The thing one swiftly learns after they unseat a sitting prime minister is that they had better be ready to deal with some disruption, as well as damaging and targeted leaks. So it was with Julia Gillard, so it was Malcolm Turnbull and now, so it is with Scott Morrison — and it has really ramped up in the last week.
Here’s quick recap of some of the major, damaging stories Morrison has had to deny (or fail to recall) since gulping at Australia’s most frequently poisoned chalice.
Exploiting fears about Muslims
It’s a story that has haunted Morrison for years. In 2011 Lenore Taylor, writing in the then-Fairfax papers, reported on a shadow cabinet meeting where, according to the report:
The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about ‘Muslim immigration’, ‘Muslims in Australia’ and the ‘inability’ of Muslim migrants to integrate.
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At the time Morrison merely “declined to comment on the discussion”. Then eight years later, after the massacre in Christchurch prompted The Project’s Waleed Aly to question how any Muslim could feel safe when “Australia’s most senior politician” had once tried to implement such a strategy, Morrison’s chief press secretary contacted Network Ten after to insist Aly was working from “discredited information” and referring ominously to defamation.
Morrison called it a “disgusting smear and appalling lie”, but backed away from the implication he intended to sue Aly or the network for raising the report. The possibility Lenore Taylor might face legal action was never raised. Then Morrison went one better, telling Aly he had brought up the issue but for the opposite reason. “I’ve always been deeply concerned about attitudes towards people of Muslim faith in our community,” he said. “I was acknowledging that there were these fears in the community and that we had to address them, not exploit them.”
A $9 billion detention plan
This morning, a new damning report from Morrison’s time as immigration minister surfaced. Peter Hartcher reports that in 2014, once he had the immigration portfolio, Morrison pitched a “$9 billion mass detention plan” for asylum seekers living in Australia on bridging visas:
Scott Morrison as immigration minister proposed a multi-billion dollar program to build new mass detention facilities in Australia for asylum seekers who were living in the community on bridging visas, according to multiple informed sources.
Mr Morrison asked the Abbott government’s expenditure review committee in early 2014 for $9 billion to $10 billion over the four-year budget forward estimates to finance the plan, the sources said.
Morrison was less unequivocal in his response to this story — according to the report, he said through a spokesman that he “had no recollection of such a proposal”. Be honest: who can keep track of every single multi-billion dollar detention project they’ve pitched?
Hartcher is clearly a man in the know right now. On top of the above report, he has a large feature in the Nine papers today recounting “How Scott Morrison deposed a prime minister”. The story runs counter to Morrison’s narrative — that he was quite separate from the scheming that downed Malcolm Turnbull, and that he had quite innocently tripped and fallen into the prime minister’s chair (perhaps while weirdly putting his foot on the desk. Hartcher’s piece alleges that Morrison was, in the words of one Turnbull supporter “in it right up to his neck”:
Only two days before his public declaration of loyalty, Morrison had spoken to Health Minister Greg Hunt in a phone call about shoring up support for Turnbull. Yet Hunt told colleagues at the time that the then treasurer had also subtly sounded him out to see if he was interested in joining a possible Morrison leadership bid as his deputy. It was the day before Turnbull brought on the initial spill motion of that fateful week.
Morrison “dismisses this version of events as false”. He also states he has “no recollection” for specific conversations where he reputedly turned down the chance to be Dutton’s deputy and said he believed he was better qualified than Dutton to be prime minister.