The Politics    Tuesday, April 5, 2022

‘Unbelievable’

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference outside a petrol station in Sydney today. Image © Dan Himbrechts / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference outside a petrol station in Sydney today. Image © Dan Himbrechts / AAP Images

With allegations and counter allegations stacking up, it’s getting harder and harder to believe a word the PM says

“I mean, it’s unbelievable,” NSW Liberal MP Catherine Cusack said on RN Breakfast this morning, as she became the latest party insider to take brutal aim at the prime minister’s character. “It’s unbelievable that any political leader would behave like this in relation to flood victims.” The RN interview was just one of many given today by Cusack, who launched a crusade against Scott Morrison over what she saw as politically motivated flood relief, his “self-serving ruthless bullying”, and his problem with women (or, as she put it, his issue with “problem women”). Far from unbelievable, however, it’s rather credible that Morrison would behave in such a way. After all, we’ve seen him use disaster relief for his own political advancement time and again, just as we’ve heard endless stories of his ruthless bullying and self-serving behaviour. As the character assassinations mount, what’s become truly unbelievable are his increasingly outraged denials.

Former Liberal candidate for Cook Michael Towke has continued speaking out over the past 24 hours, as Morrison does his best to deny the claims – contained within statutory declarations first uncovered by The Saturday Paper – that he had weaponised Towke’s Lebanese background against him during their 2007 preselection race. Asked about the prime minister’s denials by Network Ten last night, Towke noted that Morrison had “form” when it came to lying. “Just ask Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Emmanuel Macron,” he said. “Barnaby Joyce called him out – he’s a compulsive liar.” It wasn’t only on lying that Morrison had form, Towke added. Asked whether he believed the prime minister was racist, Towke noted that he had “certainly used race in the past” – a clear reference to longstanding reports that Morrison suggested, in an explosive 2010 shadow cabinet meeting, that his party should exploit anti-Muslim sentiment. Morrison has long insisted he raised the concerns over “anti-Muslim sentiment” to “address them, not exploit them”. Two people who attended the meeting have this week reiterated to news.com.au they do not believe he raised the issue in such a positive way.

That’s the growing issue for Morrison: he always seems to have form. Try as he and his acolytes might to deny these latest allegations – to dismiss claimants as exhibiting sour grapes and characterising their claims as “smears” or “slurs” or “scuttlebutt” – there always seems to be a litany of examples to back them up. It’s easy to accept what Cusack is saying about Morrison’s problem with outspoken women; outspoken women have been saying it for more than a year now. Women from all over the political spectrum – from Concetta Fierravanti-Wells to Julia Banks to Gladys Berejiklian to Christine Holgate to Jacqui Lambie to Pauline Hanson – have accused him, privately or publicly, of being a bully. It’s easy to accept what Cusack is saying about flood relief being politicised; we have seen the Coalition favour its own electorates at length, even when it comes to something as important as natural disaster relief and recovery.

It’s easy to imagine Morrison could have suggested stoking anti-Muslim sentiment for votes in 2010, and that he did try to use Towke’s race against him in 2007; it was just two months after the infamous shadow cabinet meeting took place that he took a major public misstep in attacking the Labor government for flying asylum seekers to Australia for the funerals of shipwreck victims – an “insensitive” attack that he was forced to walk back when it severely backfired. This is the man who for many years had an “I stopped these” boat-shaped trophy positioned proudly on his desk, and who made a name for himself by being a hardline (anti-) immigration minister.

It’s all too easy to believe what Cusack and Fierravanti-Wells and Towke are saying about Morrison’s unscrupulous preselection behaviour: we can see it at work right now, with his NSW power play being litigated before the courts (he appears to be winning). It’s not hard to imagine Morrison sinking that low back in 2007: he is becoming known for going to unusual lengths to smear an opponent, for his underhanded political gamesmanship, and for his win-at-all-costs mentality

Most of all, however, it’s not at all difficult to imagine Morrison is lying in his recent denials, because, as Towke notes and Crikey does such an excellent job of tracking, Morrison has form.

Of course, it’s possible that Morrison isn’t the bully that Cusack, Fierravanti-Wells, Banks, Hanson and Lambie say he is; that he isn’t the liar Turnbull, Towke and Macron have argued; that all these people have, as the PM claims, an axe to grind. But if he isn’t the ruthless “psycho” many say he is, why does he seem to have such a long list of enemies within his own party? Unfortunately for the PM, the allegations just keep coming. And with every new claim, his denials get harder and harder to believe.













Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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