(Image: Private Media)

“Stop playing politics.”

His government says it so often, it’s almost a catchphrase, a three-word slogan. Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeated a version of his favourite phrase again yesterday, advising Cricket Australia to stick to sports and not comment on the controversy around Australia Day.

The hypocrisy seems lost on Morrison — while telling others not to play politics, and assuring his constituents that he has absolutely no plan to play politics, he is, of course, deeply immersed in the political game.

As he should be — he’s one of the highest-paid people in the world playing it. Here are a few choice examples.

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Cricket controversy

Cricket Australia has decided to remove references to Australia Day for Big Bash cricket matches on January 26.

“It’s not about changing the day for those who love it, it’s about creating an environment others [can also enjoy],” Cricket Australia diversity and inclusion manager Adam Cassidy said.

But Morrison wasn’t having it.

“I think that’s pretty ordinary,” he said. “I think a bit more focus on cricket and a little less focus on politics would be my message to Cricket Australia.”

Citizenship ceremonies

Every year, a number of councils take a stand against the date of Australia Day — known as Invasion Day to critics — and refuse to host citizenship ceremonies and other festivities on January 26. And year after year, Morrison slams councils for “playing politics”.

This year, his government warned councils not to use COVID-19 as an excuse to play politics with Australia Day with scaled-down events. Councils risk having their powers stripped for holding Australia Day festivities on other days.

“When councils want to use these as a political football, well I’ve decided we’ll just remove their ability to hold those,” he said in 2018.

National security

In 2018, Morrison accused then-opposition leader Bill Shorten of dragging his feet to pass a bill increasing police powers to accessing encrypted messaging apps.

“Labor has chosen to allow terrorists and paedophiles to continue their evil work in order to engage in point scoring,” he said.

“You don’t try and play politics with these things.”

The opposition had passed a bill to deal directly with those issues two days before he made his comments.

Protecting gay teachers

When Morrison was pushing to pass his problematic religious freedoms bill in October 2018, he refused to say whether the government would extend the legislation to stop religious schools discriminating against gay teachers as well as students.

“The issue we need to address right now relates to children,” he said.

“We won’t be point scoring and playing politics with this.”

Asylum seekers

In 2019, Morrison pledged not to play politics with border policy, warning he would stop people smugglers and turn back all asylum seeker boats.

Regional visas

In 2019 Morrison cut the annual migration intake by 30,000 places and introduced a new permanent residency pathway for skilled workers who lived in regional areas for three years. When asked whether this move was driven by racism, he responded:

“People who want to play politics or run scare campaigns from these announcements are taking Australians for mugs.”

Murray-Darling Basin 

When millions of dead fish floated to the surface of the Murry-Darling rivers, Morrison insisted the management plan for the Basin was a bipartisan plan, and his government had just been following Labor’s lead.

“I’m concerned today that some might want to play politics with that,” he said.

Bushfires and climate change

Shortly after returning from his Hawaiian holiday as the country was engulfed in flames in early 2020, Morrison urged an end to the bushfires blame game, arguing that over-analysing which party should have done what wasn’t productive.

People with disabilities

When asked in 2019 whether he would support a royal commission into the abuse and neglect of Australians living with a disability, Morrison said his government was open to every option… but the one thing it wasn’t open to was “playing politics with disabilities”.

Aged care

When asked why he refused to admit $1.2 billion had been cut from aged care, Morrison denied the cash had decreased, before blaming Labor for said decrease.

“Stop playing politics with aged care and support the government to make the necessary reforms,” he said.

What does it even mean?

Adelaide University professor of public policy Adam Graycar told Crikey the phrase was nonsensical. 

“If you’re a prime minister you’re playing politics all the time and you expect everyone you deal with to also play it,” he said.

“There’s no ‘no politics’ in any of this.”

The reason the phrase is so heavily used, he said, is to give the impression the government is acting for the good of everyone.

“It’s saying, ‘I don’t have opposable or contestable views muddying the waters,’ but of course everything is contestable,” he said.

“Politics is the fabric of our everyday life and it’s nonsensical to say it’s not.”