Normal was back this week with federal parliament sitting for three days in non-coronavirus crisis mode for the first time since late February, and one of the old regulars of Australian politics was on display – Scott Morrison’s version of reality.
It’s a remarkable feature of our Prime Minister’s political operating style that he is a natural and often willing truth slayer.
He can be asked to comment on something that everyone knows to be true and he’ll deny its veracity or existence without blinking.
There are examples which still prompt a mental twitch.
While announcing $537 million more for aged-care packages in response to a blistering interim Royal Commission report, Morrison was asked about savage budget cuts imposed on the sector while he was Treasurer.
He denied flatly there were any such cuts even though his own Budget Papers said otherwise.
Just under four months ago Morrison denied people in and around Cobargo on the New South Wales south coast refused to engage with him – even though video from TV reporters said otherwise.
Most politicians lie whenever they are uncomfortable or caught in a tight spot. Few lie with the ease and casualness of Morrison.
During the eight-or-so weeks he’s been leading the government’s COVID-19 response, Morrison hasn’t needed to flick the switch to untruth. He’s been dealing with issues so big and so urgent that the truth smothered everything.
With Parliament back, non-government MPs were willing to test issues from the non-crisis agenda – the pre-COVID-19 state of the economy, the leftover scandal of Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s Sydney City Council cut-and-paste fake travel document, and the still unresolved and outrageous 2019 sports grants rorting.
In two glaring examples, Morrison adopted his default position of denying reality.
After those whiplash unemployment numbers were released, Morrison was asked by an ABC triple j reporter about the failure of existing policies drawn up to deal with youth joblessness.
Shalailah Medhora asked if there was a case to review youth unemployment policies because the existing $752 million JobsPath plan – announced by Morrison in his last Budget as Treasurer two years ago – had done nothing to reverse a jobless rate for young people stuck between 12 and 14 per cent over the past eight years.
Morrison let his mouth toy with its favoured smirk and replied: “The premise of the facts of your question are simply not right.”
The Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers tell a different story.
In one of the three Question Times of the week – when Morrison pushed back against anything he didn’t like by labelling it “point-scoring during a national crisis” – the Prime Minister was asked about repeated statements that he and his office had nothing to do with the awarding of the sports grants that cost Bridget McKenzie her job at the end of January.
Despite evidence from the National Audit Office that on March 26, 2019, Morrison’s office “had advised the [sports] minister’s office that it was expected that the minister would write to the prime minister to seek ‘authority’ on the approved projects”, the Prime Minister said he had nothing to do with approving the spending of money. His involvement was only ever about making announcements.
Labor’s deputy leader asked: “Why did the Prime Minister tell the house (on Wednesday) about his sports rorts scheme and that ‘the only authority sought from the Prime Minister’s office and from me was in relation to announcements’ when the Audit Office found the Prime Minister’s office told Senator McKenzie’s office, ‘It was expected that the minister would write to the Prime Minister to seek authority on the approved projects and inform the Prime Minister of the rollout plan’?”
Morrison stood up, leaned towards the dispatch box and said: “I said it because it was true.”
He turned, plopped into his chair and spun around to smile at his backbench. Another inconvenient truth dealt with.
Maybe Morrison denies reality because he is uncomfortable with the truth. More likely, he creates his own reality and refuses to let the facts get in the way of his coping mechanism.
This past week of Parliament began with Labor’s manager of opposition business Tony Burke arguing the House should return prior to its scheduled next sitting, midday on Tuesday, August 11. Leader of the House Christian Porter stood firm and said no.
By the end of Thursday there was an amendment and seven sitting days in June – beginning on the 10th and finishing on the 18th – were announced.
Maybe the fact you could get a beer at the pub, take your kids to school and watch the footy on the TV meant an absence of MPs at their Parliamentary desks in Canberra was not a good look.
That doesn’t mean the government likes it. There are too many inconvenient truths to uncomfortably deny.