News Politics Australian Politics Michael Pascoe: Scott ‘Stunt’ Morrison says ‘cheese’ as taxpayers pay for his photo ops
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Michael Pascoe: Scott ‘Stunt’ Morrison says ‘cheese’ as taxpayers pay for his photo ops

The past week has been extraordinary even by Scott Morrison’s photo op standards, writes Michael Pascoe.
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How do I exploit thee? Let me count the ways.

I exploit thee to the depth and breadth and height

My PR machine can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the focus groups and Newspoll.

I exploit thee to the level of every day’s

Most seen image, by News Corp and Sky News.

I exploit thee freely, as politicians strive for profile.

I exploit thee purely, as it’s all for the news cycle.

I exploit thee with the passion put to use

In my pre-selection, and with my #ScottyfromMarketing base.

Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning this Valentine’s Day, but the past week has been extraordinary even by Scott Morrison’s photo-op standards – and all at uncounted but considerable cost to the public.

Yes, the #ScottyfromMarketing team has been exploiting its limitless access to money borrowed in your name for stunts to keep the Morrison brand in people’s faces and suck the air out of any Opposition efforts to be noticed.

The many scores of thousands spent on photo ops this week – all borrowed money that has to be paid back by future generations, the Treasurer tells us – is but froth atop the billions in grants rorts we have been chronicling here over the past year or so, but every exploitation of incumbency counts for the “Stunt” Morrison team.

The point of drawing attention to last week’s circus though is to demonstrate how inured media has become to the Prime Minister blowing a hundred thou’ on an announcement stunt, how little thought goes into analysing the Morrison Show, how captured television in particular has become as it plays along in the symbiotic game of being presented with moving pictures to fill airtime.

It was a big and very expensive start to the photo-op week when the caravan rolled in Williamtown, north of Newcastle, for the Top Gun entrance and squeeze-the-prime-minister-into-the-F-35 competition.

Sure, people made fun of the Top Gun stunt, pushing the eject button on Twitter and suggesting more suitable music, but coverage of the Prime Minister wrapped in the military ran everywhere and at length.

What was missing was consideration of what the excuse for the show was: it was the first grease and oil change for an RAAF F-35 as the contractor starts to fix some of the plane’s many faults and tries to make it suitable for service.

The Prime Minister’s speech (if anyone noticed) billed the event as a “crucial component of our sovereign defence capability”. Well, it does help if the things can fly when it’s raining, but the Joint Strike Fighter might not be the best example of defence sovereignty.

Former Defence Secretary Paul Barratt underlined that the planes only function with permission of the United States.

Photo: Twitter

Of course what the speech and event was really about was politics, most broadly the Morrison brand and more specifically “jobs in the Hunter”. Remember that Joel Fitzgibbon’s and other Labor seats in the region aren’t so safe anymore.

Now consider what the photo op cost. Aside from the Prime Minister, the large official party included the Defence Minister, the Defence Industry Minister, the Chief of Air Force, a NSW Liberal Senator and their usual entourage. (If there were any of the local Labor MPs there, they weren’t mentioned in dispatches.)

So there went the best part of the day getting to and from Williamtown for speeches and photos of a plane about to be repaired. Such events also mean the host loses much more than a day, thanks to the preparation and planning as well as the show itself.

(The pointless disruption of a prime ministerial visit to a cancer hospital was one of the things that made Tony Abbott’s 2014 photo op to claim travel entitlements particularly egregious. He had gone to Melbourne the night before for a private Liberal Party function.

After such a start to the week, it was only fitting to end it with another  stunt for the political gift that just keeps giving: yes, folks, another vaccine announcement!

Scott Morrison holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine at the CSL serum lab in Melbourne on Friday. Photo: AAP

There was nothing to actually announce – the vaccines are still coming, as they have been for months, but, hey, disrupt the work at CSL while literally wrapping your face in the flag. Blanket coverage guaranteed.

Before the CSL effort in Melbourne, the ability of the #ScottyfromMarketing machine to milk the vaccine saga for PR was the lede of a Sean Kelly opinion piece in the Nine Entertainment newspapers.

“Many years ago, I was told by a veteran spin doctor that any new project – a new building, say – should be announced 10 times,” confessed the former adviser to Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard.

“First, announce you are considering it. Then that you are calling for proposals. Then that the proposals have been received. You should publish the proposals, then announce the winner … This goes on until after the building is up, and you celebrate its first anniversary. The point is to wring every ounce of positive publicity out of even the smallest announcement.

“You have probably lost track of vaccine announcements by now.”

Scott Morrison has been making them since August – and we’ll remain jabless for at least another month. Stand by for many more announcements.

Such is the low ebb of critical analysis and the demands of vast expanses of airtime to fill that the spin machine doesn’t even need to provide novel pictures. It’s enough to say at the usual brief prime ministerial that, say, changes will be considered for quarantine arrangements to have uncritical  prime time news coverage of the government “considering” doing something.

What actually happened? Nothing. Was there an actual plan that was being considered? No.

It was bumph to keep the face in front of people, an illusion of action, an illusion of government. And all at our expense.

Meanwhile there was another instructive farce on New South Wales’ south coast. Dennis Atkins used it as a “perfectly formed example of how corrupted our public administration has become” – Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s show/no-show at the Shoalhaven version of CJ Dennis’ The Bridge across the Crick.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne pulled out of an event spruiking a $342 million taxpayer-funded project when local Labor MP Fiona Phillips turned up.. Photo: Getty

A little background to this particular stunt gone wrong: Malcolm Turnbull promised $155 million federal dollars for a new bridge across the Shoalhaven before the 2018 budget in an effort to shore up his preferred local member, the incumbent Ann Sudmalis.

The bridge wasn’t just a low priority on Infrastructure NSW’s wish list – it wasn’t on the list at all.

As it turned out, Ms Sudmalis quit politics anyway and was rewarded with a three-month junket to New York. The Coalition lost the seat to Labor but likes its chances of winning it back again.

Standby for many more announcements and be careful not to be knocked down by the pork barrels.

Speaking of which, as predicted, Bridget McKenzie kept to her script before the Senate inquiry into #sportsrorts on Friday. Apparently everything about her administration of the $100 million scheme was absolutely tickety-boo, the Prime Minister and Liberal campaign headquarters were not involved and the Australian National Audit Office tells fairy tales.

In other news, the Pope is not a Catholic, the sun rises in the west and bears never defecate in the woods.

Expect Senator McKenzie to be suitably awarded just a little way down the track with a return to the ministry after the next election.

And the corrupt grants, the stunts and the re-announcements of re-announced announcements roll on.

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