QED

The Enigma of Scott Morrison

A wily old ex-polly, a social-media friend, recently opined that Scott Morrison, like John Winston Howard before him, “gets” that Australians like boring government, and therein lies his electoral success.  Chris Kenny in The Australian has used “masterclass” to describe what he sees as Morrison’s deft political touch before, during and since the May election.

On the eve of what will no doubt be hailed as a triumphant visit to the United States, including a rarely granted State dinner at the White House, Morrison might be seen as taking all before him.  His recent appearances at Cronulla Sharks matches and barracker’s defence of his team against the National Rugby League’s apparent designs on ditching a Sydney team in order to accommodate Channel Nine – which now seems to run the game – only add to the aura of a people’s prime minister.

Yet for uneasy conservatives he remains an enigma.  Tony Abbott, who has no reason to be an admirer after Morrison’s lip service to loyalty during the Turnbull coup, conceded on election night that ScoMo deserves to be admitted to the “pantheon” of great Liberal leaders for pulling off the unwinnable election and saving the nation from the egregious Bill Shorten.  And in view of the early trajectory of Shorten’s successor, the impossibly awful Anthony Albanese, for whom “deft” will never appear nearby in print, it is more than likely that Morrison might pull off another famous Liberal Party victory in a little under three years’ time.

I said enigma.  For some, Morrison is clearly a conservative.  Think evangelical Christianity and his opposition to same sex marriage.  Think also stopping the boats.  Think transgendered bathrooms at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

For others (me included), Morrison is not a conservative, merely a pragmatist — a centrist with occasional conservative moods.  He is also a man of considerable, well, to be impolite, rat cunning.  There is no doubt he is “Teflon Man”, nothing bad seems to stick.  David Crowe’s recently published book on the rise of Morrison, Venom: Vendettas, Betrayals and the Price of Power, showed just how cunning Morrison can be.  Voting for one leader while getting all your mates to vote for another, just so that you can maintain a veneer of loyalty, then pulling the same bluff with another leader three years later, that  takes some cunning.

To those conservatives outside the Liberal Party, without the outsized loyalty to that once (moderately) great party as displayed perennially by Howard and, perhaps more shakily, by Abbott post the Berejiklian abortion fiasco, Morrison is a do-nothing, waste of political space, not remotely inclined to address the deepest fears and policy desires of those now famous “silent Australians” who voted for the man.  But, more than this, Morrison raised hopes only to disappoint.  He is a conservative pretender who will stand idly by while the long ideological march continues apace.  He will offer crumbs, not red meat.  He will maintain stony silence on cultural issues that demand a voice.  The sort of voice that, say, Alan Jones provides.

Might not a Christian prime minister have perhaps sent a message of support to the thousands of pro-life activists in Hyde Park Sydney this most recent Sunday?  The protesters were addressed by a number of independently minded politicians of principle, like Damian Tudehope (a NSW Government Minister), Kevin Conolly (a NSW Liberal backbencher) and (yes, of all people) Barnaby Joyce, registering their extreme anger at what Tony Abbott accurately described as “ infanticide on demand”. 

This is Gladys’s gift to the unborn of New South Wales.  John Howard’s mate, Gladys.  ScoMo’s mate, Gladys.  Going against the majority of her own parliamentarians, in a curtsy to rainbow warrior Alex Greenwich.  For ScoMo would have ruffled the moderate feathers of NSW Liberal Party mates by taking a stand on a matter that is, or should be, absolute, core right-of-centre business.  The sort of mates who (inevitably) attended the recent gay wedding of Special Minister of State Don Harwin’s former chief-of-staff on the red carpet of the Capitol Theatre.  The mates who form one side of what a Daily Telegraph journalist recently described as “the beginning of a civil war in the NSW Liberal Party”, a war likely to last for years, if not decades.

So goes the story:

There’s a photo being secretly gossiped about by NSW conservatives which they’ve dubbed the “red wedding”.

