Performative PM

Dennis Atkins in Scott Morrison’s antics show Australia is going to the polls in 2021 tells us that PM Scott Morrison likes to look busy during Question Time.

It looks like the height of rudeness, but it is actually worse than that:

    During Question Time the Prime Minister thinks little of firing off a quick message to political journalists sitting in the gallery to his left and one level up.

    More often than not – almost always – Morrison offers assessments of how Labor is performing. “Look at Albo’s backbench,” he might offer. “No happiness there.” This would probably be accompanied by a thumbs down or sad face emoji.

He is well-rewarded:

    Many of those journalists who happily receive and repeat those text messages – with the attribution of “a senior Liberal” – have given Morrison high marks for his pandemic period efforts.


    Morrison oh so casually rolled out a new nickname for Albanese, “Each Way Albo”. He’d road-tested it during the last sitting days of 2020 and found it pleasing to his ears.

    Scott Morrison has started using Sky After Dark host Paul Murray’s ‘Each Way Albo’ sobriquet.

    “No wonder everyone calls him Each Way Albo,” said Morrison. Most people don’t call Albanese this, with the Sky After Dark host Paul Murray being the only person other than the Prime Minister who uses this sobriquet.

How can we have civility in politics, and elections based on a consideration of policy proposals when we put a ruthless amoral clown in charge?

Belinda Jones in Scott Morrison’s not-so-good year of 2020 points out that in addition to Paul Kelly and Rupert’s gang, David Speers from the ABC and David Crowe of the SMH and The Age thought Morrison had a good year. She herself thought otherwise, reminding us with a long list of what really happened. Certainly he showed an outstanding talent for taking credit when the states did well on Covid, and blaming them when things went pear-shaped, as in aged care, for example.

Clearly they don’t like him at Independent Australia, so we have founder and director David Donovan and managing editor Michelle Pini delving deep to uncover the truth as to whether Morrison is a prick, or not.

They go into his early life and find:

    prior to entering politics, #ScottyFromMarketing was sacked from every marketing job he ever held.

    But Morrison turned things around after entering politics. Before, he was the incompetent idiot who couldn’t keep his job. After entering politics, however, he’s become the bloke who keeps his job, despite being the gormless buffoon creating a shitstorm at every stumbling turn.

    And that’s not as easy as you might think.

    In his earlier political career, Morrison displayed all the necessary traits to lead. In fact, he excelled by managing to gain, in 2007, the Federal seat of Cook after losing Liberal Party preselection. Later, he became the “brains” behind Robodebt, which led to the Federal Government paying out a $1.2 billion settlement for demoralised welfare recipients. Along the way, Morrison made official abuse of refugees an artform of unaccountability.

Dr Jennifer Wilson finds Scott Morrison’s biggest success is manipulating his own image. Who else would crawl into a submarine’s washing machine for a photo op:

Nick Feik, editor of The Monthly, finds the PM The announcement artist (pay-walled, probably). He changed his approach after the disastrous bushfire debacle:

    Press conferences are held at short notice with details postponed until later, and inconvenient questions are easily batted away, well after headlines have established an underlying narrative. Outlets rush to break the news first, follow-ups are negligible, corrections are buried, and the media as a whole paints the picture you would expect from an ecosystem increasingly dominated by supporters of Morrison and his government (most notably in the News Corp stable).

    It’s all working for the prime minister – he’s a ­self-styled practical dad, an optimist taking care of business. If there are objections or uncomfortable revelations, he doesn’t accept the premise of your question. Next, please. And tomorrow he’ll have another announcement.

However, what happens after the announcement, if anything, can be another story:

    in February … his government released a coronavirus emergency response plan. It said that while the states and territories would be responsible for public health and hospitals, “the Australian Government will be responsible for residential aged care facilities”.

That went well!

In early March:

    to cushion the economy from the likely impact of the pandemic, including a $1 billion fund for tourism. The fund never appeared, or at least not for tourism operators. Delving into it in the Senate’s Select Committee for COVID-19 in late August, Labor senator Murray Watt questioned several tourism industry representatives: Were they surprised that the “fund has ended up being used for airfreight support, campaigns on eating seafood and securing forest resources? … That a $1 billion tourism fund has been used for a range of things that are not related to tourism?”

