Leadership watch: Morrison on 730

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



24 responses to “Leadership watch: Morrison on 730

  1. Cavitation on 14th August 2015 12:38 pm

    “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” (Ironically in the present circumstances, first said by Karl Marx).

    When Tony Abbott unexpected became leader, and more unexpectedly became successful at leading the Liberal Coalition from opposition to government, the public did not warm to him, nor did it respect him, but merely tolerated him. They put him the category of “oddbods”, somewhat eccentric political leaders who were personally peculiar, but who could be good leaders. Think of Don Dunstan, Bob Carr, and most recently Kevin Rudd.

    It’s interesting that commentators seem to act surprised that Tony Abbott is such a conservative prime minister. Despite his history, lots of people discounted that aspect of his political personality, possibly because his general eccentricity trumped his reactionary behaviour. The contradictions involved, such as of a devout catholic PM tormenting poor asylum seekers in overseas concentration camps, or knighting British royalty, or his raw onion eating, smoothed and softened the PM’s behaviour.

    But even eccentric politicians must obey the law of all politicians – be successful or go. The Abbott government has been a disaster, which means that the Liberal Party has to choose to sack him and try with a new leader within the next few months, or go to the next election with him and lose.

    I suspect Shrike is right that the forces in the Liberal Party currently will only accept a very conservative leader to replace Abbott. They can’t stand Turnbull, and Julie Bishop has the disadvantages that her base is WA, and she is a woman. (Abbott made a point that cabinet was selected on merit, and so there are only two women in parliament better than Barnaby Joyce it seems… In other words, women aren’t treated well on the conservative side of politics.) Morrison is therefore the only alternative to Abbott, and last week he got his choice for Speaker, so clearly he is on the rise.

    But will the public accept an undisguised conservative like Morrison as prime minister? I am doubtful. They tolerated Abbott’s reactionary policies because they thought they originated from a man who walked to the beat of a different drum, but the public now sees he is strolling towards a cliff. However it’s another thing entirely to see the same reactionary policies coming from an unashamed reactionary politician. Morrison won’t turn around public opinion, but will reinforce it, to reveal that the current Liberal party is out of touch, and out of step with contemporary Australia.

  2. Phillip O'Reilly on 14th August 2015 12:56 pm

    Firstly, Laura Tingles article is rubbish. Any comparison between Whitlams government and Abbotts is simply absurd on its face, the fact that they share strong negative perceptions of competence is neither here nor there.
    Whitlams great rush to modernise a provincial and second rate Australia combined with a serious economic crisis and ministers who were dinosaurs from another era, obviously is despised by many, though not all of us feel that way.
    Abbott is William McMahon with a activist reactionary bent. More soap opera than politics.
    Turnbull may well be a great dinner guest at eastern suburbs parties, full of wit and charm, but if the last decade doesnt show that he is a dud politician unloved by rusted on liberals, I dont know what does.
    Morrison is a player however, pockets full of dog whistle and most importantly,a natural constituency.
    And after all being unloved and unlovely didn’t stop Howard did it.
    If he gets up Piping Shrike will get the gong for calling it earliest.

  3. Michael on 14th August 2015 1:47 pm

    If Morrison’s the future of the Liberal Party then God help them. The man’s highly over-rated, merely in comparison with the shambles of a government of which he’s a member. What’s more, he’s nothing more than a flat-track bully; when has he had to go up against an entrenched – and cashed-up – vested interest? It’s easy enough to beat up on reffos and dole bludgers. And, yes, you’re right: he’s too clever by half. “Mean and tricky” here we go again.

  4. The Piping Shrike on 14th August 2015 5:51 pm

    I’m going to stick my neck out and say Morrison will tone it down if he took the leadership. I’m thinking sort of grim technocracy.

  5. F on 14th August 2015 9:03 pm

    Ok, why would the pro SSM campaigners be sceptical about a referendum/plebiscite? Could they be worried about shenanigans? The kind that scuppered the republican vote?

    So we have a compromised vote. The outcome is deliberately vague. PM Morrison decides this means the law will remain unchanged. So Australia is now the only Western nation without SSM……for how long? Decades? The conservatives can say the people have spoken…of a sort. Rather embarrassing position for us to be in, isn’t it? Just entrenches the view that the Liberals are completely out of touch.

