Bursting Morrison’s bubble
The PM has had a disastrous week on the world stage
There were always going to be moments in Scott Morrison’s prime ministership when his sunny optimism and roll-up-the-sleeves practicality were exposed as PR nonsense. When his government’s do-nothing approach to climate change would become a global embarrassment. When palling around with Donald Trump might not look like such a great idea. When following America into a trade war against China would have consequences. When substantial domestic problems, such as the drought, couldn’t simply be dismissed with thoughts and prayers, and when the botched administration of programs, such as the NDIS and robodebt, became serious liabilities. These moments all arrived this week.
Perhaps Morrison’s luck is running out. More likely, we’re starting to see the limits of his government’s approach, which is to dismiss major policy problems with cheap words. (See: “That’s just the Canberra bubble”; “The quiet Australians don’t care about x”; “Our government is taking action on climate change”.)
The week was a disaster for Morrison, and sadly a predictable one.
It was entirely predictable that a state visit to America, one which skipped the UN climate summit but not a Trump rally, might look bad. However, it was made to look so much worse by the impassioned incursion of young climate-change activist Greta Thunberg, whose speech lit up the world. Morrison’s response, following the lead of The Australian, and right-wing columnists like Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine, was predictable too: he cast aspersions on Thunberg’s activism by accusing her of causing “needless anxiety” among young people around the world; as if she’s the problem, an exploiter of emotions, a shrill alarmist, an unstable child who shouldn’t be put in the limelight.
Needless anxiety? Morrison continues to try to assure Australians and the world that climate change is not worth being anxious about. His government has no substantial policies for lowering emissions – even to the insufficient degree required by the Paris Agreement – and is planning to open new coalmines. It shows no signs of taking the issue seriously. To attempt to calm down criticisms with the argument that we should “let kids be kids”, and that we don’t need to worry, because his government has it under control, is laughable.
The kids are right to be worried. And they aren’t the only ones. This morning the ABC reported that Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell has been warning managers of government departments and other agencies that: Australia is in “the most natural disaster-prone region in the world”; that “climate change is predicted to make disasters more extreme and more common” and had the potential to exacerbate conflict; and that these things would stretch the ADF to capacity in coming years.
The leading commentators in the Murdoch press have thus far refrained from attacking Campbell personally (perhaps because he’s not a young woman). On the other hand, the criticisms of Morrison’s do-nothing/feel-good approach are reaching fever pitch. As Adam Morton reported in Guardian Australia, analysts, former diplomats and other observers at the UN summit are saying openly that “Morrison is increasingly seen as running a ‘denialist government’ that is not serious about finding a global climate solution and uses ‘greenwash’ to meet its emissions commitments”.
But Morrison went a wrong step further this week. For reasons perhaps related to spending too much time with Donald Trump, in a speech he took China to task over its “special treatment” under the World Trade Organisation rules, and, furthermore, told China that it needed to do more on climate change. The irony. The nerve.
ABC’s Andrew Probyn noted that Trump, for his part, “told reporters in the Oval Office a few days ago that his guest Mr Morrison had some ‘very strong’ views on China”. So helpful.
It wasn’t long before Morrison’s official comments received the entirely predictable response: a firm rebuke from China. As The Sydney Morning Heraldreported today, “A delegation organised by the Chinese embassy on Tuesday accused Australia of being ‘a pioneer of global anti-China sentiment’ and said any country following Australia’s lead would be viewed as ‘extremely unfriendly’ by Beijing.” What was Morrison thinking? And how much damage is this going to cause?
Morrison can convince News Corp that he’s got it all under control, but China and other nations, and those who rely on basic government services, and those who understand the nature of climate change, are not so easily led. Nor is nature itself.
There are marked similarities to both Trump and Boris Johnson in Morrison’s approach to leadership: heavy on rhetoric and reassurance, light on substance and achievement. This week, the comparisons are particularly unflattering.
Columnist Miranda Devine was happy to defend an actual convicted child abuser, George Pell, but believes “someone” should be arrested when a young person, in this case Greta Thunberg, stresses the need to act on climate change.
Running the NDIS
As a royal commission into disability care begins, it emerges that key emails relating to the NDIS are held on a private bank server and cannot be accessed. Rick Morton on governance, transparency and a failing system.
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There were always going to be moments in Scott Morrison’s prime ministership when his sunny optimism and roll-up-the-sleeves practicality were exposed as PR nonsense. When his government’s do-nothing approach to climate change would become a global embarrassment. When palling around with Donald Trump might not look like such a great idea. When following America into a trade war against China would have consequences. When substantial domestic problems, such as the drought, couldn’t simply be dismissed with thoughts and prayers, and when the botched administration of programs, such as the NDIS and...
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