Also in March:

    Morrison announced that international borders would be closed and no cruise ships would be allowed into Australian ports, other than four exceptions including the Ruby Princess. There would be “bespoke arrangements that we put in place directly under the command of the Australian Border Force to ensure that the relevant protections are put in place”. The “bespoke arrangements” were never introduced. Instead, a chaotic chain of command resulted in the disembarkation of hundreds of COVID-positive passengers from the Ruby Princess.

Then soon after JobKeeper expenditure was found to miss its mark by $60 billion, JobMaker was announced:

    JobMaker was an entire agenda, a whole-of-government effort “supporting small, medium and large businesses through skills, affordable and reliable energy, research, access to finance, more efficient taxes, less regulation and workplace relations reform”.

A few months later in the Senate COVID committee hearings, Deputy Secretary (Skills and Training) Nadine Williams could not identify who was in charge of JobMaker, or what had happened in this government ‘effort’. Later:

    responding to a question on notice, it was revealed that the first time the Department of Education, Skills and Employment heard of JobMaker was the day the prime minister announced it.

In effect the JobMaker scheme was just a grab bag of talking points collated for media consumption.

There’s more, but Feik concludes:

    Australians have a great piece of vernacular once commonly applied to someone who talks a big game but never delivers on it. They’re called a bullshit artist, but it’s a term we don’t use so much anymore.

Bernard Keane at Crikey finds Mates first policy: Scott Morrison’s No. 1 value is seeing the country rot from the head down:

    When ‘looking after our mates’ is your foundational value, those who work for you will get the message: taxpayer funding is there for the taking.

Keane quotes Morrison:

    ‘Remember, my value is: we look after our mates.’ – Scott Morrison, September 6 2018

Keane says:

    Everywhere you look in the Morrison government, you see sleaze and self-interest, if not outright corruption.

There is a long list, including a million dollars paid to a Liberal mate for government advertising without the inconvenience of a tender, the sports rorts and the “festering sore of the Community Development Grants program, a scandal 10 times bigger than sports rorts”, giving over $440 million to a tiny Great Barrier Reef charity run by people connected to the Liberal-allied Business Council without process, and so on.

    when ministers are caught out lobbying for their family’s business interests, or pedalling forged documents without consequence; when a department like Home Affairs can be repeatedly assessed as incompetent in the use of its powers and its expenditure of billions of dollars without any repercussions for its secretary or minister; when over a hundred thousand Australians can be targeted by an illegal scheme like robodebt without a single bureaucrat or minister suffering any consequence; when forensic independent reports by the auditor-general are dismissed by senior bureaucrats and the funding of the Australian National Audit Office is cut, when those who seek to hold the government up to scrutiny are raided, rather than rewarded, that too sends a signal.

    Accountability doesn’t matter. You don’t need to fear the consequences of misuse of taxpayer funding.

    “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept,” David Morrison famously said. For the Morrison government, it hasn’t merely accepted the low standards that have mired federal politics in sleaze, it has actively promoted them. (Emphasis added)

Keane is concerned that the sleaze promoted by the Morrison government is permeating public administration and public life generally.

Mark Buckley at Pearls and Irritations in This rabble of a government quotes a recent commenter in either The Age or The Guardian (he copied the comment and lost the reference):

    “Jesus I am sick of this rabble of a government of ours – if it is not making an ass of itself in its handling of relations with our biggest trading partner it is attacking the little bloke’s Super – all of this is inspired by the twisted ideology of the IPA and the ASPI that leads it to think that we will all go to Heaven in the long run if we just follow Donald Trump and stamp out Communism and foreigners in general and anyone who does not contribute funds to the Liberal Party”

He then fact-checks the claims and finds them pretty much on the money.

I found it interesting when after identifying Tim Wilson and James Paterson as intellectual titans “produced by the twerp factory, otherwise known as the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which specialises in turning out otherwise unemployable spivs in shiny suits” Buckley does a roll call of pollies who are current members of the IPA:

    Abetz, Birmingham, Cash, Christensen, Cormann, Evans, Fletcher, Frydenberg, Hawke, Hunt, McGrath, Morrison, Paterson, Porter, Roberts, Ryan, Stoker, Dean Smith, Tony Smith, Tehan, Tudge, and Tim Wilson. All are affiliates of the Global Atlas Network, supported by right-wing loonies who hail from the U.S.A.

