The Politics    Friday, August 4, 2023

Character actor

By Daniel James

Scott Morrison is seen sitting on the green benches of the House of Representatives. He is looking over his glasses into the camera, with a smirking expression.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives this week, August 2, 2023. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The fact that Scott Morrison still sits in parliament is proof that we need a stronger test of character for elected officials

This week, in one of the most narcissistic performances we’ve seen in parliament in a long time, Scott Morrison once again revealed his true self to the world: a man without a moral compass or a skerrick of compassion for the hundreds of thousands of victims of his psychotic robodebt scheme. The level of self-delusion is Trumpian, and that comparison is particularly pertinent in a week in which the former US president was indicted for a third time. But unlike Trump, who is a movement unto himself, the Member for Cook was only part of a movement, Pentecostalism. Just under four years ago, Trump and Morrison dined at the White House, both at the height of their political success, with all the associated pomp, underhandedness and pretension. This week is a reminder that being of dubious character might help gain political success, but in the end, when the truth is revealed, former political messiahs are left looking isolated and absurd. In the case of Morrison, it’s clear that all that empathy training was for nought. Can we have our money back, all $190,000 of it?

In his first public comments since the damning findings of the robodebt royal commission’s final report, in which the former PM was directly criticised by commissioner Catherine Holmes, Morrison painted himself as the victim. Of course, it was foolish of anyone to expect contrition from him, but what we saw from Morrison this week was nevertheless staggering. Speaking to an almost empty lower house shortly after Question Time on Monday, Morrison said: “This campaign of political lynching has once again included the weaponisation of quasi-legal process to launder the government’s political vindictiveness. They need to move on.” The reference to the royal commission as a “quasi-legal” process is straight out of the Trump playbook – an attempt to reduce the most powerful form of public-interest inquiry we have in this country to that of nothing more than a political pitchfork rally. His diminishment of the 900-page final report – informed by 46 days of hearings in which Morrison himself testified as one of more than 100 witnesses – is aimed at the lowest-common-denominator base. This sort of rhetoric has clout in America, but here it rarely has enough influence to sway local council elections, let alone topple governments.

Morrison continued: “The latest attacks on my character by the government in relation to this report is [sic] just a further attempt by the government, following my departure from office, to discredit me and my service to our country during one of the most difficult periods our country has faced since the Second World War.” The man’s martyr complex is as evident here as it was when he tried to justify being secretly sworn into five additional ministries.

And since Morrison has mentioned character, we might say that not enough thought is given to character in Australian politics. Indeed, the party-based system does a more than reasonable job at polishing turds within its ranks. (Who could forget Mark Latham’s ascent?) But within the seemingly closed ranks of political parties and media pundits, there are those close enough to the likes of Morrison who can see the real calibre of the people being put forward to lead us. They need to speak up! There has to be a stronger test of character than whether someone can employ the daggy-dad persona, shear a sheep or buffoonishly shirtfront a kid. How many knew about Morrison’s propensity to lie, to obfuscate, to mislead his own colleagues, and to veil his own incompetence in a cloak of secrecy? Yet Morrison remains in parliament, despite mounting pressure on him to resign.

All this gives rise to the sobering thought that there are others like him who remain within reach of the levers of power, and no doubt there are more in line to replace him, currently luxuriating within the archipelago of political offices, waiting for their swing at the perks and power you can’t find anywhere else but government. It is a reminder that we all need to remain vigilant and demand more from our politicians – as well as the “insiders” who report on their machinations.

Daniel James

Daniel James is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He hosts the radio show The Mission on 3RRR FM.

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