News National Michael Pascoe: A year after the election, Scott Morrison has ‘had a good war’

Michael Pascoe: A year after the election, Scott Morrison has ‘had a good war’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has done very little besides cosy up to Donald Trump. Photo: TND
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Earlier generations were familiar with the phrase “he had a good war”. Scott Morrison could bring it back into fashion.

A year after his “miracle” election, Mr Morrison is surfing the virus crisis for a popularity win – resurrecting a prime ministership that was taking on water from his bushfire/climate failures and steadily sailing towards the eye of the #sportsrorts storm.

His success last May 18 came with a lot of help from the Labor Party, Clive Palmer and shamelessly raiding the public purse.

Nonetheless, it was Scott Morrison’s victory to have, hold and trumpet.

He had scraped past Peter Dutton for the Liberal Party leadership nine months earlier. If his Tuesday night parliamentary prayer group had been a little less prepared, if Mathias Cormann had been able to count three more votes …

It was not the most secure start to a prime ministership after a decade of regicide, but the election win – and ongoing care not to offend the ratbag end of his caucus – meant the leadership of the nation was securely Scott Morrison’s for three years. (Or as secure as anything is in Australian politics.)

So what has he done with it?

If it holds that the last third of our three-year terms is concentrated on getting re-elected, Mr Morrison is halfway through his opportunity to use his secure leadership to make a difference, to chance his arm in pursuit of what needs to be done.

The scorecard points to the cliché of the dog that chased the car and caught it, but then didn’t know what to do with the thing.

scott morrison pay rise
It’s been one year since Scott Morrison’s “miracle” election victory. Photo: AAP

Other than cosying closer to Donald Trump than any other national leader, there’s little positive to show for it unless the aim of being a successful conservative is to maintain the status quo, to do nothing.

That’s the Morrison government achievement on climate policy, the status quo, alias stuff all while the ironically titled Energy and Environment Minister champions a fossil fuel-led recovery.

The centrepiece of the Morrison election campaign – other than not being Bill Shorten – was the claim of having achieved a 2019-20 budget surplus.

“Back in Black” was a three-word slogan meant to suggest superior financial management, to paper over the reality of the Australian economy limping along with sub-par growth and slipping living standards.

Well, the ’Rona Recession has taken care of that. The Liberal Party’s conventional economic scorecards have been scrapped for the duration.

The only scorecard that matters for the next two years is the unemployment rate and, at the risk of boring regular readers, the Morrison government has no substantial policy for dealing with unemployment over that timeframe other than the temporary JobSeeker supplement and JobKeeper safety net.

Interest rates are as low as they can go and the Reserve Bank’s pre-COVID cash rate cuts were a sign of the economy being stubbornly soft.

China relationship crucial

An important part of the recovery for our outward-looking trading nation will be the extent we can leverage the recovery of our biggest trading partner.

A year after the election, 21 months since Scott Morrison became PM, Australia’s most important diplomatic relationship is at its lowest ebb since the Tiananmen Square massacre 31 years ago – and the relationship wasn’t so important to us back then.

Former Australian ambassador to China Geoff Raby goes further. In his La Trobe China Oration last year, he rated it the worst in 46 years, since diplomatic relations were opened in 1973.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham made headlines on Sunday by admitting nobody in Beijing was returning his calls.

The failure of anyone in government to have forged enough of a relationship to have a conversation indicates either zero care factor or incompetence, or both.

For now, “the good war” Scott Morrison is having overshadows all else. That won’t last.

Climate change and Angus Taylor’s fibs about our emission reductions aren’t going away.

A gaping policy vacuum

The commentariat over the weekend generally seemed incapable of seeing beyond the September JobKeeper/Seeker timing issue, oblivious to the policy vacuum beyond it.

They’ll catch up when unemployment remains high despite the empty promises of IR reform, corporate tax reduction and red tape cuts.

The media and the Labor Party are getting back to work on #sportsrorts, to Scott Morrison’s immediate disgust.

There’s a limited lifespan in repeatedly using weasel words and ignoring questions.

The public will continue to have more pressing issues to worry about, but the stench around defrauding volunteer sports clubs to buy votes isn’t fading.

It has the potential to be the straw that broke the pork barrel’s back, to lead to a genuine federal integrity commission with no lesser remit than NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.

But that would alter the status quo.

A year after winning the power to do so, there’s no sign of Scott Morrison wanting to, wanting to do anything much at all, unless you count chanting the IR/tax cuts/red tape mantra as something.