  6. Michael on 14th August 2015 10:15 pm

    We thought Abbott would “tone it down” when he got his feet under the desk. :-\

  7. Michael on 14th August 2015 10:17 pm

    Besides, even if he does “tone it down”, my real point is that he’s never been properly tested anyway. That grim technocracy will get very grim indeed.

  8. AuldBrixtonian on 16th August 2015 3:28 pm

    Shrike is right, of course Morrison will tone it down. The referendum play is classic bait and switch, convince the looney right you are there for them, then oh noes we can’t do anything the evil ABC Labor Greens. The role of a Tory hard right conservative in Australia is to get played by the machine and think you have a voice anyway.

  9. Andrew on 17th August 2015 8:42 am

    Morrison might be concealing what he ‘really’ thinks about SSM, but the proposal for a referendum, as well as being unnecessary to effect the change, is surely a signal to voters that he doesn’t want it to get up, neither before nor after the next election; certainly the loopy right in the LNP will see it that way – it’s actually a tightening up of the plebiscite proposal which would probably get up, if it wasn’t postponed till the never-never. In any case, any ‘put it to the people’ plan is pure conjecture at this stage as the forces proposing it are at this moment odds-on to lose the next election. When did Morrison or anyone else have any regard for the consciences of the voters, or of themselves for that matter? I can’t see how Morrison has ‘put his finger’ on anything that Abbott has not.

  10. End times for Abbott’s prime ministership? - Left Flank on 17th August 2015 10:28 am

    […] policy and political fixer: Scott Morrison. Morrison’s self-satisfied turn on ABC 730 last week (superbly dissected by The Piping Shrike) was designed to assuage fellow anti-SSM MPs while giving the impression the social services […]

  11. Snorky on 17th August 2015 3:12 pm

    There’s no doubting the motivation of the referendum (not plebiscite) proponents, that is to kill off any prospect of same sex marriage by the referendum being lost. Dennis Jensen has admitted precisely this. Of course Jensen is a nobody, but his comments are telling, as he’s prepared to make admissions that less stupid fellow travellers like Morrison would not do. They adopt this tactic even though we all know that the referendum is not necessary, and nor would its loss necessarily be fatal to same sex marriage being approved, in a strictly legal/constitutional sense. Their argument, mendacious as it is, would be that the people have spoken against same sex marriage by opposing the question put at the referendum. Of course, the ease of defeating a referendum proposal makes this tactic look more appealing.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 17th August 2015 4:10 pm

    Actually given the overwhelming support for it, any referendum would likely support SSM. So I wouldn’t say a referendum is the best way for it not to happen. The best way to stop is happening would be for the Liberals to keep doing what they are doing now. But they are struggling to do that and so have passed it off to a referendum as a very long way second best.

    It’s a similar story on the Labor side where the unions couldn’t hold the line but still managed to block it being policy so we have their mish-mash conscience vote thing.

    Morrison is being totally cynical toying with (not actually directly insisting on) a Constitutional referendum. Of course it’s unnecessary, would be unlikely to be accepted etc. etc. but this is all about internal political manoeuvres. Just as it is for Labor.

  13. Cavitation on 18th August 2015 3:19 pm

    The AFR today (18 Aug) reports that both Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are starting their run for leadership. Of course they are. The mess made by Tony Abbott and the resulting opinion poll results have ruined his ability to win the next election.

    Do you think Malcolm Turnbull will stomach being in opposition again? Of course not. There is nothing more certain now, then that he will soon challenge for the Liberal Party leadership. If he wins, he will be Prime Minister, at least for a year, and if he loses, then he can skip the next election campaign and redirect his considerable skills to something more rewarding. And so the conservative faction in the party will run against him, and it looks as though Scott Morrison has been given the nod.

    Even if the Liberals scrape through and win the by-election in Canning on 19 September, the swing to Labor will show that a similar swing at the election will lead to a Labor landslide win. All the politicians in Canberra know this. It means that Abbott’s leadership is terminal, and all the current government high fliers are staring at a long stint in opposition. While some will cope with that, Turnbull for one is likely to find that prospect like being in hell. Julie Bishop knows she was little chance of getting the leadership, (being a woman in the currently misogynistic Liberal party), and realises that 3-years as foreign minister will set her up nicely for a good career outside parliament after the next election.

