfolio. He keeps a picture of his maternal grandfather in his office, in army uniform. There is a picture of the Queen near his desk and one of each of his daughters. A statue of two soldiers sits on the sideboard, the wounded one helped up on the other’s back. On his bookshelf are spy novels, a few popular histories and Nam Le’s collection The Boat. He says his favourite books are David Malouf’s The Great World and Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. He doesn’t read international fiction. “I just don’t relate to it. I’m interested in our stories.”

His first job was at the property council and then in tourism. His preference is for the ordinary and the tangible.


Morrison wears a lot more makeup than Shorten. He moves a full 90 degrees while he is talking, to make sure everyone has the shot. The chemical factory he is visiting specialises in water treatments and products for babies. He puts on an orange vest and walks into the first shed. As he makes small talk with the workers, unpacked bottles of head lice lotion follow on down the conveyor belt.


In Albury, a young woman throws an egg at the prime minister. It doesn’t break.


Morrison talks about his parents. He says they lived in a house with his great-aunt, that they weren’t rich. He says he shared a room with his brother.

He says they saved and planned and sacrificed. He says his mother is a woman of quiet and practical faith. The experience is so religious that when he says his father is up there listening, you have to remember he means in Sydney.


In the room, they are chanting “ScoMo”. His daughters are working out on which side of him they should stand.

Morrison smiles and his teeth look surprised. His youngest daughter holds her elbow. His eldest claps. The flag behind him is enormous. “These are the quiet Australians who have won a great victory tonight,” he says.


Morrison gets up the morning after and goes to church. He spends his afternoon in the stands, watching the Cronulla Sharks. He drinks beer from a plastic cup and poses for photographs with other fans. At one point, he takes off his scarf and helicopters it above his head.

Morrison’s Australia is humble and the people in it are humble. That is the word he uses. They are quiet, hard-working people. They are quietly getting on with life. The repetitions do not matter: the words all mean the same thing.

“You know what that promise is,” he says. “We know what it is. It is the promise that allows Australians, quietly going about their lives, to realise their simple, honest and decent aspirations. Quiet, hard-working Australians. An Australia where if you have a go, you get a go. Where you’re rewarded and respected for your efforts and contribution.”

It is hard to lie when you are saying nothing, but somehow he manages it.


This is an edited collection of scenes from Quarterly Essay 74: The Prosperity Gospel, by Erik Jensen. It was first performed as a reading at Songs for Recovery.

Erik Jensen

Erik Jensen is the founding editor of The Saturday Paper and editor-in-chief of Schwartz Media. He is the author of Acute Misfortune: The life and death of Adam Cullen and On Kate Jennings.


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