It takes real effort to stand out as a liar in Australian politics, but Scott Morrison yesterday lied so egregiously and offensively it was a triumph of political bullshittery.
The Prime Minister used a speech to the National Press Club to switch to full scare campaign mode. The government began the year campaigning on its economic management, with major speeches from both Josh Frydenberg and Morrison on their economic agenda, but alas, the Reserve Bank’s uncertainty, and its discussion of an interest rate cut to head off declining jobs growth, undermined that within days. As a result, we got a ghost train ride of ghouls instead: terrorists, cyberbullies, paedophiles, and drug dealers from whom Morrison, part carny-ride spruiker, part tough cop on the beat (to use his famous description of ASIC) would protect us and Labor would not.
A curious omission from this gallery of grotesques were banks — whom, as we’ve seen over the last year, constitute a far greater threat to many Australians’ well-being than any terrorist. Wouldn’t Morrison protect us from the rapacious banks too? Except, that’s an uncomfortable subject when the government is dragging its heels implementing at least the more straightforward recommendations of the Hayne royal commission, at the start of a whole new parliamentary year with months before an election is due.
Thus, that difficult issue didn’t arise until the Q&A part of proceedings, when the Prime Minister was asked about Labor’s plan to try to extend parliamentary sittings. Morrison responded with a lie of Trumpesque proportions:
The fact that Bill Shorten, as a former financial services minister and an assistant treasurer, doesn’t understand the complexity of these measures, the consultation that has to be undertaken, the exposure drafts that need to be made available, the unintended consequences to be identified through that process, says that this guy doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand how to legislate financial services reform. Now, there’s a good reason — he’s never done it! They didn’t do it when they were in government last time. They had Storm Financial, they had all of those — nothing, zip, zero.
It might take an effort of memory, but Crikey readers, at least, were kept apprised of Labor’s efforts to reform financial services from 2010-12 via the Future of Financial Advice package, guided through parliament against the relentless opposition of Scott Morrison and his Liberal colleagues by none other than Bill Shorten.
It was Shorten who consulted with the sector and nutted out a compromise with the independents in the House of Representatives to get much of FOFA through, in a government that was able to pass legislation despite being in minority, rather than hide from parliament by cancelling sittings. If Morrison, another minority government prime minister, wants to know how to legislate financial services reform, Bill Shorten is the best person to ask.
So outrageous was this lie that Michelle Grattan pulled Morrison up on it, asking him to explain what FOFA was if it wasn’t financial services reform. Morrison’s feeble reply was:
I must have just found their performance underwhelming, Michelle, and I still find their performance very underwhelming. So I’ll let others, you know, correct the record as they see fit.
In other words, I’ll just make shit up, and let others worry about what’s real. You know.
But if Morrison found FOFA “underwhelming”, if it was “nothing, zip, zero”, then he had a funny way of showing it, because he and his Coalition colleagues worked extremely hard, and used up considerable political capital, trying to block it at the time and then repeal when they got into government.
If FOFA was “nothing, zip, zero” why work so hard to gut it from 2010-14?
Morrison’s limp response to Grattan — if you’re going to lie, at least think up a cover story if you get caught out — reflects the kind of liar he seems to be. At least Tony Abbott’s indifference to truth was in the service of a deeply felt ideological agenda. Morrison is just bullshitting, like a suburban loudmouth talking crap to his mates over the barbie; not so much unconcerned about truth as seemingly unaware that such a thing exists, the empty vessel of Australian politics bobbing about on a deeply toxic sea of lies.