Scott Morrison went straight on the attack to welcome 2019. ‘My job – our government’s job – is to prepare Australia for any opportunity and eventuality,’ he bellowed.
‘It’s to grab the year by the scruff of its neck and make it a winner for all of us.’ And if the year does not behave itself, presumably the prime minister will wrestle it to the ground and stamp on its testicles.
Many Australians – indeed, many of his own supporters – would have preferred something less confrontational – perhaps a new year’s resolution to be less aggressive and shouty.
This is not going to happen immediately – to calm down now would be to tarnish his brand, undermine the authenticity he has so painstakingly contrived. But as ScoMo the marketeer knows, brands can be altered and renewed, and authenticity need not be frozen in stone.
His own career is a fine example of pragmatism that frequently lapses into opportunism. He says he is not part of any faction, which may be true – but only to the extent that he embraces all of them. On one memorable occasion he dined at separately celebratory diners on the same night, first with the conservatives and then with the moderates.
It proved that he was not an ideologue, crowed his clique, calling it a plus. But it could also be seen as evidence that he does not really believe in anything much, which would be decided minus.
These days he presents as a devout Pentecostalist, but he was raised a in the more austere atmosphere of Presbyterianism. And he is always ready to find a loophole: ‘The bible is not a policy handbook,’ he avers, although that is precisely how the religious right warriors in his party room sought to portray it during the same sex marriage debate, and their subsequent demands to allow church law to override secular laws when it suits them.
But in any case, if his bible is not a political handbook, what is it? A text to be addressed on Sundays and relinquished during the working week? Or does our prime minister practise some kind of Orwellian doublethink, in which he has no qualms about brutalising asylum seekers at the same time he claims to follow the teachings of Jesus?
We don’t know, of course, because Morrison will not tell us – he says his religion is private, a matter for himself and his God. Fair enough, but in that case why does he parade it so energetically? Just good promotion, perhaps.
The New South Wales state government, facing a crucial election in less than three months, has already made it clear that it wants as little as possible to do with the Morrison plans for an all in brawl.
And even ScoMo’s devotion to his football team, the Cronulla Sharks, is relatively short lived – he only became a fan when he moved into the shire ten years ago, so will presumably switch allegiances to a new local club if he moves again. And this being the case, a makeover to a less combative style should be relatively painless.
But even if he planned one – and there is no sign that he does – his party is prepared for the ultimate fight club spectacle he has foreshadowed, having no real alternative.
Well, most of them: the New South Wales state government, facing a crucial election in less than three months, has already made it clear that it wants as little as possible to do with the Morrison plans for an all in brawl – the premier Gladys Berejiklian has enough problems to contend with.
She can do without an incursion of federal Liberals, the ones who demolished her Victorian counterparts after the federal minister Kelly O’Dwyer lamented, ‘They think we are a bunch of, homophobic, anti-women, climate change deniers.’ And given that there are enough in the mad right to make the charge not only plausible but an existential threat to the survival of her embattled government, Berejiklian will fence as many of them away from the hustings as possible.
But she can hardly black ban her New South Wales based prime minister; she can ask him to go away, but even if ScoMo were willing to go into hiding, his troops are not, and they would regard such restraint as cowardice, even desertion – the sort of treachery Malcolm Turnbull (Boo! Hiss!) committed during the Wentworth by-election. So Morrison will continue to make his presence felt in the premier state, even if his state colleagues would prefer he didn’t.
And to prove the point, he made a ceremonial appearance at the Sydney test match, where his team was facing a demoralising defeat – and the cricket was pretty depressing too. He had exhorted drought-stricken farmers to pray for rain; perhaps he gave the same advice to the Australian batsmen.
But apart from that, ScoMo was his determinedly cheerful self, resplendent in the obligatory pink cap. And, never one to let a chance go by, he kicked in $27 million for the McGrath Foundation – you couldn’t call that pork barrelling, just feel-good campaigning. He was applauded, until he glazed the eyes of his audience with yet another turgid dissertation about the wonder of a strong economy. And there will be plenty of those to come, along with many less legitimate handouts.
But a certain amount of restraint, even diffidence, may not be a bad idea. It is still more than a month until Morrison has to face the minimalist parliament he cannot avoid. He is worried about the risks associated with minority government, of course, but the long break just might assuage the punters appalled by the raucous nude mud wrestle at the end of last year.
If they do not see too much of their leader, they may forgive and forget his bad captain’s calls, his rejection of expert advice, his confected ferocity, even his shoutiness. They may be prepared to give him a second chance.
It’s a long shot but it must be worth a try – nothing else seems to be helping. So for Scott John Morrison, the message for the election year should be simple: chill out. Dial down the belligerence, bluster, bravado and bullshit. And for the rest of us, have a happy – or at least a less crappy – new year.