Friday, 14 August 2015
They’re my personal views, Leigh, and I’m not going to impose those on the rest of the country.
Scott Morrison formulates the platform for the Australian right
Scott Morrison’s had a very good week and it’s written all over his face.
On Monday the party room denied the Prime Minister another “Captain’s call” and chose Morrison’s candidate Tony Smith over Abbott’s. On Tuesday, just weeks after denying there would be a referendum on same sex marriage, Abbott was required to suggest exactly that to head off a proposal from senior front benchers Morrison, Bishop and Hockey.
In fact Morrison’s had such a good week that he’s now finally being recognised by the media as the leadership contender he has been for some time. Until recently all the attention has been on Turnbull, presumably based on the scientific approach of running a finger down the opinion polls and seeing whose name popped up first.
Leaving aside that Turnbull’s last stint didn’t turn out that sparkling, despite the hype when he took over, more importantly it ignores the dynamic within the Liberal party that is moving away from Turnbull, and confirming what this blog suspected back at the time of the February leadership spill – that slim as it was, it represented his best chance to regain the leadership.
The dynamic in the Liberals is the same as when Abbott took over: a concern about the brand, mostly driven by the wing of the party more able to do something about it, the right. This fretting about the brand or, to be blunter, the point of the Liberal party, has been especially a problem as an increasingly flaccid Labor party gives very little for a non-Labor party like the Liberals to be non-Labor about.
It was why the Liberals chose to take what was an unpopular stance at the time, of climate change scepticism, and get what was pretty well their most unpopular senior figure at the time (and has largely remained so) to lead it. Fortunately for the Liberals, and for Abbott, this attempted political suicide coincided with Labor’s own implosion leaving the Liberals with the belief that reviving the old Howard stances on climate change and asylum seekers would establish that magnificent rapport with the Australian people Howard was supposed to have.
Well, five and a half years on, the boats have been stopped, climate change has been killed as a political issue, as well as in policy, and no rapport has been established at all.
In fact the conclusion that is being drawn about this almost uniquely unpopular government is that even worse than watering down the brand as happened under Turnbull, it is now being well and truly trashed for good. Abbott’s attempt to revive the right’s agenda in 2014 through the Budget and tedious culture wars has ended up discrediting the right’s agenda in everyone’s eyes and undermined Abbott’s case for leadership. The more Abbott tried to up the ante, as he did at the end of last year, like up-braiding the Russian President like a minor State Premier, he only made a further hash in doing so. Finally, the making one of the right’s most precious symbols, the monarchy, into a joke was the last straw and enough was enough.
While Turnbull was waiting for the call that never came, the February leadership spill was a more a shot across the bows than anything, given that at that stage the right didn’t really have a candidate to take Abbott’s place.
They do now. Morrison has leveraged his leading role in what was considered a rare policy success by the party, the stopping of the boats, to establish credibility with the right that now finds it back to where they were six months ago. After Abbott’s fluffing around on the expenses scandal, and his near loss of control this week, the fretting about the brand is back and Laura Tingle’s article comparing this government to Whitlam’s, if a little over the top, would have sent a chill down the collective spine of the right. Wednesday night’s 730 interview has given Morrison an opportunity to show how comfortable it is possible to be on, of all issues, same sex marriage, through his proposal for the referendum in the next Parliament.
Whatever the sincerity of it, there are several political advantages for Morrison in the referendum proposals. First, by deferring it to the voters, it takes the heat out of the many positions that were forming within the Liberals. One thing about a party adopting culture wars with little basis in social reality, is that it can very quickly become a hundred individual culture wars with everyone’s position as equally valid and passionately held as the other.
It also undermines not only the various positions opening up on his side but undermines the “conscience” votes of Labor by putting his finger on the central contradiction, namely why an MPs conscience should be any more valid than those he/she is supposed to represent.
He especially targeted someone who would be defensive on it:
There are people in my electorate who don’t share my view and I think they should have a voice as well. Equally, in Tony Burke’s electorate, he cannot share the view, because he supports same-sex marriage, the views of the 20 per cent-odd people in his electorate who are of the Muslim faith or the 10 per cent who are of the Eastern Orthodox faith and I suspect a good proportion of the almost 30 per cent of Catholics in his seat.
Since, of course, Burke used precisely this faux multi-cultural argument to vote, along with almost half of other Labor MPs, against same sex marriage when Labor had their chance in 2012.
It also puts those in Morrison’s own party arguing for same sex marriage on the defensive since in arguing against sending it to the voters, those like Turnbull have had to argue that it’s not worth the money and there are more important issues to talk about, so undermining precisely the prominence Turnbull had given it. More broadly, “leaving it to the voters” also touches on the mildly anti-democratic strain within the same sex marriage campaign that seems more comfortable with the discrete lobbying of MPs consciences to an up-front facing of the voters.
But more importantly for his position in the party, he has also give a guide to the way forward for the right. If they have looked in pain at Abbott’s hack-handed attempts to implement their agenda, Morrison has gives the best solution: don’t. While Morrison gave hints here and there (he wouldn’t be drawn) on what his views really were, the prominent message was “who am I to impose it?”.
No matter how much the deluded, like Senators Bernardi and Fierravanti-Wells, might think that there is “a silent majority” for their agenda (who even stay silent when they talk to pollsters), surely the more realistic in the right would know from the last two years there is limited basis for implementing it. Having someone who can telegraph that he is with them in sprit, while maybe notching up at least a few policy successes in practice along the way, might just have to do.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 14 August 2015.Filed under Political figures