When the coup against Malcolm Turnbull was inevitable, some in the Liberal party room thought Scott Morrison was a better choice than hardline reactionary Peter Dutton. They may have been wrong.
And those who point to polls preferring Morrison as leader to Bill Shorten forget that Morrison’s party has to be in power for him to be prime minister. And those polls are looking very grim indeed.
But let’s start with personalities. It is probably true that almost any warm-blooded creature is more popular than Shorten. He has clearly been advised to remain bland, making a small target of himself. Whether that ends up working for him or not is a matter for the electorate to decide in a little less than six months.
Thinking now of the Dutton/Morrison trade-off, it is becoming apparent that Morrison is himself intractably wedded to a dated, discredited, reactionary ideology characterised by –
- Economic rationalism (often called neoliberalism).
- Market and institutional deregulation despite significant evidence of market failures and criminal misconduct.
- Thinly veiled bigotry.
- Confected and constantly extended class warfare.
- Kneejerk opposition to science and facts in favour of hokey beliefs often manifested in climate change denialism and white supremacist views in Australia’s ‘culture wars.
Morrison’s latest tactical move is announcing a surplus budget as if this were an outcome deserving of adulation. It is not. Too many Australian voters know it will come at the expense of further pain to everyone but the über-wealthy. And too many also know that the biggest, most successful economies are carrying much higher debt to GDP ratios than Australia ever has.
To make a true virtue of a budget surplus, Morrison has to explain how this works positively for all Australians. And that’s not a message that can be conveyed truthfully. The surplus means cutting services to those who cannot afford to pay for them any other way than their share of taxation. It will not affect those who can afford to pay for them. Foremost among those services to be cut are social security (including the aged pension and veteran’s benefits), education, and healthcare. Not because Morrison’s opponents shout about these the loudest, but because it is obvious that large spending cuts necessary for a surplus budget can only be found in those areas.
The question is, do even wealthy Australians not see the costly and violent social disaster that will ensue if a permanent underclass is created that has nothing to lose by turning to violent crime? The example of the USA is looking at us from TV screens every day.
Morrison’s bigotry is plainly visible in his statements and policy stances.
- Racism in rejecting any compromise with first nations and in dragging his heels on dismantling Australia’s shamefully crypto-fascist offshore concentration camps.
- More racism mixed with sexism in talking up African gang violence in Melbourne while completely ignoring domestic violence, predominantly violence against women and children, everywhere in the nation.
- More sexism in ignoring the critical rôle women play in the nation, and should therefore play in his party, symbolised no more powerfully than his walk-out immediately ahead of Dr Kerryn Phelps’s maiden speech after winning Turnbull’s vacated seat of Wentworth.
Morrison’s dogged pursuit of class warfare is evident on multiple fronts.
- A relentless war on the unemployed, including the punitive work-for-the-dole slave labour scheme, the deliberately fraudulent Centrelink robodebt programme, and sub-standard financial and social support at a time when Morrison is seeking tax cuts and perks for the top end of town.
- Morrison’s opposition to the banking royal commission as unnecessary and motivated by whining is well known. As is his opposition to a national corruption watchdog everyone else seems to know is necessary. It appears Morrison thinks public purse robbery is OK if you wear a suit and tie, but a heinous crime if you wear shorts and a singlet.
- A stalled NDIS.
- The progressive dismantling of Medicare with further schedule reductions and exclusions from subsidised medicines. Watch for those in the coming budget.
- A relentless war on the ABC to clear the way for Rupert Murdoch to dominate the Australian media landscape with his unprincipled propaganda machine and his support for and American-style two-tiered citizenship model: the underclass and their wealthy masters.
When it comes to the Australian obsession with what we call ‘culture wars’, which is really about white male patriarchy pitted against all other views, Morrison is quite clear where he stands: against community consensus, science, and all facts as presented by experts in their respective fields. The same approach he takes to climate science, religious freedom, and justice.
It is not an unreasonable observation for Australian voters to make when they ask why Morrison joined an American evangelical church imported to Australia. The answer may be the same as the motivation for many American politicians to seek such big tent membership: it is for appearances only, since no Christian principles need to be demonstrated.
Morrison has certainly never displayed Christian charity, brotherly love, or any kind of moral conscience in public office. It is not unreasonable to suppose he professes religious convictions solely to allow him to deny science and expert advice in favour of demonstrably silly, mediaeval ‘beliefs’. And to claim a ‘belief’ in this context is not necessarily synonymous with actually having that belief. That has long been the cover for monstrous corruption in American politics. A very convenient strategy for acting in a perpetually mercenary, self-serving manner.
There is no Australian politician who has striven harder to align himself with Donald Trump than Scott Morrison. From gadding about in trucker caps (about as Australian as Krispy Kreme donuts) to publicly admiring the man’s disastrous policy positions, and seeking to align himself with Trump’s catastrophic international policy positions. The number of people who don’t recognise in Trump the most corrupt and juvenile chief executive in living memory is miniscule. But Morrison is in there. Australian voters are entirely rational to conclude: ‘What greater evidence of bad judgement could there be?’
Morrison has his work cut out for him if he hopes to address any of these issues positively rather than continuing the denialism that has led the Liberal Party to the brink of disaster. The constant rhetorical argument that everything is fine, and that a hardline policy is what some mythical ‘base’ wants even as voters desert the Liberal Party in droves.
It’s a good bet that Morrison will fail to make any effort in even so much as two of the issues mentioned. The ones that could work most strongly for him: embracing women in the Liberal Party, and relaxing the class warfare he’s been fighting.
If you were Josh Frydenberg, or any other Liberal not associated with the Abbott wrecking crew, at what point would you have to cut your ties to Morrison for the sake of still being able to say honestly you have a soul and a moral compass?