They claim that this photo captures in history a political alliance that is enraging them and documents a pact between the left of the Liberal party, NSW Nationals veering from their socially conservative roots, and the ALP to drive far-left social reforms and push conservative voices into the minority.

The photo is a group shot of wedding guests at the August celebration of the marriage of Don Harwin’s former chief-of-staff Brian Lindsay and his partner Simon Moore.

In attendance was Premier Gladys Berejiklian and a who’s who of NSW moderates: Don Harwin, Matt Kean, Gareth Ward, Marise Payne, Stuart Ayres, Felicity Wilson, Trent Zimmerman and Melanie Gibbons.

Labor upper house member Penny Sharpe was there, as was Nationals MP Ben Franklin, who emceed the party.

The usual suspects, then.  An amalgam of pro-choice, carbon-emissions averse, renewables-spruiking, rainbow-woke Abbott-haters who have no place in a political party for whom conservatives might be reasonably expected to vote.

So no, no message of support from Morrison over the issue that is right at the heart of this very uncivil, civil war in the Premier State. 

A Christian prime minister, let alone a supporter of free speech, might have avoided throwing Israel Folau under the bus in the continuing legal war with the woke scolds of Corporate Australia.

A conservative at heart might have put a few conservatives on his front bench, in positions of real power, and not retained such rainbow warriors as Marise Payne and Simon Birmingham in positions of ministerial importance way above their capacity to deliver anything beyond facile press releases and, in the case of Payne, a cuddle with Jacinda Adern.

A conservative might have actually told the said Jacindarella to put a sock in it when hectoring Australia about our right to produce energy, and on so much more besides.

A conservative might have been a little more circumspect in his ringing endorsement of the Chinese regime’s useful idiot, Gladys the Second.  Of course, as Andrew Bolt has pointed out, if Liu goes, so does Morrison’s majority.

Above all, a conservative might have supported a conservative in the recent Liberal Party Senate pre-selection contest in Victoria, when Sarah Henderson, a closet greenie, windfarm cheer-squadding, gay-marriage and abortion-supporting electoral failure, was cheered by ScoMo across the finish line.  It is not rocket science to suggest that this was because said closet greenie was, yes, a female!  (Picture the headline, ScoMo – “Senate now has half its members women”.  History books and all that.)

Notwithstanding the truly bizarre factional workings – if “working” is the right word – of the Victorian Branch of the Liberal Party, one might have expected a conservative prime minister to tack right.  Sarah Henderson is not even a centrist, but clearly a true leftist believer with political friends in all sorts of high places in Victoria.  Henderson’s re-elevation, and, more importantly, the high level support she received, is simply mind boggling in the light of the civil war in New South Wales noted above.  Well, it is mind boggling from a true-believing conservative perspective.  Contemplating the alternate view of Morrison – the Teflon man, the fixer, the Scarlet Pimpernel of Australian politics, the silent operator who rarely steps out of the ideological shadows and does so only when it is very, very safe to do so – there is no surprise at all in his recent manoeuvres.

So Teflon Man is off to Washington.  Morrison and Trump indeed make for a strange contrast.

While the US visit will no doubt provide lots of pleasant optics and reinforce our most important alliance, those of us who doubt Morrison’s credentials as a conservative will not be cheered by his undoubted and much acknowledged capacity to avoid the sticking of mud to his visage, as he continues to side step through the more difficult issues of politics, governance and culture without apparent gains of consequence to the body politic or to true conservative believers.

Yes, the comparison with John Howard is clear, and instructive.  Howard, remember, was never a climate sceptic (in government).  He promoted Malcolm Turnbull to senior ministerial office, and (sadly) helped persuade him to stay in politics when we were very nearly rid of him.  He was an immensely clever politician, strategically choosing issues on which to make stands while forever maintaining the common touch, applying pub tests to issues with aplomb.  There is a difference though.  Howard did make stands, and on difficult issues, too – on Iraq, on gun reform, on Kyoto, on “sorry”, on budget cuts of consequence, and, to his final great cost, on industrial relations.  He managed to steer a clever political course and to achieve political longevity.  Hence his place in the Liberal pantheon and a reasonable claim to being Australia’s greatest prime minister. 

