The Writing Process: Part C

The so-called 'controversial' photo of PM Scott Morrison arriving at RAAF Williamtown.

Where's Parts A and B? You will have to wait for Part A - it will be published later this year. But students in my Political Leadership class in semester 2, 2021 will be using my latest chapter as their main open source text. Here I want to outline my frustrating personal writing process (for posterity and just because).

Part B of this writing process is actually an earlier blog post entitled "PM Scott Morrison's leadership: The devil's happy when the critics run you off".

Whenever I write about something, I find myself (re)discovering my earlier education and, most importantly, recollecting my reading over the years. I was writing the chapter on Political Leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and I was getting sick and tired of the negative nonsense on Twitter.

Back in the day, I participated in former Senator Kate Lundy's Public Sphere events. The report from the event back in 2009 is available here. Now I know that Twitter is annoying. I was one of the many who thought social media was going to revolutionise democracy. Of course it didn't but some things,  like the Creative Commons licensing for Australian Government documents, were a direct result of Lundy's Public Sphere process. 

After deleting my Twitter account back in 2012, it wasn't until 2015 that I came back to the fold but as a broadcaster rather than an active participant. Many of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances use Twitter and it often proves a useful resource but at other times it is just annoying.

Back to my point. I penned my Part B article on Morrison. Now, don't get me wrong, I do not identify as a conservative, but I get really pissed off when people on Twitter are all so anti-everything. Get a new PM (who?), this was done poorly (and you would have done what exactly?), and so on. So, in my role as the Political Flâneur, I penned the Part C article (below) supporting Morrison.

After I had vented my frustration, I decided to write an 800 word article and send it to my new favourite news media publisher. It was not published on the Friday, but they liked it and would try for the following Monday. My next article, "The Writing Process: Part D", was an amendment to Part C, and followed the National Cabinet meeting on Friday 2nd July 2021.

Here is the original article, stemming from my "Part A":

Political leadership and outrage culture during COVID-19

Political leadership is challenging at the best of times, but PM Scott Morrison’s ability to end the leadership merry-go-round has had a lasting impact on Australian politics, much to the outrage of some.

Morrison’s legacy will be the National Cabinet, a form of executive federalism that has seen greater federal-state cooperation than ever before. It replaced COAG with little ceremony and barely a hint of outrage.

Meanwhile, the ABC appears to be focused on undermining the government, with alleged activism by senior journalists taking centre stage and creating an opinion fog that impacts the ABC's pandemic information, confusing many citizens.

And if Twitter's #auspol was the barometer for political leadership in Australia, you would think that things were going to the dogs. Even The Conversation’s ‘academic’ articles on Morrison are largely negative in tone.

For those who agree with market liberalism but shun conservatism, there is a gaping hole in Australian politics. But that doesn't change the fact that during one of the worst periods in recent history, Morrison is presiding over a period of extraordinary good fortune in Australia.

Despite the bushfire debacle and tenuous Trumpism of the early stages of the pandemic, Morrison is still holding firm. His remarkable resilience and ability to reset are not lost on voters.

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 express their opinions while hogging the microphone.

While the focus on the performance of political leaders has dominated the media, 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 led to the collapse in confidence of the AstraZeneca vaccine and Australia's ability to deliver vaccinations within existing capabilities.

Misinformation supporting ideological positions is rife. Take for example the infographics being used by the Twitterati to criticise the PM and Australia’s pandemic response. Many Australians have had their first shot, and the poorly framed infographic will see Australia leap ahead of other countries in the region once the second shot is delivered. 

But the polls show that Morrison is still leading the pack. Under the conventions of our Westminster system, Morrison 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 outrage against the current PM on Twitter, one could be forgiven for thinking this wasn't the case.

Janet Albrechtsen recently called Twitter “a putrid trough of polarisation where angry people sup for repeated hits of unplugged outrage”. But who are the Twitterati talking to?

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 position of PM would be given its due respect. Not so the Twitterati.

The reality is that there is no alternative leadership proposition from Labor, and repeated calls by Greens leader Adam Bandt to form a coalition with Labor would only destroy Labor in the long run. And when the time comes, the Greens’ aspirational policy platform is unlikely to survive the political realities of a federal budget if they ever get into power.

At the Sydney Institute a few weeks ago, I asked Kevin Donnelly about “middle Australians” caught in the midst of the ongoing "culture war".

Donnelly said 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”. Malcolm Turnbull paid the price when he was unable to speak to the party faithful.

Despite what the Twitterati says, word on the street largely supports Morrison and the Coalition (for now).

However, Michelle Grattan of The Conversation points to what may be the undoing of PM Morrison, if Morrison's captain’s call to indemnify GPs who administer AstraZeneca leaves the government “facing the heat without the ‘shield’ of its advisers” if it backfires.

But that would require a realistic alternative government. In the meantime, “outrage” culture has a lot to answer for hampering collective responses to the pandemic.

With ideologically-driven critics ignoring support for the Morrison government in the polls, it brings to mind some words from the poet Criss Jami: “the devil's happy when the critics run you off”. Outrageous!

Better the devil we know.