The man who wasn’t there

The Saturday Paper - - Letters & Editorial -

It is as if Scott Mor­ri­son is get­ting smaller. With each pass­ing week, the mem­ber for Cook shrinks into his lead­er­ship.

His gov­ern­ment has lost its ma­jor­ity. It in­tends hardly to sit next year. Its early bud­get seems to prom­ise a May elec­tion, and on all ac­counts Mor­ri­son will likely lose it. His prime min­is­ter­ship is set to last no more than nine months.

Or­di­nar­ily, there is a mo­ment in which a per­son be­comes prime min­is­ter – a mo­ment be­yond the swear­ing in, when events trans­form a per­son into the of­fice.

For John Howard, it was in the fur­nace of his gun re­form. For Kevin Rudd, it was the grav­ity of the apol­ogy to the Stolen Gen­er­a­tions. For Ju­lia Gil­lard, it was myr­iad small acts that will co­here in pop­u­lar mem­ory around her royal com­mis­sion into child abuse.

Tony Ab­bott never had his mo­ment. He never ex­pe­ri­enced the alchemy of cir­cum­stances and ac­tion that trans­mute a per­son into states­man­ship. Likely, Mal­colm Turn­bull missed his. No bold ac­tions, no sig­na­ture pol­icy. He points to mar­riage equal­ity and hopes his­tory will mis­record him as its ar­chi­tect.

Mor­ri­son, on cur­rent pro­jec­tions, will be re­mem­bered for send­ing an empty bus across Queens­land. He is not look­ing for the mo­ment that trans­forms him: he is look­ing down cam­era, squint­ing, in a hat Mick Fan­ning’s mum gave him.

The Aus­tralia he com­munes with is an Aus­tralia of the past, a faded travel com­mer­cial about a coun­try un­afraid to be sim­ple. It is as if he was never sacked at Tourism Aus­tralia and in­stead the coun­try was win­nowed down into its re­mit.

The longer Mor­ri­son tries at this, the more in­au­then­tic he be­comes. His sig­na­ture has changed to trace out a nick­name: Scomo. His lan­guage is over­bur­dened with in­gra­ti­at­ing ock­erisms. His whole pres­ence car­ries the anx­i­ety of a man wait­ing to be found out.

With­out that mo­ment of trans­for­ma­tion – even with it – the of­fice tends to re­veal the false­ness of its holder. Gil­lard ad­dressed it ex­plic­itly, an­nounc­ing when her “real” self had ar­rived. Turn­bull gov­erned with­out his con­vic­tions and the polls con­sis­tently re­minded him of this. Rudd man­gled his way through or­di­nar­i­ness. You could see where the per­son­al­ity had been fit­ted to him: the seams in the la­tex stretched over the robot.

More and more, Mor­ri­son looks like a man with­out a pur­pose. He makes hol­low ap­peals to race and the econ­omy. He goads La­bor with di­vi­sive cant: “Don’t get me started on 50,000 il­le­gal ar­rivals and blow­ing the Bud­get.”

He stub­bornly re­fuses the re­al­i­ties of cli­mate change. When a pro­gres­sive agenda is over­whelm­ingly en­dorsed in the Vic­to­rian elec­tion, he sends the re­turned pre­mier a text mes­sage. He sees no les­sons in it.

A fair crit­i­cism of Mal­colm Turn­bull was that he didn’t stand for any­thing. The wor­ry­ing re­al­ity for Scott Mor­ri­son is that he stands for even less.

Of­ten, it seems as if he is hold­ing his eyes closed – like he is count­ing in a game of hide and seek. It is not clear what he is seek­ing, or what is be­ing hid­den, but the an­nounce­ment of next year’s sit­ting cal­en­dar gets him closer to the point when he will have to open them. It re­mains to be seen if any­thing will be dif­fer­ent, or if he will ever be­come prime min­is­ter.

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