This week’s independent decision to give politicians a pay rise is just the latest in a run of bad luck that has dogged Scott Morrison, Australia’s accidental prime minister.
Yet despite his opponents’ clumsy attempts to use the windfall gain against the PM, these efforts to shift voter perceptions are likely to fail.
Before last month’s election, a couple of political observers were fond of using a Keating-ism to describe the uncanny run of good luck being experienced by Labor leader Bill Shorten at the time. Mr Shorten had been ‘hit in the arse with a rainbow’, they said.
In contrast, nothing seemed to go right for Mr Morrison, other than being able to snatch the Liberal leadership when it came up for grabs after the resignation of Malcolm Turnbull.
The new PM had been hit in the arse with a raincloud. There were leaks from Cabinet apparently designed to embarrass him, Liberals were politically decimated in the Victorian state election, and Independent candidate Kerryn Phelps took Mr Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth from the Liberals, leaving the Morrison government with even less numbers in the parliament than before.
Labor then teamed up with the Greens and other non-government MPs to make history by passing the Medevac legislation against the government’s wishes. This was also a personal failure for the PM, turning one of his claimed strengths (border protection) against him.
Yet as we now know, Mr Shorten’s good luck came to an unexpected and spectacular end on election day, when the anticipated swing to Labor occurred only in seats where it didn’t matter – safe Labor and Liberal electorates – returning Mr Morrison’s Coalition with one extra seat in the Parliament.
That dazzling flash of rainbow-coloured light was shortlived, however, with PM Morrison having resumed his run of unfortunate events since the election victory. The PM’s strong borders have been tested with boats carrying asylum seekers appearing (again) in the seas to our north, and Chinese warships have materialised in Sydney Harbour, seemingly unannounced.
Raids by federal police of the ABC’s headquarters and the home of a senior News Corp journalist have created new tensions and heightened old fears between the news media and the government over the public’s right to know.
And now the Remuneration Tribunal, an independent government organisation that sets the salaries and other entitlements of politicians, judges and heads of departments, has announced a pay rise for MPs, to come into effect on 1 July this year.
What terrible bad luck. It’s almost as if these ticking time bombs were left to detonate after polling day – when a Labor government was expected to be elected!
But now it is Mr Morrison, not the lucky Mr Shorten, who must grapple with the political inconvenience of having to justify why all politicians (not just himself) are getting what the average Australian would call a hefty pay rise on the same day that the next round of cuts to Sunday penalty rates kicks in for about 355,000 workers.
People who voted for a change of government are deeply unhappy right now that Mr Morrison remains the prime minister, but that doesn’t mean the role of PM shouldn’t be paid well. The responsibilities that sit on the shoulders of a prime minister are greater than those of any business executive, who is likely to be paid at least four times as much.
It might grab a headline to contrast the PM’s pay rise with the Sunday penalty rate cuts, however the comparison is little more than a feeble attempt to reignite the class warfare that was repudiated in last month’s election.
It’s time to accept that while Mr Morrison may be serially unlucky, many voters see him as one of them. He may earn more than many, or less than some, but he is seen by these voters as part of the tribe that is mainstream Australia. And it will take something more substantial than a whinge about the PM’s wages to change that view.