And yes, it is way too early to pronounce on Morrison’s career and on his political legacy and stature.  But the signs are not good, at many levels and on many issues.  And remember too, that even a mere decade on from Howard’s departure from the scene, the stakes are now so much higher for those who adhere to traditional virtue and traditionally accepted values. 

As Douglas Murray suggests, we live in times mad post-modernist crowds who assault reason and displace core values.  For Murray, we live, indeed, in a fundamentally and mind numbingly new and unfamiliar world:

As anyone who has lived under totalitarianism can attest, there is something demeaning and eventually soul-destroying about being expected to go along with claims you do not believe to be true and yet cannot hold to be true. That distraction — or crowd madness — is something we are in the middle of and something we need to try to find our way out from. If we fail then the direction of travel is already clear. We face not just a future of ever-greater atomisation, rage and violence, but a future in which the possibility of a backlash against all rights advances — including the good ones — grows more likely.

Assaults on “club sensible” and on the values which conservatives hold dear are now much broader and deeper, more consequential and more telling.  The commanding heights of the culture are, in many ways, lost.  The ground ceded to the progressive left has been massive, and it continues.  Pushing back with consequence now requires much more than mere rat cunning and ephemeral electoral success.

In other words, the kind of leader now needed is a Howard Plus, even a Thatcher Plus.  That is, a super-strategist possessed of soaring ambition, iron will, clear thinking, rhetorical gifts, steely determination, spine and moral compass.  Not just electoral smarts, ersatz chuminess and factional cleverness.

Granted – a Trump-like disruptor can work well politically in a republic, but this model is far harder to put in play in a Westminster democracy; harder still under a preferential voting system.  But given the size of the task, and the breadth and depth of powers ranged against a true conservative revival, very few on the Right would feel comfort when contemplating a lengthy Morrison premiership.  Those chanting in Hyde Park on an issue as critical as the lives of the helpless unborn would especially not feel much comfort, when it is ScoMo’s own “moderate” mates in New South Wales who are leading the assault and wielding the instruments of death.

So.  Morrison might well go down in the annals of the Liberal Party as a successful prime minister, one indeed capable of providing “master classes” in politics.  But, on the evidence to date, and remembering just how much political capital the man has currently, he is never likely to be regarded as a prime minister of consequence or of standing as a conservative hero.

Rat cunning just won’t cut it.

15 comments
  • PT

    I have to disagree with you on the 1996 gun laws being in anyway a difficult stand for Howard. He never owned firearms himself as far as I’m aware. And in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre he had bipartisan support for “making sure this never happens again”. He had universal media support (or virtually unanimous). To the extent they classified an assembly of angry Victorian farmers he spoke to as dangerous fanatics and would be assassins when they “discovered” Howard had been “forced” to wear a bulletproof vest! But the only even approaching significant opposition were a handful of National MPs, particularly Katter. Whatever you think of the laws, Howard was hardly swimming against the tide.

  • Doubting Thomas

    The Howard gun buyback and ban, like so many other decisions that Liberal governments have made, was very popular in the cities, especially among people who will never vote Liberal in their lives. It was a non-solution to a non-problem. Only an utterly incompetent and increasingly corrupt media could ever defend such a policy, and Howard shamelessly exploited people’s raw emotion to punish the innocent majority for the actions of one man.

  • Guido Negraszus

    Good read. I don’t know who ever claimed that Morrison is/was a conservative. He simply isn’t. I think that his victory in May is also a bit overrated. It was Bill Shorten and Bill Shorten alone who put fear into the hearts of Australians. From a conservative point of view I expect nothing from Morrison. His silence on so many issues (as you pointed out) are just unforgivable. Of course the media help him along. Paul Murray (they seem to be friends) treats him like a pope. I stopped watching ages ago. The only two reliable commentators are Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones. I hope that they will never retire.

