PM Scott Morrison's leadership: The devil's happy when the critics run you off


Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia. Eesan1969/Wikimedia [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Political leadership is challenging at the best of times, but for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to have done so well for so long reaffirms the notion of the "lucky country", a term that has found renewed applicability lately. 

His legacy will be the National Cabinet, a form of executive federalism that has seen greater federal-state cooperation than ever before. Indeed, it replaced COAG with little ceremony and barely a hint of journalistic interest.

Meanwhile, the ABC has done its best to undermine the government in ways I have never seen before. Some of their senior journalists seem to relish in their own activism, taking centre stage and creating an opinion fog that often blurs the ABC's emergency information role.

And if you were to use Twitter's #auspol as the barometer for political leadership in Australia, you would think that things were going to the dogs. Yet, and despite the bushfire debacle and the tenuous Trumpism of the early stages of the pandemic, Morrison is still "booking for smoking concerts".

Even if one were to turn to The Conversation, that so-called bastion of "academic rigour, [with] journalistic flair" for their daily news intake, Morrison has destroyed everything that Australians hold dear and we are all going to die horribly because our government is incompetent. Unless we look to the facts.

Now don't get me wrong, the Liberal Party went so far right that it has left a gaping hole in Australia's political spectrum, especially for those who agree with market liberalism but shun conservatism. That doesn't change the fact that during one of the worst periods in recent history, Morrison is presiding over a period of extraordinarily good fortune in Australia.

If we had good political intelligence systems, we could analyse cause and effect and determine how good policies might be predicted. Instead, ideology gets in the way and policies are judged by people (on both sides of the political spectrum) who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about but are hogging the microphone.

There has been focus on the performance of political leaders in the media, judged by journalists and other unqualified commentators. There has been little talk about the structure of Australia's blood market or the vaccine manufacturing capabilities of CSL, or whether such an important capability should be nationalised or have more competition introduced for future responses to pandemics.

Instead, the PM and state premiers are good/bad, competent/not competent, doing the right thing/doing the wrong thing, and a host of other things that have, quite simply, led to the collapse in confidence of the AstraZeneca vaccine and Australia's ability to deliver the vaccination within our capabilities.

The more I scratch the surface of reported "facts", the more I find the anti-post-truth movement perpetuates as much nonsense as anyone else. Journalists have a lot to answer for once this pandemic is under control. Take for example the infographics being used by the Twitterati to bag out Australia's response and blame the PM.

I have had my first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and I will have my second shot in early August as per the medical advice I have received. Like the many others who have had their first shot, the poorly framed infographic will see Australia leap ahead of other countries in the region once the full vaccination has been delivered. 

I am really getting sick of poorly framed infographics being used as "evidence", especially by people who ought to know better but instead retweet others' nonsense to support their own ideological agendas. 

For example, photos emerged recently of PM Morrison arriving at RAAF Williamtown (and apparently only the New Daily, a wannabe news media site, and The Guardian, who are as [differently] biased as any other Australia new media masthead and are both clearly green-left ideological mouthpieces - reported the photograph) where an honour guard and a red carpet awaited the PM. 

The claims by the two media sites were blown all out of proportion. While the RMIT ABC Fact Check investigated beyond the obvious agenda of the previous reports, the major newspapers showed no interest yet The Guardian didn't report on the fact check until another two weeks later.

RAAF Brass called this "protocol creep", but who really cares? It's what the ADF does for the PM.

Apparently, the original photo was posted on the PM's Instagram site then deleted later. The Prime Minister of Australia arrives in one of 34 Squadron's VIP 737s to a handful of RAAF personnel in ceremonial uniform and suddenly Morrison is Trump? Obviously the media sites were playing up to their respective echo chambers.

To put Morrison's RAAF Williamtown visit in perspective, in 1994, when Albert Reynolds, then Prime Minister of Ireland, arrived at Parliament House in Canberra, I was the gun position officer for the 19 gun salute fired in accordance with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's protocol for a visiting head of government. Some 50 Royal Australian Artillery personnel plus the guns of the Royal Australian Artillery Historical Company in addition to some 50 members of the Federation Guard, among others, made a big deal about the Irish PM's visit.

Yet our Prime Minister arrives at RAAF Williamtown to some ten personnel and a few metres of red carpet and two short-term PMs, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, do not recall getting the same treatment and suddenly we have a dictator on our hands. Has the country lost its collective mind?

Well not really. The polls show that Morrison is still leading the pack. The whole point of a liberal democracy is that Morrison, under our Westminster system, has been chosen to lead and the polls continue to show his government is in a strong position to win the next election. 

But with all the noise against the current PM, one could be forgiven for thinking this wasn't the case.

The reality is that there is no alternative leadership proposition from Labor, and recent moves by the Greens' Adam Bandt to offer a coalition with Labor will only destroy Labor in the long run. And when that time comes, the Greens are unlikely to survive their first budget if they ever get into power.

When the Greens cannot afford to give everyone a free unicorn and a daily rainbow, their hollow promises will prove the point that it is only when you are unlikely to gain power that policies can be based on fairy dust alone.

At the Sydney Institute a few weeks ago, I asked Dr Kevin Donnelly about those of us who are small l liberals and small l labour who seem to be caught in the middle of the "culture wars" or mucking it out in the "Twitter sewer".

Donnelly stated how it was important for political leaders to "speak" to  their "base". John Howard did this, as did Bob Hawke before him; and of course Menzies spoke to "the forgotten people". It makes sense because if you don't, well, Malcolm Turnbull can tell you all about it. But what about Twitter?

Twitter is a putrid trough of polarisation where angry people sup for repeated hits of unplugged outrage.
I couldn't agree more. That doesn't make me a conservative, but I am limiting my engagement with Twitter because it really is dominated by the self-appointed culture police and I have no interest in that nonsense. 

Unlike what are clearly left-leaning outlets such as the ABC, The Guardian, The Conversation, and wannabe media outlets like the New Daily, I am finding The Australian and the major Fairfax papers clearly label their conservative commentary as commentary, and not to mix up ideology with opinion. 

And I don't care what the Twitterati says about that.

When the life of the average Australian is pretty good given the global COVID-19 social, health, and economic crises, you'd think that the positions of the prime minister and the state premiers would be given due respect. But according to the Twitterati, Australia is a complete shithole. It is so much nonsense I intend to ignore it from now on.

Although if there was one journalist I have deep respect for, it is Michelle Grattan. In her piece on The Conversation today, Grattan's middle-ground insight may prove to be the undoing of PM Morrison, in that he is encouraging young people to take up the AstraZeneca vaccine, however:

[Morrison's] break with the experts i[s] a move that, if it were to backfire, would leave the government facing the heat without the “shield” of its advisers.

That is, of course, if there is any realistic alternative government. At this point, there doesn't seem to be. But with competing ideologies driving news media coverage and journalism ethics now obviously driven by a cult of cultural warrior fame, it brings to mind a stanza from the poem, ...For the Forgotten, by Criss Jami in his book Venus in Arms:

But remember, the devil's happy when the critics run you off.

Better the devil we know (for now at least).