Greetings, earthlings: In the final week, a familiar message from Planet Morrison

A reinvented Scott Morrison has pitched for one last binary choice in his big election gamble. Dennis Atkins wonders if a weary electorate is up for more politics.

May 16, 2022, updated May 16, 2022
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Liberal Party campaign launch in Brisbane. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Liberal Party campaign launch in Brisbane. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

In a parallel universe Scott Morrison’s campaign launch on the weekend was everything it needed to be and would be one of the last boxes to tick in the final week of a campaign that really should be his for the taking.

It wasn’t because that universe never locked orbit with planet Morrison. After having failed to seize the opportunity to go to the polls in late Spring last year, the Coalition leader slowly ran out of options.

His last chances were to run down or trip up Labor’s Anthony Albanese and win by default. At times Labor looked like Morrison might get the chances he craved but the public mood has been too sour and too hard to turn.

Morrison’s launch was framed by the distinctly weird warm up when he found the ultimate person to blame for everything that’s gone wrong, himself.

In Australian politics, this Morrison trick will have its own special place. To blame yourself for the bad odour in which you are held is to take the Peter Beattie maxim of owning your problems to a new level.

This was like Peter Beattie jumping the shark.

Protesting he was not the bulldozer he “realised” many Australians thought he might be but rather had a different set of gears he could deploy but hadn’t, Morrison at once sought to deflect the brutal singularity of this side of his character (“I had one focus, as your Prime Minister, save the country,” he boasted) and to again say others might be to blame (the handling of the pandemic was not his work but that of health officials led by Brendan Murphy).

It was everything disliked by those same voters who bristle at the bulldozer gear. The phoney construction, the political calculation and the word by word consequentialism.

The Australians who faced-palmed in mock horror when Morrison chided journalists for questioning whether there was a political aspect of an interest rate rise were throwing metaphorical Coke bottles at their televisions.

Scotty from Marketing – the most accurate branding of a politician in the country’s larrikin rich history – had outdone himself. He’s taken himself off the “you might not like me but at least I get things done” shelf and plonked the same person down on the previously vacant “please don’t let me be misunderstood shelf”.

Shamelessness has never had such a starring role in a political drama and deserves an Oscar, a BAFTA and an Emmy for its debut performance. It could also get a Grammy for spoken word.

By the time the “new” Morrison or “recycled and refurbished” Morrison (take your pick) took the stage in Brisbane, voters could have been excused for being thoroughly confused.

When did the bulldozer appear? Was there a real reason for being a bulldozer? And, ultimately, what does being a bulldozer really mean?

Government ministers like Josh Frydenberg, Simon Birmingham, Michaelia Cash, and Jane Hume were quizzed about what needed changing in Morrison’s behaviour. Was he wrong on an integrity commission? Was he wrong on not having a 2030 climate target? Was he wrong on a constitutional voice to parliament for the first nation’s people? And so on.

Political anthropologists were soon on the scene dusting off evidence not so distant, finding this bulldozer behaviour has a longer history than just the need to “save the country” in the pandemic.

Bulldozer Morrison is the same bulldozer who invented “on water matters” to hide Operation Sovereign Borders, the same bulldozer who helped design the mega-policy blunder called robodebt and the same bulldozer who foot-stomped around bushfire ruins and caused stunned disbelief from women when he listened to genuine complaints about disrespect and worse with the most tinny of tin ears.

To have a new policy launched in these circumstances is difficult even if it’s easy to understand and can withstand critique. Something as complex as the Super Home Buyer Scheme with its many moving parts turbocharges the degree of difficulty.

What will Australians make of the new version of Morrison rolling out promises at the eleventh hour of an election campaign?

These questions matter but they are not the critical, underlying political force at work. This policy has been tossed out on the table of this campaign right now because Morrison is in desperate need of a binary choice with which to work.

It is the guiding principle in his operating system: there must be white hats and black hats with no shades of grey.

Morrison has scrambled around trying to make a binary choice stick to Albanese and Labor. He’s tried each of the Labor leader’s stumbles and missteps and he has grabbed with glee any crack of daylight on policy, particularly national security and economic management.

He has at times established a toe hold only to have the ground slip from under his feet.

Morrison thinks this policy – which he knows Labor cannot support or even have a neutral position because of its deep historical attachment to superannuation – is his fail safe binary choice.

He might not get what he wants but that doesn’t mean he can’t fashion things into an approximation of what he needs.

Labor will criticise the plan but work overtime to divert the conversation to fields of its own choosing. This battle of wills will dominate the next few days.

Will it settle the election? Probably not. The rot has all but set in for Morrison and it will take the real electoral equivalent of a miracle to change the course that looks chartered.

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