  • Ed King

    A real conservative might have also scaled back Australia’s extreme, nation-transforming immigration intake. As commentator Ed West put it: “Mass migration is an obviously un-conservative policy, bringing about radical change with uncertain outcomes.”

    To me, ScoMo comes across as a tacky salesman with zero intellectual depth. He is not a conservative by any meaningful definition and certainly not someone who is willing or able to push back against the growing dominance of the Progressive Left in our politics, culture and society. He hasn’t articulated any vision for our nation and doesn’t appear to even really grasp the maladies afflicting Australian society.

    Paul Collits is spot on – ScoMo is “never likely to be regarded as a prime minister of consequence or of standing as a conservative hero.”

  • Ed King

    Also, ScoMo’s handling of the Gladys Liu issue has been disgraceful. Trying to shield Liu from serious and legitimate questions by playing the race card really is the refuge of an intellectually and morally bankrupt scoundrel.

    Forget Shanghai Sam. Beijing now has a much better asset in Shanghai Scott.

  • ianl

    > ” … ScoMo comes across as a tacky salesman with zero intellectual depth” [Ed King, above]

    Yep. I noted over 12 months ago that Morrison is a fake. Rat cunning for the majority, yes, a footy dad. Trump prefers him to Waffle, as most of us do, but that choice is simply the lesser of constantly oozing yukkiness (!).

  • Jim Campbell

    You have to remember that Morrison is just 51. He was born into the era of poor education, lack of respect and discipline, moral and spiritual decay, poor health, and an overreliance on technology.

    The consequences include the following: lack of common sense; inability to plan effectively; moral decay; inability to make decisions; poor systems thinking; weak leadership.

    The eventual outcome of these deficiencies will of course be long-term but I suggest we are witnessing some of the early results today. For example consider the performance of the successive federal governments over the past ten years: the NBN fiasco; the inappropriate response to the GFC; the inability to make spending cuts; NDIS funding; money as the solution to education failure; expense rorts; the citizenship fiasco; lack of leadership and capitulation over the SSM issue; lack of interest in gender and safe-school issues; the $50B submarines in 50 years; leadership skulduggery; the power crisis; gender reassignment in the defence force; add your own.

    Morrison is just the leader of the pack.

  • Geoffrey Luck

    And, never trust a (loudly proclaiming) Christian.

  • whitelaughter

    PT, any decision that can get you shot is a difficult decision.

    Ed, immigration is the only thing keeping our economy afloat. Tinkering with that before making the hard economic decisions would be disastrous – and any govt with the guts to do it would have the guts to fix the economy first.

    Jim, I desperately hope you are wrong, but cannot think of any reason why you should be.

    Geoffrey, the days when wearing Christianity on your sleeve was a useful trick for scoundrels is long gone, they have more ‘hip’ religions to hide behind.

    Premier BabyJerky’s claim that abortion is purely a state issue should have been a godsend to any federal govt waning to control spending: loudly claim that she didn’t have the support of the other Premiers, sit back in delight as they all rally to her, and then cut medicare funding of babycide.

  • padraic

    I think Boris Johnson is showing the way for the NSW Liberals. Those that go against the policies enunciated by the majority of the party will be banned from being selected as candidates at the next election. It is all very facile to claim that it is a conscious vote but it is obvious that the whole thing was contrived in advance behind closed doors. What has happened in the NSW Parliament on abortion is spitting on a majority of the voters that elected the Government. Voters make their voting decision based on the party platform that is presented to them before the election and expect that is what the party will carry out if elected. Abortion changes were never mentioned before the election. The electorate will tolerate the government having to do something outside the party platform in an unforeseen emergency situation that may occur after the election, but this abortion business does not qualify as an emergency situation. If they are to survive the next election they will have to develop a party platform and promote it to the electorate as that’s what they want to achieve if they win and reassure voters that there will be no more sneaky surprises after the election. At the same time they should have all candidates they are putting up sign a document to the effect that they are in favour of the agreed party platform and if elected and then oppose elements of the platform then they won’t be endorsed as candidates at the following election. Under the present system it is easy for activists who do not share traditional Liberal Party values to infiltrate and cause trouble just as schools and universities have been infiltrated and are now dominated by people who do not share the same values as held by the vast majority of the population.

