(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

“Meet the Morrisons”, Karl Stefanovic’s interview with the prime minister and his family for 60 Minutes last night, felt as though it was concocted in a lab to infuriate Scott Morrison’s opponents.

It probably goes without saying that Stefanovic did not ask Jenny Morrison about sports rorts, but even by the standards of the humanising profile the whole thing was an amazingly cynical attempt at political sleight of hand.

The “funny, relatable and likeable” Jenny was described as the PM’s “secret weapon” to win the federal election at the opening of a segment that also spent a lot of time talking about how unfair it is that she keeps being dragged into the spotlight.

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It started as an uninspired satirist would start a parody — on curry night in Kirribilli. “Watch the knives,” Stefanovic joshed, before adding “You’d have seen a few of those in your time?”, to which Morrison replied “Only from behind,” a reply that doesn’t make a great deal of sense — and one that implies he’s always been the one doing the stabbing. Everyone laughed anyway.

“Meet the Morrisons” had two primary values. First, as an almost Kaufman-esque meta-commentary on itself — reminding us that Jenny is being wheeled out for explicitly political reasons in one breath, furious that Magda Szubanski would dare have a go at her in the next.

Second, it served as an indicator of what the PM and his office think is cutting through with the average voter. So Morrison’s solo portion of the interview rarely touched on his legislative record, and Jenny was not asked what she as a mother thinks of, say, the treatment of the Murugappan family languishing in community detention in Perth.

Notably, the PM’s relationship with the truth was not broached.

But they were asked about the disaster in aged care, the handling of sexual assault claims in Parliament and — seemingly the primary issue the interview was set up to diffuse — the Morrisons’ absence from the country during the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires.

In probably the most cynical moment of the interview, the questions on the bushfire holiday were handled by Jen solo. Her voice cracking at the edges with emotion (not for the last time), she said she was “more than sorry” for letting people down: “I thought I was making the right choice for my family.”

Scott, a serene smile on his face throughout, said nothing. He doesn’t hold a passport, I guess.

On and on it went like this: we were told Jen is “hitting the campaign trail” and within a minute that “it’s clear she’s uncomfortable with all the attention”.

Stefanovic was jocular company throughout — applauding Morrison’s amateurish ukulele skills, downing Jen’s potent margaritas, clinking glasses with Morrison (those small beers that public figures have when they want to appear like men of the people) in a pub in The Real Australia.

Such an approach is far more defensible if it creates a relaxed atmosphere that in turn elicits a genuine revelation from the subject. No such revelation here, unless you think Scott and Jenny’s two-week break-up when they were teenagers tells us anything about the Morrison government’s policies.

Political theatre like this is a zero sum game — letting Jenny speak about Grace Tame’s lack of civility when they met a few weeks ago (the eyes narrow, the smile is undimmed, the word “disappointing” is used a lot) burns through airtime that could be used to ask about, say, whether Jen has ever spoken to Marise Payne about the issues affecting women in politics (certainly, no one else seems to have). But of course that would be a political question, and Jenny hates politics.

The end result is a revolving door of logic — she stands in front of Morrison as a shield or looms behind him as a halo; she is responsible for his greatest political misstep, yet she is an apolitical figure; she leads in the interview and hates the attention. And round and round it goes.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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