ScoMo must find his true self

The West Australian - - INSIDE COVER - Mark Ri­ley

Scott Mor­ri­son was in Queens­land this week try­ing to be some­one. Ex­actly who isn’t en­tirely clear, but it is safe to say it wasn’t him­self. It was the week that ScoMo risked be­com­ing FauxMo.

He ob­vi­ously de­cided the best way to en­dear him­self to the po­lit­i­cally lovelorn vot­ers of the Queens­land coast was to sound and act just like them.

And while the ac­ci­den­tal Prime Min­is­ter is a bit of a knock­about at heart, he’s hardly a drop-out from sheep hus­bandry at Up­per Cum­buckta TAFE.

He was brought up in Syd­ney’s well-to-do eastern sub­urbs, went to the aca­dem­i­cally se­lec­tive Syd­ney Boys High School and was awarded an hon­ours de­gree in ap­plied eco­nomic ge­og­ra­phy at UNSW.

He does like a beer and a pie, though, and chat­ting about the footy. And he is a gen­uine Tina Arena tragic.

But his plan to mar­ket him­self as an Aussie every­man, burst­ing free of what he likes to call the Can­berra bub­ble and paint­ing him­self as an out­sider in a cap, comes with risks.

One Na­tional put it to me rather suc­cinctly: “Scott’s a nice bloke, but he needs to be care­ful. The mob can smell a fraud a mile away.”

There is a pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tion among po­lit­i­cal im­age-mak­ers that vot­ers want their lead­ers to be just like them. They don’t. They want them to be them­selves. But they also want them to un­der­stand the av­er­age per­son’s lot and ex­press a set of val­ues that speaks to their own hopes and as­pi­ra­tions.

That is the some­one Mor­ri­son needs to be, es­pe­cially in the key mar­ginal seats of Queens­land and WA where, de­pend­ing on who you talk to, vot­ers might have been turn­ing away un­der Mal­colm Turnbull.

The com­mon mes­sage among Mor­ri­son’s col­leagues is that the new Prime Min­is­ter is try­ing a lit­tle too hard to im­press. They want him to suc­ceed. Des­per­ately. But they don’t want him to lay it on too thick.

Au­then­tic­ity is the word and it was on dis­play this week, not from Mor­ri­son but Turnbull.

What we saw on Q&A on Thurs­day night was 100 per cent, pure, unadul­ter­ated Mal­colm.

In the tweet­storm that erupted dur­ing the pro­gram, many peo­ple asked why we hadn’t seen this Turnbull when he was prime min­is­ter.

The truth is that we did see a fair bit of him, or at least as much of the real him as the con­ser­va­tive “in­sur­gents” al­lowed.

It’s just that peo­ple ei­ther weren’t lis­ten­ing or couldn’t hear. The back­ground drum­beat of in­sta­bil­ity, snip­ing and un­der­min­ing be­came so loud that it ei­ther drowned him out or di­verted him into ar­eas of per­son­al­ity pol­i­tics that prompted many vot­ers to sim­ply flick the switch off.

They are lis­ten­ing now, though, and what they’re hear­ing from Turnbull is a per­fectly rea­son­able ques­tion: why was he dumped?

And why did those MPs Turnbull named the other night, in­clud­ing Mathias Cor­mann and Michael Keenan — a group I’m now call­ing “the no­to­ri­ous nine” — help or­ches­trate his demise?

Cor­mann’s ex­pla­na­tion yes­ter­day was the same as it has been all along. It was Turnbull’s own fault. He had shocked ev­ery­one by de­cid­ing to call on the first spill mo­tion him­self.

But that is mis­lead­ing. Turnbull’s hand had been forced. If he didn’t call the spill him­self it was go­ing to be forced on him by a group of Queens­land rene­gades back­ing Cor­mann’s even­tual can­di­date, Peter Dut­ton.

Gary Spence, the pres­i­dent of the Queens­land LNP, had is­sued an in­cen­di­ary call to arms by di­rect­ing his State’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives to aban­don Turnbull and fall in be­hind Dut­ton. And Queens­land MP Luke Howarth had made it known within the party that he in­tended to en­ter the sched­uled Tues­day party room as a “sui­cide bomber” to bring on the spill.

All Turnbull did was face re­al­ity. He de­cided to call it on first to em­ploy the most po­tent weapon left at his dis­posal — the el­e­ment of sur­prise.

But that still only an­swers the “how”. The real “why”, which I have de­tailed in this col­umn be­fore, was part ret­ri­bu­tion, part rev­o­lu­tion or­ches­trated by con­ser­va­tives in their ex­is­ten­tial quest to seize back con­trol of the party from the moder­ates.

They achieved that, and in do­ing so lost their best chance of win­ning the next elec­tion.

And now Turnbull is do­ing his best to en­sure that Cor­mann and the rest of the no­to­ri­ous nine own the con­se­quences of their ac­tions.

Turnbull’s sug­ges­tion that they might have moved on him be­cause they were scared he was ac­tu­ally go­ing to win the elec­tion — and thereby con­sol­i­date power for the moder­ates — is a bit of a stretch.

I don’t be­lieve that was in any way even part of Cor­mann’s mo­ti­va­tion. But some of the other more ex­treme con­ser­va­tives, I’m not so sure about.

I wrote here last year that I thought the coali­tion would win the next elec­tion with Turnbull in charge. That caused some­thing of a stir. But I stand by that. I still be­lieve Turnbull would have won.

As he pointed out on Q&A, the gov­ern­ment he was lead­ing was only down 51-49 in the na­tional opin­ion polls — just one point from level-peg­ging — but, sig­nif­i­cantly, they were ahead 52-48 in the 40 key mar­ginal seats that will de­cide the elec­tion out­come.

That fig­ure in the marginals cer­tainly chal­lenges the sug­ges­tion that Turnbull was on the nose in places like Queens­land.

Ei­ther way, the coali­tion now has very lit­tle chance of win­ning. The no­to­ri­ous nine have handed Mor­ri­son a poi­soned chal­ice. If he man­ages to con­tain the im­pend­ing wipe-out to a loss of any­thing un­der ten seats, he would have done an ex­cep­tional job.

And if he wins? Well, then he re­ally would be some­one.

It was the week that ScoMo risked be­com­ing FauxMo.

Mark Ri­ley is the Seven Net­work’s Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Don Lind­say

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