Scott Morrison is a current member, as were Abbott and Howard.

Again at Pearls and Irritations Robin Boyle asks Is it time to put our PM and his Treasurer into quarantine? His answer is in the affirmative:

    For our country’s sake it is time they were put into permanent quarantine, after all that’s what we do with others who are a danger to the community.

He makes the case that:

    The seven years of Coalition leadership is a litany of failures, incompetence, cronyism, hypocrisy, indecision and paralysis.

That article is quite broad about the Coalition. Dennis Atkins brings us back to Morrison’s special ability in a perceptive article – All politicians lie, but Scott Morrison’s untruths transcend the usual.

He says Peter Beattie and John Howard were good liars, but they always knew when they were lying, and did so for a specific purpose.

However, Morrison simply transcends the truth, is able to shape-shift reality in any way that suits him, and always to his advantage. One example Atkins gives is Morrison accepting the responsibility for aged care, but dumping the Covid failures on Victoria:

    Morrison started by seeking to bury the whole issue of aged care failures in a word salad about “shared responsibilities” and finished with a breathtaking flourish which picked up aged care and dumped it into a basket marked “someone else’s fault”.

    The full quote should be used in journalism and political science classes: “Well public health, we regulate aged care, but when there is a public health pandemic, then public health, which, whether it gets into aged care, shopping centres, schools or anywhere else, then they are things that are matters for Victoria.”

    Morrison shut down further discussion with one of his favourite linguistic devices to have the last word, chiding the questioner for being “too binary”.

For me personally, I parted company with Morrison on his role in stopping the boats and his callous disregard for dignity and for life itself in a string of subsequent decisions. There is an excellent exposé of Morrison’s role in this in a article by Sam Langford in an August 2018 article by Sam Langford in Junkee We May Have Escaped Prime Minister Dutton, But Scott Morrison Is Also Pretty Shit on the occasion of his ascension to the role of PM. Langford goes through an extensive list of Morrison’s deeds which should disqualify him for the position of PM. Langford says:

    We have, of course, focused on the negatives here — as Morrison and his fans will no doubt point out, he has done some things well. We’re guessing that for many Australians, though, quite a few things on this list may just be dealbreakers, the kind of things we don’t want our Prime Minister to ever represent or stand for.

Malcolm Turnbull told Annabel Crabbe that the only issue that really stirred Scott Morrison was his opposition to the marriage equality proposal. Other than that we can be excused for believing him when he says he is there to look after his mates.

However, Dennis Atkins warns that Morrison’s shape-shifting style which allows him to transcend the truth is now part of the way he operates, not just a technique to get out of a tight spot in an interview or press conference.

And I haven’t even mentioned climate change.

33 thoughts on “Performative PM”

  1. New post finally here. I had intended to use the first Atkins article as a Weekly salon item, but I had all those other links.

    The second article by Atkins is quite powerful, I think, and stems from a Morrison that emerged this year after initial stumbles on Covid.

    I find it frightening.

  2. Brian: You are right. At the moment Morrison is doing well at taking credit for virus action. Not to hard to look good when compared with Trump!!
    What he is not doing well is in helping low income people recover from the economic effects of the virus.
    For me he still comes across as a shallow, and not particularly honest smartarse.
    Dunno what Labor is going to do about him.

  3. Pedantry Alert

    I think documents get “peddled” rather than “pedalled”.


    Mr A
    Docs On Bikes
    (Formerly the Institute of Archival and Pronouncement Urban Transportation)

  4. Ambi, you are right. That was Bernard Keane. We all know about drug peddlers. You could pedal around peddling stuff, of course.

  5. John, I have just read a very depressing article by Richard Cook, contributing editor to The Monthly entitled The disappearing man on Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party. It would be pay-walled, for sure.

