Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Flights of fancy
Neither optics nor propriety can stop Scott Morrison doing what he wants

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and family holding a white dove, in an image Morrison shared on social media for Father’s Day. Image via Facebook

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and family holding a white dove, in an image Morrison shared on social media for Father’s Day. Image via Facebook

Another day, another national outrage caused by Scott Morrison taking a holiday mid-crisis. News from last night – that Morrison had chartered a VIP jet from Canberra to Sydney and back over the Father’s Day weekend, having been granted an exemption for quarantine-free travel by the ACT – has escalated, with many Australians “spitting chips” that the PM used special privileges to see his family while so many others are separated from theirs due to lockdowns, arguably of his making. The round trip cost taxpayers more than $4000 in flights, but it was the way in which the PM sneakily hid the fact he was with his family (sharing a snap to social media from “earlier this year”, which turned out to be from an event memorialising children killed by a drunk driver) that has left people particularly disturbed. Labor has done its best to capitalise on the PM’s “appalling judgement”, while Morrison has dug in, accusing those who criticise him of “cheap politics”. Meanwhile, commentators squabble over whether this was a reasonable use of the travel exemptions and reporters weigh up whether he really needed to go. (Morrison has plans to return to Sydney in the coming days, but was supposedly required to return to Canberra for a national security meeting on Monday.) It’s not clear yet whether this particular scandal will cause lasting damage, given his previous ill-considered holidays – Hawaii during the bushfires, the UK family history jaunt earlier in the pandemic – have largely faded away. But the question that still plagues many observers regarding Scott Morrison’s flights of fancy is why. Why do it, knowing that you always get caught, and knowing how the double standards are going to look? Why hide it, and post an insensitive picture implying you were not really with your family, making things worse when it ultimately comes out that you were? And, at the crux of it, why not simply make the sacrifice that most of the country is currently making, especially when you’re going to get to see your family in a few days anyway? The answer is because he can. 

Labor has done its darndest to paint Morrison’s latest misstep as an example of double standards, calling his trip out as tone deaf and privileged. Former Labor leader Bill Shorten took the opening shot on Today, noting that there couldn’t be one rule for Morrison and one rule for everyone else. “It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to see his kids,” he said. “But so does every other Australian, and I think when your people are doing it tough, you’ve got to do it tough too.” Federal MP for Solomon Luke Gosling landed perhaps the best jibe: a photo of him at Howard Springs, where he is currently quarantining on his way back from Canberra, tweeting that he had missed out on Father’s Day with his family. (“Hey, we’re all in this together right,” he added.) Hitting back at the criticism on government-friendly Sky News, the PM – who often tries to dismiss legitimate outrage as overblown or a misunderstanding – waved away criticism as either “cheap shots”, “cheap politics”, “low blows” or “cynicism” (attacks he directed mostly towards his Labor critics, but implicitly at everyone else calling him out too – including those who have missed out on funerals and goodbyes with their loved ones). Morrison denied that he had been granted special privileges, noting that he lived in Sydney and was allowed to go there and had merely used an essential worker exemption to return to Canberra. He denied there had been a “cover-up” in his perturbing social media post, lamenting that he was used to people taking unfair swings at him. It’s true to say, as Morrison did, that he didn’t break any rules or use prime ministerial privileges to get to Sydney and back (unless you count the VIP jet). But Morrison appears to have misunderstood the optics of the situation, with millions separated from family by either lockdowns or border closures furious that he simply jumped the border for Father’s Day.

This is the third time this has happened with Morrison’s secret travels, and yet he never seems to learn. Do his advisers try to stop him? Does he ever second-guess these choices, or pause to think of how it will play out politically? Of course, travel is far from the only example of questionable behaviour Morrison and his government have tried to keep secret, and it’s not even the only example this week. Analysis from the ABC’s 7.30 has purported that NSW had been allocated more than its fair share of Pfizer supply, going beyond the additional Polish doses that were agreed upon, and causing outrage down south. A seething Daniel Andrews has unleashed on the federal government for the “unfair and under the table” allocation, noting that Victoria was missing out as a result (to the tune of 343,000 doses, if 7.30 is correct). “I signed on to a national plan to vaccinate our nation, not a national plan to vaccinate Sydney,” the Victorian premier said, arguing Victorians would likely be locked down longer as a result, and demanding the missing doses be made up. Why does Morrison keep doing such things “under the table”, knowing they are going to come out in the end, and knowing the optics are going to be terrible? 

Morrison, supposedly known for his marketing nous, continues to make what seem to be unforced errors, repeatedly taking liberties for which the costs surely outweigh the benefits. The reason, as with everything else self-serving or hypocritical or corrupt he does, is that he thinks he’s going to get away with it – and he’s often right, lurching from one scandal to the next in a near-Trumpian manner, with the news cycle unable to keep focus. People are angry today, but the PM has obviously calculated that flying interstate to see his kids was worth the personal risk, even if it would enrage many Australians. After all, why not do what you want to do, if you can get away with it? What the PM doesn’t seem to recognise is that the nation’s response to the pandemic has been entirely premised on doing the right thing, even when you know you could probably get away with doing something improper, and even when you’re pretty sure it won’t cause any harm.

“As much as I want to be hopeful about this summit … in the background, actions are still proving that they don’t get it.”

Australian of the Year Grace Tame says the PM’s actions are not matching his words on women’s issues, arguing that acknowledging gender inequality is merely “stating the bleeding obvious”.

“Whilst, like everybody else in my industry, I want things to get going again, it is not my role to communicate in that way.”

Guy Sebastian, clearly afraid of alienating anti-vaxxer fans, apologises for a post about the entertainment industry’s #VaxTheNation campaign. He has since clarified that he does in fact support the initiative.

What we can learn from the world’s reopening
As our political leaders fight over the proposed national plan to reopen the country, health experts are imploring us to learn from the experiences of places such as the UK and Israel. But there is another country whose reopening could prove to be a much better blueprint for Australia.


The percentage of August’s Pfizer supply allocated to primary caregivers (mostly GPs) received by NSW, well more than its fair share, even accounting for the additional Polish doses. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has slammed the “secret” arrangements.

“Australia’s peak medical body has warned a plan to put assessments of elderly Australians’ care needs out to tender risks dumbing down the expert teams involved and putting profits ahead of patient wellbeing.”

The Australian Medical Association has hit back at the government’s perceived plans to privatise aged-care assessments – plans it has previously had to walk away from.

The list

“Much has been made of Rooney’s cultural omnipresence; critical think-pieces regularly use her as bait in order to reel in readers for diatribes on white feminism and the cultural saturation of ideologically ambivalent texts. These articles bounce around Literary Twitter like the iconic 2000s DVD logo screensaver. But to what end?”

“One of the great virtues of The Wire is its dialogue. It has the poetry of a language that seems brutally direct to those who use it but impossibly oblique to those who merely overhear it – like us. Because nothing is explained, Baltimore feels a long way from Melbourne.”

“When songwriting in English, we have four basic types of sentences at our disposal: declarative (statements), interrogative (questions), imperative (commands/demands) and exclamatory (exclamation). Isn’t that wonderful news? When staring at an empty page and considering an agile sidestep into the beckoning arms of the corporate sector, remind yourself that there are only four types of sentences you can use  – pick one and get to work.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



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