The Politics    Thursday, March 17, 2022

Go west, marketing man

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference in Perth today. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference in Perth today. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

The PM’s focus on campaigning over governing has reached a new low

Was anyone truly surprised to read reports that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was supposedly too busy campaigning in Western Australia to sign off on a much-needed, jointly funded NSW flood assistance package? The claims, coming from NSW government sources, ought to be taken with a grain of salt, given that the state and federal governments have been desperate to point the finger at one another when it comes to the flood response. (NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet was also keen to time the announcement around his impending parental leave.) But the suggestion that Morrison “wanted to delay the big announcement”, after NSW officials had reportedly worked on the package until 3am on Wednesday morning, because he was in Perth desperately trying to save his government, rings painfully true. It seemed obvious that the reason that NSW residents had to wait so long for the first major announcement was due to Morrison’s COVID isolation, with the PM seemingly unwilling to have the support announced in his absence. Now he’s done it again, but with campaigning rather than COVID as the reason why desperate flood victims must wait longer than necessary for relief. With so little interest in actually governing, why does Morrison want to be PM at all?

Morrison is obviously terribly worried about Western Australia, where recent polling shows Labor “well ahead” in three key Perth seats (commentator Niki Savva suggests that the government could lose up to five there), and even assistant minister Ben Morton (a close ally of Morrison’s) is at risk of losing his seat. And he’s been extremely eager to get over there and make some announcements, ever since the border reopened. On Tuesday, he made yet another far-away defence announcement, this one in the form of a $4.3 billion drydock facility that experts say would be better placed in Darwin, and which independent senator Rex Patrick immediately suggested was yet another pork barrel (though we didn’t hear much about that, with this week’s focus on Labor’s rorting). Today, meanwhile, he made a friendly appearance alongside the man he is now desperate to be best friends with, Premier Mark McGowan, announcing state and federal cash injections into a university campus and the Swan River Bridge.

Morrison believes that this WA trip could be vital to securing his election win, and he’s been very busy this week trying to make sure Western Australians understand that Anthony Albanese is his opponent, not McGowan. (Awkwardly, Morrison himself seemed to forget that the state Opposition leader was the Nationals’ Mia Davies, rather than Liberal leader David Honey, following the Libs electoral wipe out.) With so much to do, there’s no wonder Morrison doesn’t have time for pesky things like flood-relief announcements, which he clearly believes should fit around his campaign commitments. Never mind that the election hasn’t yet been called, and that Morrison is clearly focused on salvaging his job rather than doing it, on the public dime.

There is little that should surprise us about Morrison anymore, a man who constantly puts photo ops over substance, and announcements over actually delivering, as seems to be the case with the government’s difficult-to-access aged-care bonus payments. But the fact that he is splashing cash in the west when flood victims in the east are crying out for help does seem to be a new low for him. Whether or not this flood-relief announcement really was delayed to suit his campaign timetable (and it seems quite likely that it was), Morrison’s priorities are certainly skewed. The federal government has this afternoon finally been shamed into extending its disaster payments to those in the flood-affected Labor local government areas that missed out, but not before being lashed by members of its own Coalition over it. What a shame the government’s first focus is always on its own electoral needs, and never on the needs of the nation it apparently wants to lead.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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