    He says the Coalition has become the dominant party of government. It has held power 49 years since WW2, more than double Labor. He says the three giants of modern Labor – Julia Gillard, Paul Keating and Gough Whitlam had combined careers in office span roughly the same time period as John Howard’s reign. They did stuff and flamed out, with most opposition coming from within.

    Not sure how that leaves Bob Hawke, but he doesn’t rate Kevin Rudd.

    He said the other archetypical leader was the night watchman, with Kim Beazley being a prize example.

    He says Albo started as a firebrand, but has dissolved in a puff of smoke, because times have changed.

    Occupation no longer determines political affiliation, blue collar folk are now paid more on average than white collar. That was according to a 2012 Suncorp Bank Wages Report which found that, for the first time, blue-collar workers earned more on average ($1229 a week) than their white-collar counterparts ($1085 a week). The same survey revealed that six of the top 10 highest-paid industries are now blue collar.

    However, wealth is now a bigger priority than income, with housing a huge issue. The labour force is almost completely de-unionised.

    If we had a class war, the tories won.

    He reckons there is redistribution going on, but it is from the young and underprivileged to the older and privileged. Canada and NZ have politicians more tuned into the needs of the young and the underprivileged.

    Any way, he said Albo let Morrison run during the pandemic, and it is now too late too haul him in. Effectively it was a Steven Bradbury strategy, get into the slipstream and wait for the frontrunner to fall over. Not going tro work.

    He says Labor:

      needs new party structuring, to better reflect the eclipse of the union movements. In Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere, successful leaders have sought coalitions with novel partners and politicians, especially independents. They have emphasised confidence, competence and enthusiasm, drawing a contrast with ailing, out-of-touch and poorly governing populist leaders.

      Scott Morrison is not incompetent, and he is less ideological than comparable incumbents. He is much more canny at understanding his half of the “mercantile right” electorate, and is unwedded to austerity, instead giving governmental assistance to friends and punishment to enemies (this explains his savaging of the tertiary sector, the Brahmin-left HQ). But he cannot be dislodged, or deLodged, without a fight. And at this moment, the man who has spent his life fighting Tories looks like the wrong kind of loser.

    Please note, Rupert Murdoch is not big in Canada or NZ.

    Stuff like restructuring the party can’t happen in the short term. Mark Butler was up for it, but the party chose Wayne Swan as president in order to keep things the same.

    We’ll see what the ALP comes up with in terms of policy, but the question is whether Albo can carry it.

  6. Sean Kelly (SMH Sat 16/1) says that “So far, Morrison is…..the most timid of our recent leaders.” I think he has a point.
    My impression was that Morrison wanted the position badly enough to scheme and plot but did not have important things he needed the position to do.
    Keating was much the same. He wanted to be prime minister but he had achieved much of what he wanted to do as treasurer. When he got the desired position he did SFA and lost to Howard who really did have things he really wanted to do.
    As you know I am a keen Shorten supporter because he had lots of things he wanted to do and a talent for making things happen when he got the chance. Can’t see the same drive in Albanese or Morrison.

  7. From The Conversation: “As Trump exits the White House, he leaves Trumpism behind in Australia”
    Trumpist approach already here
    Manifestations of the latter are already advanced in sections of our news media, and the willingness of political leaders to bluster through mistakes and exposed wrongdoings, refusing to apologise, explain or resign.
    This is a key take-out of the Trump approach: notions of honour and tradition, long relied upon to protect probity and avoid conflicts of interest, can be ignored. Those seeking transparency or who uncover maladministration can be depicted as political opponents or extremists, motivated by hatred and prejudice.
    For the Westminster tradition, where confidence rests on protections only ever partly codified, the dangers are existential.
    What mistakes?
    Evidence of this deterioration can be seen in the marked tendency of governments to stare down calls for resignation, ignore significant public disquiet, and press on.
    In 2020, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitted an intimate association dating back years with a disgraced former MP who, it turned out, had been arranging property deals for commission, even as a backbencher.”
    It is not all that long ago that a previous NSW premier resigned of the gift of a bottle of wine.
    Morrison is a master of stare it down.

  8. John, Malcolm Turnbull said that the only policy that stirred Morrison was his opposition to marriage equality. I would have thought his zealotry on asylum seekers coming by boat was also passionately held.

