He ran water for the Wallabies in Fiji. Nobody asked him to. He just wanted to get involved. Like a substitute teacher at a sports carnival, he slipped off the boots and lurched onto the field to collect water bottles.
Scott Morrison was in his element; mugging for the cameras, taking selfies with players and actively positioning himself next to their genuine celebrity. His message? “It’s not about me, it’s about them. But hey! They like me. See me — with them?”
Our prime minister, the former child actor, has an obsession with celebrity.
On his trip to the White House he invited the “G’day USA” A-List: golfer Greg Norman, celebrity chef Curtis Stone, model Sarah Murdoch etc. It’s also rumoured that Morrison tried to get pastor Brian Houston on the invite list (but that has not been confirmed or denied).
Morrison is the man who called the Sydney Opera House the “biggest billboard in the city”. He was the campaign director for the NSW Liberal Party when former-PM John Howard gave him the job as inaugural managing director of Tourism Australia. This was his introduction to political appointments. He oversaw “Australia, where the bloody hell are you?” and was sacked in 2006.
Now, as PM, he is appointing personalities to support his vision for a quiet Australia.
First off the bench was Ita Buttrose. “Ita” is a generational household brand. Cold Chisel wrote a song about her in 1980. And, this year, she was hand-picked by Morrison to head up the ABC. A recruitment company was paid $160,000 to create a shortlist of candidates for the ABC chair. Ita was not on the list, but this didn’t stop the PM appointing her.
“I’ve known Ita for a long time,” Morrison said. “I think she’s an extraordinary Australian.”
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) Chief Executive Paul Murphy was concerned about the lack of transparency. “There is an independent panel selection process in legislation which the government has yet again ignored,” he said.
So how exactly did Ita get the gig? In a 2006 report, Emeritus Professor Meredith Edwards put a finger on the problem: “In Australia, there is no real transparency about how people are selected for board positions, unlike other countries where transparency has been regarded as essential to a process which gains and maintains public confidence.”
“The captain’s call” is now the preferred method for government appointments.
Take a look around at the other picks. Tina Arena has been invited to sit on the board of the Australia Council. The PM’s favourite singer gets $32,000 a year to govern the national arts and culture body that George Brandis tried to kill with an axe.
How much does Tina Arena know about governance and creative developments of cross art-form digital installations, or the importance of professional development for poets? Time will tell. We do know that she started on Young Talent Time and is now on high rotation in the Morrison kitchen. Jenny says her husband listens to Tina’s music when he cooks. We also know that, only hours after he took over from Turnbull, Morrison asked Julie Bishop for Tina’s number. That’s our national priorities in action.
The PM has doubled down this month and announced a Gold Logie appointment. Scott Cam from The Block will be the “national careers ambassador” to get young people into trades again.
The celebrity carpenter has his work cut out for him. The 2018-19 education department annual report demonstrates major underspending in trade support, apprenticeships centres and apprenticeship initiatives. Labor says the Coalition has short-changed TAFE and training by $1 billion.
Celebrity appointments cannot correct the cuts created by this surplus-obsessed PM. They are sugar hits for a news cycle, but they will leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of all those left struggling in unsupported and underfunded industries.
Which famous Australian celebrity will Scott Morrison appoint next? Send your comments to [email protected]. Please include your full name for publication.