News National Dennis Atkins: The Morrison pitch to paint an underdog as best in show
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Dennis Atkins: The Morrison pitch to paint an underdog as best in show

Prime Minister Scott Morrison elbow-bumping LNP opposition leader Deb Frecklington. Photo: AAP
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Queensland was Scott Morrison’s Hotel California by the end of the week.

As the songs says, “You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave”.

After a technical hitch grounded the Prime Minister’s RAAF jet and a replacement didn’t arrive until later Thursday, Morrison added a night to his schedule in the tropical Far North and cancelled a planned meeting of the national cabinet.

It was an interesting end to an intriguing week for the man with the “flow brain”, as self-described to Guardian journalist Katharine Murphy in her The End of Certainty’ Quarterly essay on the PM and the pandemic.

According to Murphy, ‘flow brain’ means you are in “the zone” where your skill level is equal to the challenges before you.

It sounds like an astonishingly accomplished place to be but it almost certainly carries with it risks of durability.

Watching Morrison for seven to eight days of campaigning while giving proximity to the Queensland opposition’s quest to unseat popular Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, his brain flow seems to be holding.

Morrison is a master of spin and, as his reputation suggests, marketing.

He can say very little with a maximum number of words, often devoid of any content beyond the rhetorical.

On the campaign trail with the LNP’s Deb Frecklington, Morrison talked at length about how great it was to endorse the Opposition leader’s “economic plan” without saying what was in it or what it would actually do for Queenslanders beyond boilerplate pollie speak.

During 40-odd years of covering state and federal politics around the country, I’ve never seen a national leader spend more than a week on the campaign trail with a party colleague for a state contest.

It’s one for the Australian political record books and can only be explained by that flow brain.

Morrison’s self-belief in his miracle-working political skills, which apparently helped him prevail at the 2019 federal poll, is so strong he believes he can carry a lagging underdog over the line on October 31.

There’s no doubt Morrison’s presence helped Frecklington.

He is a popular figure in Queensland and just handed down a big-spending, well-received Budget that showcased tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners.

Morrison not only gave Frecklington access to his proximate popularity but provided some cover when the LNP leader’s campaign was knocked off course by someone on her own side leaking against her.

Whether Morrison’s week in the Sunshine State has been enough to lift the LNP sufficiently to get near the nine-seat gain needed to govern alone is not just an open question but a drifting long-shot.

Scott Morrison jetted into Queensland to campaign against Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Of course, Morrison was in full political armour through the week with his attack skills on display as much as his sales pitch for the Budget.

Morrison can present as piously as any prime minister has, declaring he doesn’t play politics, as he did in Canberra in Budget week.

Out on the hustings, these pronouncements are quickly forgotten.

Travelling through provincial cities along the Queensland coast, Morrison sought to blame Labor premiers whenever he had something difficult to deal with or found a crack of light in which to get an opponent in his sights.

While foreshadowing arrangements for repatriating Australians unable to return because of the decisions he took early this year, Morrison wrapped his self-congratulations in a sledge at Palaszczuk, saying Cairns could have hosted some of these travellers if the Queensland Government had played by the Commonwealth’s decreed rules.

The fact these returning Australians are only going to the Northern Territory and Queensland’s position is no different to state Liberal governments, such as those in South Australia and Tasmania, was apparently not worth mentioning.

This is a unique agreement, with the Northern Territory using the Howard Springs quarantine facility, and has nothing to do with what state governments are doing.

To seek to score a political point at the expense of the Queensland Government was all about the October 31 poll and nothing else.

Morrison also sought to dodge any complex or complete discussion about Thursday’s unemployment report – which pointed to an unfolding and grim future for hundreds of thousands of Australians – by saying any disappointing aspects of the outcome were down to Daniel Andrews’ extended lockdown in the face of a brutal and deadly second wave of the pandemic.

It’s such a pity these state Labor leaders don’t have flow brains with which to tackle the challenges they face.

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