A few weeks back 3AW’s Neil Mitchell asked our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, whether he’d ever told a lie in his public life, who incredibly (and seemingly incredulously) answered ‘I don’t believe I have, no’.
It’s a response that set the nation’s eyes a-rolling, sure, but it also tied into a line he’s been road-testing ahead of the election: who do you trust?
Unfortunately, trust is a hard thing to get back purely through bluster and indignance.
It came up because Morrison’s new zeal for self-defined truthmanship happened to coincide with his sudden passion for electric vehicles – the same ones he’d memorably said, before the last election, would ‘end the weekend’.
And his indignance followed his less-than-spectacular appearance at the G20 and the Glasgow COP26 climate conference, where he had a bit of a run-in with French President, Emmanuel Macron, over Australia’s abandoned deal for new French submarines, and whether or not Morrison misled the French leader over the matter.
This problem was solved, and by ‘solved’ I mean ‘dramatically escalated’, by the mysterious publication of confidential texts from Macron to Morrison, which clearly showed the French leader asking for a straight answer and Morrison hedging – much as he did when asked whether he’d done the leaking.
Now, you may very reasonably argue that most voters aren’t going to care about any of this.
After all, discovering the French President asked Morrison about something about which most people don’t especially care… well, it’s not exactly le scandale du siècle, non?
And you’d be dead right.
When the election is called, barely anyone’s going to remember that Scott Morrison attempted to throw Emmanuel Macron under the bus, aside from avid Francophiles, and people still going ‘wait – but the text Morrison leaked confirmed Macron’s version of events – how was that leak meant to help Morrison? What madness is this? Is reality still a thing? WHO ARE YOU AND HOW DID YOU GET IN HERE?’
Oh, and one other group of people who’ll remember are independent political candidates.
And that’s going to be a huge, huge problem if they end up, say, determining the election outcome as members of the crossbench.
That’s more likely than you might think.
Thanks to the Australian Electoral Commission’s pre-election redistribution, the Liberals now need to win two more seats in order to govern in their own right.
In contrast, Labor needs to pick up seven.
Meanwhile, climate-focused Independents are running in traditionally safe Coalition seats, following the brief success of Kerryn Phelps in Malcolm Turnbull’s former safe Sydney seat of Wentworth, and the rather more enduring victory by Zali Steggall in Tony Abbott’s old seat of Warringah.
And this time around, several of those candidates have Simon Holmes à Court’s Climate 200 campaign, behind them, providing extra financial and logistical muscle, meaning the Liberals face serious fights from Trent Zimmerman’s seat in North Sydney to Josh Frydenberg’s in Kooyong.
Many of the strongest climate Independents are in NSW, the state which is the key strand holding together Morrison’s fraying tightrope to victory.
However, thanks to a longstanding factional war going on in the state over the way that NSW Liberal branches select candidates for elections, there are a number of key seats for whom no Liberal has been chosen, much less announced.
Therefore, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where neither Labor nor the Coalition have enough lower house seats and have to turn to the minor parties and Independents to provide their support to form government.
Put yourself in the shoes of a conservative-leaning independent elected on a platform of urgent climate action, who has to decide to either continue Morrison’s reign, or bring the Albanese Government into being.
Will they back the party with a history of climate policy that also has a history of successfully negotiating with Independents and minor parties to get legislation passed, as demonstrated by the minority government of Julia Gillard?
Or will they plump for the party whose own MPs are currently calling for an expansion of coal mining and repudiation of emissions targets, led by a man seemingly okay with feeding confidential negotiations to favoured media outlets if he feels it to be politically expedient?
Morrison’s correct in that it ultimately comes down to that question of ‘who do you trust?’; however, it’s doubtful that’s much of a question anymore.
Andrew P Street is a bestselling author, columnist, and self described ‘all-round word-ordering person’. For more info visit www.patreon.com/andrewpstreet.