So what kind of a scorecard would you give the new Morrison government? Well, if the question asked were ‘Is Morrison better than Turnbull?’ then I’d give a resounding ‘yes’. Of course I’m pretty sure you could throw a dart at the phonebook, read out the name, and I’d likely give the same answer. Still, that’s something. Is it enough, though, to spur long-time Liberal voters to give money to this Morrison incarnation of a Coalition government? Is it enough to spur volunteers on election day? Is it enough to inspire you to preference them first, rather than just to put them ahead of Labor somewhere down ticket and thereby stop the Liberals from getting a share of the rivers of taxpayer gold that flow to first-preference vote recipients?
Well, so far it’s hard to think of anything much Morrison has done that differentiates his government from the Turnbull one. Okay, they’ve ditched the NEG, but Turnbull had already sold that pass. All we’ve seen so far is that Sco-Mo is more at home in a pub than Turnbull was and that the new PM has more down-to-earth instincts than his predecessor. That’s not nothing. But it’s pretty darn close to nothing. Meantime Morrison can’t say the obvious, that Turnbull had to go because he was the most left-leaning Liberal PM ever and had lost almost 40 Newspolls in a row – way more that Tony Abbott, and Abbott was PM when these polls were conducted every fortnight come what may. Turnbull had the hidden benefit of the frequency of the polling being slowed big time. In other words, Team Malcolm was behind for a lot longer than Team Tony ever was. If you don’t like that criterion, remember that it was the one Malcolm himself offered up for plotting against and defenestrating a first-term PM who had delivered a massive majority. As ye sow, so shall ye reap — that’s how they used to put these things
Okay, so what about actual policy differences between the Turnbull incarnation and the new Sco-Mo embodiment of the Libs? Well, like Turnbull, Morrison won’t pull out of Paris. ‘Why not?’ I ask. So far we have no answer except that Morrison says Australia made a promise. (He leaves out that Australia ratified this treaty after Trump had won and had made clear that the US would not sign up to Paris; in other words, when a more or less empty and unenforceable virtue-signalling concoction of a treaty became a patently dead one.) But that’s one of the dumber answers ever. What did John Maynard Keynes once say? Something along the lines of ‘when the facts change I change my mind, what do you do sir?’. Apparently Team Sco-Mo thinks having once said ‘yes’ that’s it for eternity, or at least for some unknown period of time.
At any rate, there is thus far no difference at all between Morrison and Turnbull on the Paris Accords. There is, however, more focus by the new PM on energy prices. And he has put in as Energy Minister someone who might get them down a bit. But let’s be honest, as long as we live with masses of subsidies for renewables this country is going to have some of the highest electricity prices in the democratic world. There is only so much strong-arming of electricity companies a government can do. In the end these corporations are merely responding to the incentives our useless political class has laid down.
Okay, that’s energy prices covered. What about some other inherited snafus — that awful half-billion dollars, for instance, thrown at some Barrier Reef Group which hadn’t even asked for it? Is that being taken back? Nope.
What about the egregious raids on superannuation that was perpetrated on one of the core Liberal Party support groups? Is this new government going to wind those back? Nope. Well, is it at least going to apologise for attacking our superannuation, not to mention for making it much easier for Labor to do so in the future? Any mea culpas coming our way? Nope. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
What about free speech? Lord knows there seem to be more and more inroads being made into what Australians are allowed to say. If you’re conservative and book a speaker the radical left doesn’t like, and threatens to protest, the police who are supposed to protect us all will send you – the conservatives – the bill. The protesters pay nothing. Is Team Morrison pledged to do something about that? Nope. Well, is it going to re-open the fight to repeal or at least massively to wind back our s.18C “hate speech” laws, the ones used so insidiously against Bill Leak and the QUT students? Nope. Free speech, what the Americans think is so vital to a democracy that enshrined it in their very first Amendment. Not important, apparently.
Okay, going to take on the incredibly PC universities then? Nope. What about the ABC and its board? No, no, no, no. In fact Morrison continued in the Turnbull tradition of appointing non-conservatives to the acting vacancy.
Well, at least this Sco-Mo crowd will cut immigration, right? Surely they’ll do that. Sorry. Another ‘nope’ there too.
You can keep going down the list of things any right-of-centre person might expect, or at least hope, that a nominally conservative government would do. And you’ll find that this Team Morrison has yet to signal any intention of doing them. So far it’s much more of a Turnbull-looking outfit than it is an Abbott-looking one. I suppose that’s not surprising, given that Morrison was one of the 40 Liberal MPs who voted for Malcolm on the first spill – after Turnbull had breached every convention going to drag out the timeline and poison the Peter Dutton attack.
Personally, I think a Dutton government would have been a much better choice for the Libs. Sure, Dutton’s no glib ex-ad man who is superb at selling himself. But on the other hand he appears to be someone with a few core beliefs (by which I mean right-of-centre beliefs). Call me crazy but I’m pretty sure Dutton would not have put Pyne, Payne, Birmingham and O’Dwyer into top Cabinet jobs, that quartet being the most useless and left-leaning MPs in the Liberal party room.
But getting back to Team Sco-Mo, perhaps most charitably described as Team Slow-Mo, despite all of the above you can’t deny that it’s better than Team Turnbull. Is it enough better to win back my vote at the next election? (Confession: In 2016 I preferenced Labor ahead of the Libs because I believed – and still believe – that in the long-term it would have been better for the Libs under Turnbull to lose, such was the lefty-loony uselessness of Team Turnbull.) Well. I suppose it is enough better, just, to get me unenthusiastically to put the Libs ahead of Labor.
But I won’t be giving the Libs my first preference. I don’t think they deserve the taxpayer money that goes with a first-preference vote. Nor will I give the Libs any money. Nor will I work for them before or during the election. Basically this is still a very sick political party. It’s chock full of MPs and operatives who are most honestly described as big-spending, social justice warrior types – Labor-lites – who have no obvious affinity for small government, free speech, proper defence spending (I forgot the horrible submarine deal, which Morrison also stands by), low tax or most of the other things I care about.
But it’s better than Team Turnbull, I give you that. Mind you, a drawer full of turnips could also claim that distinction.
James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland and the author of Democracy in Decline