When, as happens so often in Australia these days, one is thrust from the obscurity of senior ministry into the prime ministership, it is considered good manners to introduce oneself to voters, unless one has already long been a fixture in public life, like Malcolm Turnbull. And so it was that yesterday, Scott Morrison introduced himself to the electorate, in a speech entitled “Until The Bell Rings”.
Such introductions entail the difficult task of explaining what you believe in and what your vision for the country is. Difficult because, well, what do you stand for? What kind of Australia would you like to see, beyond some motherhood statements? Julia Gillard lauded hard work and those who set their alarm clocks early, and explained how her party looked with a “jaundiced eye” at “socialites”. Stray beyond banalities and you can sound, well, a bit weird.
Morrison, so far, seems to be both. That unprompted tweet about “gender whispering”? That business with the Aussie flag lapel pins? There’s much of the ostentatious patriot to Morrison. Earlier in the week he rebranded dispatchable power “fair dinkum power”; we await dinky-di distribution networks and fair crack gentailing. Don’t go too Chips Rafferty, PM, or you’ll look like Kevin Rudd, shaking his sauce bottle to derision.
And what does Morrison stand for, his “why” as he put it? “I believe in a fair go for those who have a go in this country.” Behold the double-barrelled Aussie-ism. And then, “Secondly, we’ve got to look after our mates. That’s what I believe.” True, there can be no accusation that the government hasn’t looked after its mates. But when Morrison professes his core values are “a fair go for those who have a go” and “look after your mates”, is he reflecting a particularly empty mind that can’t reach beyond cliches, or hastily focus-grouped key words, or he and his staff’s considered take on what the electorate wants to hear? Or all three?
Morrison’s cultivated image of the Aussie suburban dad, complete with bad jokes and laments that he’ll get in trouble with the wife, is presumably meant to contrast sharply with Mr Harbourside Mansion and his agility and innovation; Malcolm Turnbull was obsessed with start-ups; Scott Morrison only wants to start up the mower on a Saturday morning. But is that it? Is that not a contrivance at all, but the full, or rather empty, reality? Inside Morrison, is there just the fair go, the mateship, that Aussie version of motherhood, albeit without mothers?
Once he strayed beyond banalities, Morrison got tangled. “We have a safety net in this country – to protect people – but it works as a trampoline, not as a snare … our social safety net enables people either to bounce back up and to get back up on their feet, or it provides them with that place of comfort and support …” The safety net that’s a trampoline but also — a hammock? Morrison’s mixed metaphor had collapsed; he needed a safety net for his safety net.
We already knew, well before he urged us all to pray for rain, that Morrison was a man of faith — like Rudd, Tony Abbott and Turnbull. Clearly faith is important to Morrison, who spoke of how good his wife was at remembering Sunday school verses, and to his conception of public life; Menzies, he said, “talked about the importance of freedoms. Of faith. Of religion. Of speech. Of association.” At the end of the speech, Morrison returned to that list, revising the order but leaving faith at the top: “those fundamental freedoms of the individual, of their faith, of their association, of their right to free speech”.
It’s a peculiar myth of the right that religion is under attack; it resonates among old Liberal Party members and News Corp op-ed typists but is irrelevant to Australians who live in the real world of stagnant wages, banking rip-offs and concerns their kids are going to be worse off than they are. Where was wage stagnation in Morrison’s speech? “Those who think that the Liberal Party aren’t interested in pay – we are … I know Kelly O’Dwyer, my Minister for Industrial Relations, which we say proudly, is very keen on ensuring that people get good wages in this country …”
It was a passing mention, among the mateship and the fair go and the freedom of religion. Morrison ought to talk to some real suburban dads, and maybe some mums as well, and find out what’s more important to them. The bell’s going to ring soon, and maybe sooner than he thinks.
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