The Politics    Friday, May 13, 2022

Bulldozer or bullduster?

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Beveridge Community Centre north of Melbourne today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Beveridge Community Centre north of Melbourne today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Scott Morrison’s promise to change is his most sinister lie yet

The polls must be dire. In a press conference hailed as “incredibly significant”, Scott Morrison today made what has been seen as a huge concession about his performance as PM: he knows he needs to change. “I know Australians know that I can be a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to issues,” he said, blaming the pandemic for the fact he has been a bully for many years now. “I know there are things that are going to have to change with the way I do things [on the other side of the election],” added the man who until recently insisted it didn’t matter if you didn’t like him, and who has spent the past few weeks being his usual bull-headed, belligerent self. The desperate pivot – the promise to change – has for many women evoked the image of the abusive boyfriend begging for another chance, promising that it’ll be different this time. The changed approach raises two major questions. Is our bulldozer of a PM capable of change? The answer, it’s obvious, is no. An eagle doesn’t change its spots. But, perhaps more pertinently, will it work on those wavering on him, those wanting to vote Liberal but sick to death of his churlish behaviour? The answer to this, he hopes, is yes. And empty promises often work for abusers – the first few times anyway.

The PM’s shameless eleventh-hour promise to change after the election is, of course, ludicrous, as are his attempts to put his “bulldozer” style down to the pandemic and national security challenges. There were obvious comebacks in it for Anthony Albanese, who has for months, if not years, been modelling the kind of leadership that Morrison is suddenly offering now. “If you want change,” the Labor leader told a press conference, “don’t look for Scott Morrison to change, because that’s not going to happen. Just change the government.” (If you look up the definition of desperation, “you’ll see a photo of Scott Morrison”, he joked, although slightly fumbling it.)

Morrison has been a blame-shifting, shapeshifting bully since before he entered parliament. Indeed, such behaviour was allegedly central to the way in which he entered it, using racism and threats to take out the original winner of the Cook pre-selection, Michael Towke. It’s also there in the way he took the prime ministership using the kind of underhanded tactics that drove former Liberal MP Julia Banks out of the party, with Banks later describing him as a “constant, menacing, background wallpaper”. It’s evident in the way he has responded to crises, whether bushfires, floods or the pandemic: refusing to do the bare minimum and then blaming others when things get worse. (As journalist Barrie Cassidy tweeted, a bulldozer might have actually been useful during the fires.) It’s there in the way he has governed, always seeking to divide rather than unite, whether that’s mocking city dwellers or lefties or “Manchurian candidates”, or punching down at transgender people in order to wedge Labor or win votes. It’s the way in which he has legislated, refusing to negotiate in a spirit of bipartisanship or good faith. (He is still blaming Labor for his own failure to introduce legislation on an integrity commission.)

And it was also visible in the way the PM handled what should have been his moment to change: the veritable reckoning that swept the nation in 2021. Instead, he lied and threatened, backgrounded and finger-pointed, excused and ignored. This, no doubt, is why so many women (and men) have been quick to compare the PM’s language today to that of an abuser who promises to change. Morrison, for all his claims to have been listening to victims of abuse, ultimately aligned himself with the perpetrators, the blokes. In doing so, he quashed a moment that should have been a turning point for the nation. Why on earth would women listen to him now?

The idea that all this could suddenly change on the other side of the election is as absurd as it is insulting. But it’s all Morrison has got left, with his “better the bulldozer you know” approach having so spectacularly failed him. As many people have rightly pointed out, there are some key differences between a bad boyfriend and a bad prime minister, not least that people usually have an emotional connection with a partner. It’s clear from former PM John Howard’s most recent anti-teal tirade, however, that the Liberal Party believes there is a group of people out there who love the party but are angry enough with the leadership to want to give them a kick.

“Don’t pretend that you are voting just to send a message to the party you truly love when in reality, you don’t,” Howard said yesterday, a very disquieting line when placed alongside Morrison’s new pledge to change. Many of us have learnt a great deal about coercive control over the past 12 months, in no small part thanks to the women who kicked off the moment that the prime minister refused to meet. Surely the people of Australia will see through Scott Morrison’s most sinister lie yet.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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