As Scott Morrison explained last week, mateship is crucial to his conception of government. “Remember, my value is: we look after our mates”. And not really “mates” in the more modern, graciously inclusive, non-gendered sense; this is a boys’ club government, with Scott and Josh, and Mathias and Birmo in the Senate, all top blokes, of course, with Julie Bishop gone to the backbench and complainers like Julia Banks told to harden up and “roll with the punches”. Morrison is less Prime Minister than First Mate, Primus Inter Amicis.
One mate was conspicuously missing when parliament reassembled yesterday, of course: Malcolm Turnbull had left the building he’d graced since 2004. And as pretty much the entire political class knows, the Liberals have no real explanation why; the only explanation on the public record is that of Turnbull himself, who blamed a right-wing insurgency that engaged in the political equivalent of terrorism, to which senior figures caved. When pressed by Labor yesterday on the why, Morrison offered:
… the privilege of serving as the leader of your parliamentary party is the decision of your parliamentary party. That’s what it is. That’s who decides who the leader of the parliamentary party is.
The party chooses the person they want to lead to ensure that we can put the best foot forward at the next election and to ensure that we are connecting with Australians all around the country.
The “why” is that Scott’s mates, “the boys”, made him leader. Many politicians like to point out that voters don’t pick the PM, parties do, which is constitutionally correct but politically completely tone-deaf (and rather at odds with the election campaigns of the major parties). Australians believe they should pick the PM, regardless of the parliamentary niceties. And they haven’t had a chance to re-elect or reject a prime minister they voted in since 2007.
Peter Dutton, as we’re told, has never needed any prime ministerial imprimatur to look after mates. Whether it’s an au pair or a polo player, Dutton and his office are seemingly happy to help, even on the weekend, and happy to help, too, with jobs, it’s alleged, directing mates to the head of a massive new agency to get some hot tips on getting a gig. Dutton’s troubles, it seems, proliferate every day, no matter how forthrightly he denounces suggestions of misconduct and rails against disgruntled former public servants.
The thinking behind the push to make Dutton PM was that he had the populist touch, that he’d be able to win back errant One Nation voters who loved his hard line on brown people trying to enter the country; that he’d have to lighten up a bit, of course, but he could stop the free-falling LNP vote in Queensland. Alas, Dutton’s throwing the switch to vaudeville only lasted from a rictus half-smile at his post-resignation presser to a radio thought-bubble about GST on electricity prices, before his numbers men knocked off and went to dinner, thinking they had it in the bag. But the greater problem is that, far from being a perceived solution to what ails the disaffected and disengaged in the electorate, Dutton is part of the problem. What better illustration of a political system that works not in the public interest but in the interests of the influential, the connected, the donors, the mates, than an immigration minister’s office dropping everything to help an erstwhile colleague, a former staffer, a prominent public figure, with a problem at the border? Or men who use their connections with a minister to tee up possible job opportunities?
This is everything voters suspect about modern politics and the modern economy, and why they’re deeply pissed off, even if they haven’t shifted their votes to shonks and spivs like One Nation, which lies that it will make the system work for them again. Morrison’s ‘my mates picked me’ answer to the ‘why’ question is more of the same. Morrison telling them they should just cop his ascension sweet is another demonstration of a political system unrelated to the interests of the electorate. It’s all about what mates want.
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