    Mark Kenny’s post is deeply troubling. Corruption is open and blatant. He reminds us of how things used to be:

      Previously, ministers have resigned over comparatively technical breaches. This includes the unwitting importation of a Paddington teddy bear in the 1984 case of Labor’s Mick Young – the bear, which would have attracted an import duty measured in cents, was actually in his wife’s luggage.

      The army minister Andrew Peacock offered to resign in 1970 after his wife appeared in an advertisement for Sheridan sheets. A few years later, two Fraser government ministers fell on their swords over a colour TV carried into the country but declared as black-and-white on a customs form.

    And Barry O’Farrell resigning because he forgot about a bottle of Grange.

    Now massive corruption is taken as the norm. Then there is this:

      senior Morrison ministers have pointedly refused to contradict or discipline their own MPs (Craig Kelly and George Chrsistensen) spreading incorrect and potentially dangerous Trumpist dogma surrounding US electoral fraud, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 treatments, and claims of left-wing agent provocateurs in the Capitol insurrection.

      Drawing a typically Trumpist equivalence, acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack referenced last year’s Black Lives Matter rallies – which he derisively termed “race riots” — to play down the Capitol siege while also trotting out offensive lines such as “all lives matter”.

      Read more: Why is it so offensive to say ‘all lives matter’?

      Faced with a backlash, McCormack decried those “confecting outrage” as “bleeding hearts”.

      It suggests the calculation already being made by ministers is that nourishing an extremist culture of resentment and anger is more useful to a centre-right government than courting the political middle ground.

      America has already been down this path, and we know where it leads.

  9. John, on Bill Shorten vs Albo, I think Shorten let his ministers do their own thing and didn’t personally own the policies they were putting forward.

    Albo will have a definite idea of what he wants to do, but is open to ideas from his troops and elsewhere.

    However, whatever he puts forward will be judged to be politically feasible. This may mean he falls short in the vision stakes, but he has an extended view of ‘fairness’ which might take him further than one would think.

    His record has very much been on infrastructure, railways, cities etc, and as leader of government business in the house under Rudd and Gillard he knows how to keep 76+ people pointed in the same direction (apart from Joel Fitzgibbon).

    My fear is that he’s the best leader to have won the last two elections, but not maybe the next one.

  10. Brian: Labor might learn a bit from the “kill Bill” campaign. Scomo is attackable.

  11. Brian: “My fear is that he’s the best leader to have won the last two elections, but not maybe the next one.”
    What sort of Labor leader might be needed?
    At this point Albanese doesn’t appear to be doing a good attack job.
    My take is that a party needs some good attack dogs that do the damage while the leader is allowed to look like a reasonable person. (Think Abbot and Howard?)

  12. My take is that a party needs some good attack dogs that do the damage while the leader is allowed to look like a reasonable person. (Think Abbot and Howard?)

    Albo has picked KK ( drugys wife ) for that roll recently. She’s more of an Alinsky type back stabber to Albo the Bridesmaid. Abbot was more the dorky bullet proof prayer to Howard’s small man pluck.

    Concentrate more on a treasurer the like of Costello, he kept Howard under control.

    Can’t see any ALP MP that fit that shoe.

  13. Jumpy: Leaders also need someone they trust to tell them when to go. Needs to be someone who is not a leadership contender. Costello couldn’t fill that role because he was a leadership contender. BTW you might remember that Howard talked to a leadership team about resigning before the 2007 election.
    Abbott by the way was the person who inspired me to become an active Greens supporter.

  14. John, if you think Kristina Keneally doesn’t have the highest ambitions of power then I don’t know what to tell you.
    Albo just invented a shadow portfolio for her the doesn’t even have a government Minister to shadow, the “ Shadow Minister for Government Accountability “

    As for that worm Howard, he went back on a promise that gave us Swan for the GFC rather than Costello.
    We should have had the best Treasurer Australian has ever had but instead we got the worst. I’m no fan of Howard for that alone without all the other rubbish he did.

