The Politics    Friday, May 20, 2022

A change is as good as a Hawaiian holiday

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison arriving at a press conference in Sydney yesterday. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison arriving at a press conference in Sydney yesterday. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Should he succeed in securing another election “miracle”, a changed Scott Morrison will be even worse

Perhaps the most remarkable moment of this loose, unedifying, “shit blizzard” of a campaign came last Friday, when Scott Morrison declared that should he win the election he would change. Many column inches were dedicated to what he meant by this obviously hollow pledge. Not very much, it seems, with the PM returning to form this week and dropping mixed messages as to whether being “a bit of a bulldozer” was a good or a bad thing. Today, that assertion has become even more confused. First, on 3AW, Morrison said he would be “a bulldozer with a different gear”, insisting that “strength mode” is something a PM needed. Then, in a press conference, he got into a weird tussle with Guardian Australia’s Paul Karp, who pointed out that Morrison hadn’t actually changed anything substantive. “You’re sounding like a bit of a bulldozer,” Morrison snapped back. It’s pretty obvious to anyone watching that there is zero chance of the PM softening on the other side of the election, of becoming a “kinder, gentler Scott Morrison”, as Liberal senator James Paterson tried to argue on Q&A. But it is true to say that Morrison will change if he wins tomorrow. It’s not that he would become kinder and gentler, or more open to engaging in a bipartisan spirit. No, if re-elected, Morrison would take it as a mandate to double down on all his worst traits: the lying, scheming, wedging and blame-shifting, as well as the arrogance, apathy, inaction and spin. Should he succeed in securing another election “miracle”, Scott Morrison will become even more himself.

The thing about Morrison’s bullish persona is that, so far, it has worked for him. As I noted following his “I can change” pledge, being a slippery bully was the method by which he entered parliament, and how he took the prime ministership. Gaining these roles, and then winning the last election, has only vindicated that behaviour for him.

Having endured this campaign, it’s clear that Morrison will, if elected, become even more shameless about lying, whether about Labor or his own policies. As Crikey notes in its latest dossier of lies, our PM has misled voters throughout the campaign, with not even the increased number of fact-checking articles stopping him. He lied about how much Australia has reduced its emissions, about Labor’s “sneaky carbon tax”, about how powerful his federal integrity commission model is, about why former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian resigned and about why workers can’t have a pay rise in line with inflation. He has even lied when it didn’t actually matter, as he did with currygate, because lying has by now become pathological for him.

Morrison, already bullheaded when it comes to bipartisanship, would only become more uncompromising, more insistent that things be done his way. He more or less said so this morning, telling 3AW that he wouldn’t negotiate with the crossbench if it meant having to budge on policy. Morrison has repeatedly blamed his broken promise on establishing an integrity commission on Labor’s lack of support for his model, no matter how many times journalists point out to him that he is currently in government. No doubt he would go on refusing to compromise on a model that does not have support even from within his own party. A re-elected Morrison would continue to ignore the views of his moderates on social issues, pulling bills rather than amending them. But perhaps there would be even fewer of them to worry about anyway, with Morrison having happily jettisoned them to run his harmful and dangerous culture war election. Just imagine how much more divisive he will be if this strategy proves successful.

Speaking of the integrity commission: we obviously wouldn’t be getting one in the form experts say is needed, a crying shame considering that a returned Morrison government would only be more shameless (if that’s even possible) about its corruption and pork-barrelling. No amount of media coverage, scathing audits or Senate inquiries has been able to stop Morrison from misusing taxpayer funds, and an election win could only be taken as further encouragement for a leader who takes “win at all costs” to a whole new level. A re-elected Morrison would likely be more secretive, his office more brazen than it already is in its rejection of freedom of information requests, and in its sweeping away of serious issues with opaque, internal “inquiries”.

And when it comes to the crises he has ignored, a re-elected Morrison would be thrilled by the tacit permission to go on ignoring them. The PM was already fairly unabashed about standing there with a “plan” to reach net-zero carbon emissions that contained no serious modelling (great practice for when he was asked about his “Super Home Buyer” scheme this week), and which relied almost entirely on “further technological improvements” to avoid existential heating of the planet. He probably wouldn’t be silly enough to repeat the phrase “I don’t hold a hose” during the next major bushfires (that was basically the only thing he admitted he would do differently in Tuesday’s savage A Current Affair interview), but there’s no doubt that the attitude would endure, with Morrison viewing disasters mainly as photo-ops. To defeat a Labor Opposition proposing serious plans to fix aged care, meanwhile, would no doubt validate his horrifying apathy.

As he told us himself during Sunday’s Liberal launch, Scott Morrison is “just warming up”. Terrifyingly, we have not seen the worst this man can do. Another “miracle” win, another message from on high, would only cement in his mind his divine right to power. It looks unlikely, at this stage, that he will be returned. But he will certainly change if he does – and we should all shudder at the thought.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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