    But Malcolm Turnbull has got to run now, or face a miserable time as an opposition backbencher, or an even worse time as Liberal opposition leader, after the next election, when the recriminations arising from the Abbott fiasco will be wonderful to behold. So the race is on – crash through or crash. Or has Malcolm Turnbull’s personality changed? We will soon see.

  14. The Piping Shrike on 18th August 2015 8:53 pm

    I can’t see any indication the Liberals are shifting to the left to choose Turnbull.

  15. Cavitation on 18th August 2015 9:35 pm

    I think Shrike is right, and that Morrison has the numbers currently. But I suspect Turnbull will run anyway. He almost quit after his last time as leader. If he tries and doesn’t make leader, then he won’t need to stand at the next election, and when the party loses that election, he can say I told you so, and his reputation is enhanced. And the Liberals at least have a shot at winning the election with him as leader, if the opinion polls are right. With an inexperienced and unknown Morrison as leader, pushing the same reactionary and unpopular agenda as currently, they will be whistling in the dark when the election comes around.The prospect of losing their seats and government may change some minds in the Liberal party. But I suspect they will go with Morrison, even though it’s a very long shot he will work out. But their business backers like Turnbull (except for the mining industry that is now fast diminishing in wealth and influence), and he is the smartest person on the front bench – maybe he can be sufficiently persuasive?

  16. F on 18th August 2015 10:35 pm

    I think Shrike you are perhaps not paying as much attention to what is happening/ will happen to the Australuan economy over the next year. Whatever we just went though is over. The good times are never coming back, at least not in a way the most Australians would recognise. How does this affect the political class?

    Well, you can say good bye to all the old certainties, like governments bring granted a second term…just ‘cos?

    Or the unending success of federal Liberals in attaining government.

    There is no longer ANY experience in Australia for actual economic hardship(read: reality). The long boom was generational in its length, and we are leaving it in a very different shape to how we entered it.

    Out of both the current major parties, I would say the Liberals are the least able to come to terms with this. Even now there is the silly meme that they could go to an early election before the worst hits…as if that will save them!

  17. Mercurial on 20th August 2015 3:08 pm

    I don’t agree with you on the referendum, Shrike. It has to be a majority of states, as well as an overall majority.

    Now that means Queensland and WA can vote no, but of Tasmania does as well, then it’s game over. Abbott could use that to stymie reform for years.

  18. Mercurial on 20th August 2015 3:09 pm

    …IF Tasmania does….

  19. Mercurial on 20th August 2015 3:55 pm

    … and if Abbott chose to word the referendum to a question of inserting something about marriage being between two people of either gender into the Constitution, without bipartisan support do you really think it would get up? its failure would then be a signal to Abbott that is extreme right wing agenda can be advanced.

  20. Mercurial on 20th August 2015 4:58 pm

    And F, you forget one very important person in Australia’s future: Rupert Murdoch.

  21. F on 20th August 2015 6:40 pm

    Mercurial: I think you forget the current government has/had the overwhelming support of Murdoch. Fat lot of good it’s done them.

  22. Mercurial on 24th August 2015 12:11 pm

    No F, I don’t agree. Murdoch still wields enormous influence. Even the ABC breakfast show starts each morning with “what do the papers say?” (mostly what Murdoch wants them to say) and the rest of the day builds on that base.

    But we’re getting off topic here.

  23. F on 24th August 2015 5:07 pm

    Yeah, no. If Murdoch was so omnipotent, the current give wouldn’t be in it its current position.

  24. Oldskool on 2nd September 2015 12:16 pm

    Murdoch isn’t Omnipotent, but he does wield enormous influence, so much stupidity by this Govt is buried. The Referendum thing is insane, what are you putting to the people- a referendum is to change the constitution, the constitution states that Federal Govt has the power to legislate for marriage and divorce(clauses 21 and 22 respectively). What exactly is the proposal to change? You could legislate for or against same sex marriage, polygamous marriage- anything you want without ever looking at or contravening the Constititiuon. Further, the suggestion from Morrsion et al that we have a referendum to change something that was only put in place by Howard, is hypocritical to say the least. Why is this being taken seriously. We as a people are being let down by our politicians and our media.

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