The Politics    Thursday, November 11, 2021

Desperate and deranged

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressing the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Image © Joel Carrett / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Image © Joel Carrett / AAP Image

The PM’s attacks on Labor are growing increasingly detached from reality

Election season is well and truly under way, and boy is it going to be a long and painful one – not to mention “overwhelmingly negative”. Scott Morrison’s “can-do capitalism” speech from yesterday has been widely perceived as an attempt to draw the campaign battlelines, with the PM reigniting “traditional ideological divisions” over the role of government, and setting up, as one Labor MP put it, a contrast between “the party of hope” and “the party of nope”. But it was this morning’s TV interviews – in which Morrison doubled down on his lies about Labor’s EV policy, and threw in some new ones – that truly showed how low the PM is planning to go. Morrison is no doubt deeply concerned about his diminishing approval ratings and the fact that the “liar” label is starting to stick. And he’s willing to tell increasingly deranged, desperate and dangerous lies in an attempt to claw his way back.

Appearing on both The Today Show and Sunrise this morning (when he wasn’t busy barbecuing up breakfast for veterans, that is), Morrison delivered an alarming number of brazen lies and bizarre non sequiturs about the Opposition – which, as both sets of hosts pointed out, he trails in the polls. Labor’s non-binding EV target, which Morrison had on Tuesday recast as a “mandate” that was going to “force” Australians from their cars, was suddenly about raising the price of petrol. “They want to put up your petrol prices,” he said, when asked about his EV backflip, without bothering to justify how that was even possible. This was a lie the PM repeated several times, even when pushed on the fact that he was again lying about Labor’s policy. As Guardian Australia’s Paul Karp noted, Morrison speculated in 2019 about what the EV target would mean for the fuel excise. But there was previously no reference to Labor putting up prices, and the latest lie has seemingly been invented overnight. 

Questioned by the Today hosts about being called a liar by French President Emmanuel Macron, Morrison immediately accused the Opposition leader of siding not with France but with China – a country not even a direct party to the dispute. “I see Anthony Albanese backed in the Chinese government and a number of others in having a crack at me,” he lamented, before launching into an extended rant about standing up for Australia. When contacted by news.com.au about the China sympathiser line, Albanese’s office said it had no idea what Morrison was talking about, while the PM’s office covered by saying it was about Labor supporting an inquiry into AUKUS. What it was really about, of course, was setting up another ridiculous national security wedge, while stoking anti-China sentiment to boot.

Unprompted claims about Labor wanting to control your life, meanwhile, continued through almost every answer the PM gave today – whether defending anti-vaxxers’ right to choose (while simultaneously claiming credit for Australia passing the 90 per cent first-dose vaccination rate for the over-16 population) or implying that Labor’s climate criticism meant it only wanted to “tell people what to do and put taxes on them”. “I think Australians have had a gutful of governments telling them what to do in their lives,” said the leader of the government that has been in power for eight years, with no small echo of Barnaby Joyce’s “sick of the government being in my life” speech. As many have noted, Morrison’s complaint about Labor not having released its policies now that COP26 is over disregards the fact that the climate conference is very much still going, and increasing pressure on Australia to lift its game. (The government has, sadly, continued to embarrass itself, lobbying to remove references to limiting global warming to 1.5C from key documents.)

With large parts of the media still failing to call out this week’s increasingly outrageous lies by the PM (Sunrise’s Natalie Barr, to her credit, gave it a go), Labor appears to have had enough. Yesterday’s fiery response from Albanese, calling out a reporter from The Sydney Morning Herald for echoing the PM’s “nonsense”, prompted many to wonder where this Albanese had been – though the speech did not get much airtime outside of Twitter. Shadow energy minister Chris Bowen today shared Guardian Australia’s accurate description of the latest EV policy “lie”. “He’s at it again,” Bowen wrote, his frustration palpable. The China sympathiser attack, meanwhile, left a number of MPs furious, with Tim Watts noting that there appeared to be “no depths” to which Morrison wouldn’t stoop.

Morrison, of course, doesn’t particularly care if his lies offend people, nor if they fail to make sense – as neither the petrol nor the China lines did. It’s clear that the desperate PM is ready to continue this disturbing process for the next six months or so, spouting whatever nonsense he thinks will work on voters, with little regard for reality, decency or what it might mean for our international relationships. It’s less clear whether the majority of the media will be ready to start calling it out any time soon.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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