The Politics    Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The end of ending the weekend

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison driving a hydrogen-fuelled car around a Toyota test track in Melbourne. Image © William West / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison drives a hydrogen-fuelled car around a Toyota test track in Melbourne. Image © William West / AAP Image

Morrison’s rhetorical backflip on EVs is gobsmacking, even for him

The 2022 election season has unofficially begun – on the day that a 2021 election became impossible – with the government announcing its electric vehicle policy, and Labor re-announcing its high-speed rail plan. The Coalition’s “Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy” has been widely derided as a “fizzer”, not least because the policy – to fund 50,000 charging stations, with the goal that 30 per cent of new car sales be EVs by 2030 – does not include subsidies, tax incentives, sales targets or minimum emission standards; anything, in short, that would make EVs more affordable. But it’s the breathtaking backflip that has made Scott Morrison’s announcement truly worthy of derision. As many in the Opposition and media were quick to point out, the PM famously warned in 2019 that Labor’s EV policy would “end the weekend”, incorrectly claiming that the vehicles could not “tow your trailer” and questioning how people in apartments would be able to charge them, along with a ridiculous scare campaign centred on utes. Appearing on RN Breakfast this morning, shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers labelled the U-turn embarrassing. “How humiliating for a prime minister who said electric vehicles would end the weekend,” he said. “[He’s] now trying to pretend, all of a sudden, because we’re on the eve of an election, that he cares about electric vehicles.” So how exactly does Morrison intend to pull off this brazen backflip, from claiming EVs would ruin the Australian way of life to spruiking his own highly insufficient EV plan? The answer is with a shamelessness that outstrips many of his earlier instances of barefaced lying.

Announcing his latest climate “plan” at the Toyota hydrogen production centre in Melbourne – rightly infuriating local Labor MP Tim Watts – Morrison repeated his new favourite slogans: “technology not taxes” and “choices not mandates”. “Our plans are all about supporting those choices, facilitating those choices,” he said proudly, insisting his government’s policy would not be forcing people into electric cars – something Labor’s policy, it almost goes without saying, simply would not have done. But when asked about his earlier suggestions that EVs would “end the weekend”, and whether he stood by them, Morrison simply lied, with a brashness that left many gobsmacked. “I don’t have a problem with electric vehicles,” Morrison said, claiming his issue was only “with governments telling people what to do, and what vehicles they should drive, and where they should drive them”, as he alleged former Labor leader Bill Shorten had wanted to do.

Even when a reporter argued that Morrison couldn’t honestly say he hadn’t attacked EVs back in 2019, Morrison claimed he could, “because that’s true” (“black is white,” he might as well have said). Not even his own words being quoted back at him (about extension cords out apartment windows) could stop him. Morrison insisted his change in position was justified because there had been a “massive change in the technology” over the past few years (there has not), before embarking on a rant about the “game-changer” that is hydrogen, and circling back to Labor, insisting the Opposition had been going to “force you to go and move to a vehicle where technology had not arrived where we are at now, and where it will go in the future”. Because apparently technological development wasn’t always an inevitability, but it is now.

Today’s falsehoods from Morrison share a likeness with those of former US president Donald Trump, especially in the manner in which the PM attempted to twist his way out of earlier comments – footage of which is insultingly easy to find. They come with the added insult of Morrison wilfully misrepresenting the Opposition’s policy as a “mandate” (it was a target, with incentives to boost uptake, which experts and the Electric Vehicles Council say is what’s needed), while suggesting it is Labor that is fibbing. “That is just a Labor lie,” he said, speaking of comments he made on the public record.

Morrison’s clearly false comments have put many journalists, with their reticence to use the word “liar”, in a difficult spot. (Although to its credit, the short title of the Australian Financial Review’s liveblog was actually “PM lies” for a time today.) We can no doubt expect more of these gobsmacking moments in the election campaign ahead, as the PM continues his shameless pivot. Morrison may not even realise he is doing it, as former Monthly Today columnist Sean Kelly observes in his new book, The Game. In an apt quote floating around Twitter, Kelly writes: “He never feels, in himself, insincere or untruthful, because he always means exactly what he says; it is just that he means it only in the moment he is saying it.” Unfortunately for Morrison, his insincerity on climate is becoming more and more apparent to everyone else.

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“In On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint, Nelson offers a corrective – a reclamation of freedom’s ‘remaining evacuated possibilities’ for her wayward allies. Freedom and obligation are not opposites, she argues, or even different sides of the same coin. Rather they are entangled in a Gordian knot. Freedom needs obligation’s constraint. Obligation requires the freedom to authentically care. Try to pull these two apart and the culture unravels. To stick together, we must embrace the knottiness, tolerate the intractable and ease into indeterminacy.”

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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