  • Biggles

    “Voters make their voting decision based on the party platform that is presented to them before the election.” You have got to be kidding, padraic! Never met a ‘rusted-on’ Leftie?

  • padraic

    Regrettably yes, Biggles. I was referencing my remarks to normal rational voters, not those dreaded Lefties whose views are formed through a haze of victimhood. loserhood, self loathing, a sense of being superior to the rest of us, and drug induced brain damage (apart from that they are OK). I was disgusted tonight while watching the TV News to see small children spewing hatred and bile at those demos and to think it is those Leftie teachers and parents who allow young children to be so brainwashed and bitter. I can understand (but don’t approve) late secondary school students getting involved but little kids from Primary school? Children at that age should be enjoying the wonderful things that the world has to offer them, not the doom and gloom of the no-hopers.

  • Ed King

    Whitelaughter: “Ed, immigration is the only thing keeping our economy afloat. Tinkering with that before making the hard economic decisions would be disastrous – and any govt with the guts to do it would have the guts to fix the economy first.”

    Our current ‘immigration economy’ is a giant Ponzi scheme requiring the accumulation of more imports and debt. It’s not sustainable and it’s not delivering higher living standards for existing Australians. We urgently need a correction.

  • Ed King

    Salvatore Babones on Australia’s immigration ponzi economy:

    “Australia is, in essence, in the midst of an unprecedented experiment in mass immigration the likes of which the developed world has never seen…

    For more than 20 years, a majority of Australians have consistently preferred lower levels of immigration. An April poll found that 64 percent of Australian residents thought that recent immigration levels were “too high,” with more than one-third saying that they were “much too high.” And these results should be read in light of the fact that around 15 percent of Australia’s residents (and, presumably 15 percent of those polled) are not Australian citizens.

    In fact, a majority or plurality of voters who identify with every major political party in Australia express a preference for less immigration. Yet, as in the United States, calls for reductions in the level of immigration are repeatedly answered with charges of racism. Certainly there is racism in Australia, as in every country. But when a country allows some of the highest levels of legal immigration in the world, twice as much as the United States did in its most immigrant-friendly era, it seems reasonable for people to ask: How much is too much?

    And beyond the social strain, there is the economy to think about: As Australia’s population grows, the country needs exponentially more and more immigrants in order to continue to reap the same economic benefits. As a result, Australia’s heavy reliance on immigration to float the economy and fund government budgets runs the risk of turning into a giant immigration Ponzi scheme. So far, Australia has more or less been able to stretch existing infrastructure to accommodate a much larger population. But sooner or later, things will come to a head. When they do, Australia may experience the world’s first immigration economic crash.”

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/10/03/australia-the-worlds-first-immigration-economy/

    Babones notes quite rightly that mass immigration is being used to pump up GDP growth but that this masks what’s happening on a per capita basis.

  • [email protected]

    Agree entirely with this, and I’m afraid rather than SloMo leading us into the light, we have a PM that can sell himself a lot better than Turnbull could but is cut of the same cloth.

    I think his unexpected win in May was more to do with the utter catastrophe that Shorten presented rather than anything SloMo has to offer us. The infanticide is one issue, but of course there are SO many others:

    School kids ‘striking’. Mines not allowed to open for fears of ‘carbon dioxide’ pollution is another country. Loony protesters gluing themselves to roads. The never-ending bias of the ABC. Mass, uncontrolled and unsustainable migration – on and on it goes.

    And we haven’t even got Cory Bernardi and his Conservative Party now. What an imperial mess.

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