If you’re used to a prime minister who’s all shouty in parliamentary question time, or all a-blah in response to Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7.30, maybe head over to Facebook to get a better sense of how Morrison is curating a new — more sober, more prime ministerial — persona.
On social media, it’s all image, all the time, designed for the standard that has remade political imagery: the distinctive Instagram square. It lends itself to a centred image — just where Morrison wants to be.
The images feature across both the Facebook news feed and on Instagram, playing with lighting and captured action to convey the semiotics of a prime minister on the move, unafraid to use religious iconography to convey depth and empathy.
It’s all about the story he’s telling. Solemnly uplit with candle in hand at Orthodox Easter celebrations. Striding foot first along a walkway through the recently named Centre for National Resilience (aka the Howard Springs quarantine facility). Or, a repeat favourite, baseball-capped, marching through assorted defence facilities.
This week, the seriousness of the budget moment was artfully captured on Instagram in black and white. Morrison walking purposefully, Treasurer Frydenberg to his left (budget papers underarm) and Deputy PM McCormack to his right, all three neatly framed by the hallway behind them, the inset lights trailing corona-like around the central figure.
On Facebook Watch, it was an 80-second video of a desk-bound shirt-sleeved Morrison congratulating Australians on pulling through COVID-19, interspersed with file pics of the PM with (mainly female) workers.
Reading between the pixels gives a sense of what’s concerning the government. Last week, it kept coming back to India. Here, photos of aid packages being shipped off; there, a pensive Morrison on the phone to “our close friend, Indian PM Narendra Modi”, with a photo of the Pentecostal eagle hanging in the background.
Modi returned the favour, tweeting: “Spoke with my friend @ScottMorrisonMP to thank him for Australia’s solidarity and support.” Morrison posted the tweet in his own Facebook comments.
It was an appropriate swap. Morrison models his Twitter use after Modi, not the now-banned Trump. Both use the platform for 280-character limited press releases with as much formality as the medium allows. Neither use it to reply or provoke.
Both seek to maximise users who follow them and limit who they follow (Morrison has about 555,000 followers, but follows only 1733 people — mainly media, health agencies and fellow politicians. It’s the use of the follow as a gesture of respect, or as a reward for loyalty).
Over the past year, Morrison has pivoted his social media personality from the daggy dad-from-the-Shire “Go Sharkies!” schtick to his current prime ministerial iteration. Less high-vis. More pink collar. Fewer footballers. More defence personnel. Fewer schooeys. More cuppas.
Sometimes it’s been overplayed, as when he’s taken his own red carpet and flags along with him, sending #scottyfromcarpeting trending last week.
He’s still feeding his blokey bloke audience. As Crikey reported this week, the Liberal Party was advertising the supposedly working women-friendly budget to (presumably retired) men and women over 65 and men aged from 25 to 34 with messages that had little to do with the budget itself.
News Corp is picking up the slack. Its tabloid front pages this week were all about the boys, from The Daily Telegraph’s “Ute Beauty” heading about the accelerated asset depreciation to the Herald Sun’s illustration of Morrison and Frydenberg fronting the bar with dollar-stuffed schooner glasses. It’s an approach that tells more about the company’s target market than the government’s.
It’s a pivot driven by circumstance. Morrison is the first prime minister since John Howard in 2007 to face immediate re-election. As a late-term replacement last time around, he was able to successfully shape the 2019 campaign as the leader of the opposition to the Shorten government. He was able to use action images to make himself seem a blokely, likeable newcomer.
He hasn’t been given the same gift by Albanese and, three years since his election by the party-room, he’s got a record to be judged by. And his carefully curated social media feed suggests, this time, he’s eager to win on what he thinks are his own merits.