The Politics    Monday, February 11, 2019

A pumped PM

By Paddy Manning

A pumped PM


Scott Morrison was blunt to the point of belligerence today

There were more threats to Australia than you could poke a stick at in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s address to the National Press Club today. There will be not one anti-Labor scare campaign but many this election year, as the Coalition government seeks a third term. In a surprisingly authoritative performance, Morrison showed again that he is a better communicator than his dumped predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, and that he may yet prove to be a better stump campaigner (which would not be too hard). There is none of the waffler, the explainer-in-chief about Morrison. He is blunt, impassioned to a fault, and has managed to convey not just conviction but also command of his brief.

Possibly, after almost six months, Morrison is growing into the job. The PM declared he was “pumped as” about his national security plan. Remarkable, given every bit of available evidence – including another 53–47 trailing Newspoll today – suggests that his government is done for when it faces the people in a few months’ time.

The stated purpose of the PM’s speech was to release the government’s plan to keep Australians safe and secure, following up on the plan to keep the economy strong, which he released a fortnight ago in Queensland. Morrison rattled off a laundry list of threats to our national security: from hostile states like North Korea to natural disasters, perpetrators of domestic violence, and online bullies. Scary stuff. When Sky News anchor David Speers asked which threat was the worst, the PM couldn’t or wouldn’t say: “It’s not as simple as that, David … I think they’re all critical.”

As was well flagged in this morning’s papers, the focal point of Morrison’s ferocious rhetoric was Labor’s support for a looming floor vote on the Kerryn Phelps–sponsored bill to speed medical evacuation of refugees. Morrison insists that the bill adds nothing to border protection, “it only takes away”. He would not trade away policies that have worked, and would not try to meet Labor on some notional middle ground. “No, Bill. I’m going to stand on the right ground. You want to join me on the right ground, you’re welcome. But I’m not going to find a middle ground,” the PM said. The fact that under the Phelps bill a government-appointed panel of experts would have the final say goes completely ignored. The underlying message? Labor is soft on everything, from refugees to cancelling the visas of hardened criminals. Only the Coalition has the mettle to make the right decisions.

Wherever he is vulnerable – on banks, on climate change – Morrison simply attempts to bluster his way through, and is quite happy to gild the lily, even to be called out for it. Defending his record on the banks, he accused Labor of doing nothing (“Zip! Zero!”) in government. When The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan pointed out that was quite wrong, that Labor had brought in the Future of Financial Advice laws, which the Coalition tried to unwind, Morrison simply answered: “I must’ve found their performance underwhelming,” and that he would leave it to others to correct the record. When The New Daily’s Quentin Dempster pointed out that climate change means that there will be more of the natural disasters we have seen over summer – from wildfires in the Huon Valley to Townsville’s floods – Morrison blithely acknowledged that “it’s a factor, of course it is”, then reverted to boilerplate rhetoric about how the Coalition has “real targets that you meet with a plan to meet them” – even in the complete absence of any such plan.

Morrison is now unfazed by questions about how he became prime minister. Will any of this wash with the electorate? Who knows, but if today’s performance is any guide, Bill Shorten will find Morrison a formidable opponent.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers


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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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