Prime Minister Scott Morrison has never shown a particular love of an open and free media throughout his political career. But when he has to do an interview, he has played favourites.

Malcolm Turnbull appeared to declare his favourite journalists in his last press conference in the top job on Friday, but it’s unlikely Morrison would pick the same names.

Morrison’s relationship with the media has not generally been in favour of transparency, particularly during his period as immigration minister. And beyond a troublesome relationship with the ABC throughout his political career, Morrison’s preference for shutting down journalists’ investigations extends to the media more broadly.

While he held the immigration portfolio, which oversaw Operation Sovereign Borders, he shut out most of the media. He appeared weekly on broadcaster Ray Hadley’s 2GB program while refusing most interview requests or questions about asylum seeker vessels. At the same time, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, who was commander of that operation (now Defence Force chief), famously would shut down questions about “on-water matters”.

Insiders’ Barrie Cassidy described the farcical media strategy as making a “mountain out of a molehill” in 2013, when journalists had to go to Indonesian authorities for information on a stand-off between Indonesia and Australia on the issue of asylum seekers. And then-Nine political editor Laurie Oakes did not have kind words for the minister:

The goading and the arrogance of Scott Morrison, where he just pours muck on journalists. By doing that you’re saying that you don’t care if the voters are informed or not. You can’t do that. That’s, as I said yesterday, that’s disgusting, that attitude. And when people like Scott Morrison give us the finger when we ask tough questions we’ve got to shine a light on it and expose it because it’s not acceptable.

But those ridiculous weekly asylum seeker briefings were then stopped altogether, with Morrison announcing in early 2014 that they would only be held on an “as needs” basis.

Morrison’s chumminess with Hadley became increasingly strained after the PM backed Malcolm Turnbull over Abbott in 2015, when Hadley tried to make Morrison swear on a bible that the party hadn’t plotted against Abbott. The bromance came to an end when Morrison chose the ABC’s Jon Faine for a morning radio interview over Hadley last year.

That relationship, however, might be back on track if Hadley’s advice to Tony Abbott on Monday is any indication. In discussing Morrison’s reported offer of a position as “special envoy” to Abbott, Hadley was very clear that he had spoken directly to Morrison, whose offer was “fair dinkum”.

Morrison has not been one to shy away from a populist media strategy. In 2011, Morrison questioned the government paying for survivors of a deadly asylum seeker boat wreck to attend the funerals of their families, prompting Fairfax’s Peter Hartcher to report that Morrison “had suggested the party capitalise on public concerns about Muslim immigrants”.

So it makes sense the majority of profiles of the new PM have been focused on his love of rugby, ability to eat a meat pie without a knife and fork and his haircuts.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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