Empty of policies, led by a man empty of ideas, the Morrison government is increasingly empty of actual ministers. At least Labor’s mass exodus was all done and dusted in the immediate aftermath of Kevin Rudd’s return. For Scott Morrison, it’s been a drip-by-drip emptying (in the case of Nigel Scullion and Steve Ciobo, actual drips). The mates are leaving the barbie, despite the blandishments of the bloke in the “World’s Greatest PM” apron wielding the tongs.
Even after departing, some can’t let the events of last August go. Julie Bishop — who was a dismal failure in domestic portfolios in opposition, including a disastrous stint as shadow treasurer — is convinced that in a parallel universe she’d be a freshly elected prime minister, another in the long line of Liberals convinced they had the measure of Bill Shorten.
Christopher Pyne, however, is a significant loss. He was never — as John Howard intuited — impressive as a minister (remember the Gonski debacle at the start of the Abbott years?) but he was indefatigable and never took a backward step, the political equivalent of the cheeky halfback, brilliant at putting opponents off their game, the sort of player you needed a semi-trailer to knock down.
The latest round of departures coincides with further confirmation this is the most nepotistic government on record, with diplomatic postings, court appointments and statutory board gigs showered on Liberals and Nationals like confetti. In this, at least, Morrison merely represents continuity with his predecessor, who decided that no MP who lost their seat because of the dire 2016 election campaign should go unrewarded with a taxpayer-funded gig of some kind. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been the sinecure of choice since then.
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All governments engage in nepotism, and sometimes politicians make excellent ambassadors, but Liberals like to point out that government funds belong to taxpayers, not to politicians. Their actions belie that — taxpayers exist, apparently, to be raided at will to look after mates with six-figure salaries. At some point, there’ll be more Liberal and National ex-MPs in the public service and government sector then there are in parliament, as if they prefer to work in government rather than be in government.
Then again, for a government that has outsourced its hardest decisions to an ever-growing number of royal commissions, or simply refused to have any meaningful policy in key areas because it is hopelessly divided, getting a government salary and super but not having to worry about actual decisions might be ideal.
Still, it’s impossible to avoid the sense that there is something deeply distasteful about this government, and its leader, to even senior Liberals. The sense that in the mugging, smirking Morrison there’s something even experienced politicians can’t stand. These are people who tolerated and worked with Tony Abbott for six years; six months of Morrison and they’re clearing their desks.
Their pro forma message to voters is confidence that the Morrison government can and should be re-elected. The electorate might prefer to do as they did and not as they say. Soon Morrison’s barbie might be deserted altogether.