  15. Jumpy: “Albo just invented a shadow portfolio for her the doesn’t even have a government Minister to shadow, the “ Shadow Minister for Government Accountability “
    Good move Jumpy. Given your claim to be a libertarian I would have thought you would support things that help make governments more accountable. Particular a government like we have now with its sports rorts, accepting donations from the fossil fuel industry and less than stellar performance of some departments.
    There are good reasons why oppositions should have a shadow cabinet that is not merely a reflection of the government ministry.

  16. John, with the left constantly changing definitions it’s impossible to keep up, so I’m not any more. A shadow portfolio shadows an actual portfolio to me or it’s a fictional nothing.

    As a “claimed “ libertarian, I’d rather politicians didn’t have the power to be corrupt. The work for us, we’re the Boss.

  17. Try to think of it as the shadow cabinet rather than a collection of shadow portfolios.
    Where the portfolios match, the shadow cabinet will have a shadow portfolio. Where the opposition discerns a need for a different portfolio, it will either shadow the portfolios which cover the same areas or stand alone.
    I don’t know why Scomo doesn’t already have a Minister for Government Accountability. /sarc

  18. Keneally’s full positions:

      Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
      Shadow Minister for Home Affairs
      Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship
      Shadow Minister for Government Accountability

    You are cherry picking, Jumpy.

    • As a “claimed “ libertarian, I’d rather politicians didn’t have the power to be corrupt. The work for us, we’re the Boss.

    Albo has merely given one of his troops a special brief to see that government politicians do in fact work for us.

    Very sensible, I think.

  19. Brian.

    You are cherry picking, Jumpy.

    No I wasn’t, she had the other positions before the reshuffle.
    The dates are here,
    This is exactly what I said “” Albo just invented a shadow portfolio for her the doesn’t even have a government Minister to shadow, the “ Shadow Minister for Government Accountability “””

    Your fanatical defence of all things ALP may be clouding your judgment a touch.

  20. Jumpy: I can see no logical reason why opposition ministerial positions have to be limited by a governments ministerial decisions.
    Or am I missing some deep wisdom in action?

  21. I’d like an explanation of where the corruption lies in Albo’s decision to give one of his troops a special brief to see that government politicians do in fact work for us.
    Jumpy’s fanatical hatred of all things ALP may be clouding his judgment a touch.

  22. No I wasn’t, she had the other positions before the reshuffle.

    Jumpyreally needs to work on his English skills. His link does not say what he thinks it says.
    Before the reshuffle Ms Keneally held the positions:
    Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
    Shadow Minister for Home Affairs
    Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

    After the reshuffle she is:
    Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
    Shadow Minister for Home Affairs
    Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship
    Shadow Minister for Government Accountability

    She has been given an extra responsibility (with no increase in her pay).
    Once again cherry picker, where’s the corruption?

  23. John, because it’s a vague leftist label as usual.
    She’s part of government,does it address all of governments Australia wide or just an attack ALP opposition like the greens sometimes are.

    Do our political employees have any explanation of the goals and procedures this new weapon has ?

  24. If an ALP politician is alleged to have made a boo boo, or a green, is she the one to investigate?

    Or is it just another Orwellian propaganda department to crush opposition to ALP ?

  25. Here’s a little more food for thought, will this Ministry of Government Accountability exist if Albo wins the next election?

    Or will it disappear like the ABCs “ Promise Tracker “ after Abbott got rolled ?

  26. Here’s a little more food for thought, will this Ministry of Government Accountability exist if Albo wins the next election?

    A question you should address to Albo. HTF would we know?
    And the ABC Promise Tracker didn’t disappear when Abbott got rolled, it stayed in place until the 2016 Election was called. Perhaps it didn’t continue as a result of the ABC’s reduced funding?

  27. Or is it just another Orwellian propaganda department to crush opposition to ALP ?

    You’re on fire today. It may have escaped your notice, but the ALP (having crushed all opposition) is not the government.
    Seriously, who’s paying you to come here?

  28. More on the ABC Promise Tracker.
    It’s still being updated so it didn’t disappear at all and my trusty internet search engine indicates the ABC ran a Promise Tracker for the NSW election last(?) year and the most recent NT election.
    Is this where I call Jumpy a liar?

  29. Jumpy: I have no problem with an LNP opposition having shadow ministers that are different to the government’s mix. Will help deliver better government.
    Time you unstuck yourself from the mud.

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