The view from Billinudgel

Feeding the Muppets
What does the Morrison government have to offer in terms of serious policy?


In hindsight, it wasn’t Scott Morrison’s brightest move to liken his colleagues to Muppets.

While no doubt many politicians have nostalgic memories of their days watching The Muppet Show, they would like to think that they have, as is the mantra of politicians, moved on. But, of course, the Opposition is not going to let them forget it, try as they might.

So Morrison has spent much of the last week trying to pretend it never happened. Sure, there was a bit of a kerfuffle a few weeks ago, but it’s nothing for the voters to worry about – politicians are far more interested in the drought (but not climate change), religion (but not freedom from discrimination), and why Bill Shorten sucks (but Peter Dutton doesn’t).

They are certainly not concerned with why Morrison is prime minister and Malcolm Turnbull isn’t; it just sort of happened, nothing to do with Morrison; it was a decision of the party room, and who is Morrison to question their wisdom? What is important is to get on with the job and deliver for hardworking Australians.

And just to remind his colleagues of this laudable aim, they are to wear Australian-flag stick pins, and on his cue wave their hands around parliament. An unbiased observer might find this all very Muppetish; Morrison apparently thinks it is about the togetherness he has diligently sloganised, a bit of bonding that will staunch the gaping wounds across the Coalition.

And more importantly, it shows that he is just the ordinary bloke that Turnbull clearly was not. This is the way back to political ascendancy. Well, it may be worth a try, but being too ordinary has its problems.

It is one thing to stay in touch with his mates in the Shire’s many pubs, but making our head of government into a kind of Antipodean Forrest Gump is not without risks: he might be a nice bloke, but in these troubled times we need something more in a leader.

Some prime ministers have got away with the folksy model – Joe Lyons, Ben Chifley, Bob Hawke and John Howard all eschewed the elitist approach, determined to be one of the people. And all were successful, on their own terms. But all came to the job well known and with a reservoir of goodwill, neither of which apply to our current prime minister. A more lofty approach in the mould of a Menzies, a Whitlam or even a Turnbull may be a safer bet.

A royal commission into aged care, however hastily and clumsily convened, was a solid move; but yet another cash splash on schools had very little to do with education and a lot to do with buying Catholic votes, as even the Coalition NSW government has noted.

And ramping up a federal case over sabotaged strawberries looks more like a distraction than serious policy. This is surely a matter for the police, or perhaps the state authorities; for the prime minister to elbow them off the stage to demand the nation’s attention for a spot of pointless and redundant ad hoc legislation suggests that he has nothing to offer in his own sphere of government.

But as Morrison knows, we all like strawberries; even Muppets like strawberries. And we have to feed the Muppets.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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