When does an abiding interest become an obsession? This is the third or fourth piece about Morrison, which I have produced. My initial interest in him was piqued when he “came from nowhere” to be installed as Australia’s Prime Minister, and increased when I discovered that he was such an interesting character. However, it has been his almost tragic performance as a leader, his propensity for creating striking public relation gaffes, which has maintained an increased my interest in tracking his performance.
* * *
The following information is offered for the benefit of anyone who would like to know how my experiences have influenced my judgements. It may appear to be a grossly egotistical exercise in self-promotion, but that is not my intent.
My first experience of leadership, with myself in the role, was gained during secondary school when I attained a position of rank within my school’s Army Cadet Corp. I found that I could achieve more as leader of similarly aged peers, if I treated them with respect, spoke honestly, was prepared to do my share of “grunt work”, and expected respect in return. I found that the “bringalong philosophy” worked better than hectoring or pulling rank. I also found that by setting an example, in which I showed respect to my senior officers, my role as a leader was enhanced.
During the following 50 years, I filled leadership roles in my social and professional lives, and those principles learned at school, stood me in good stead. My social leadership experiences included roles as in a number of sporting, social and special interest groups.
In my professional life, which lasted for 45 years, I was responsible for leading as many as thirty colleagues at a time, in a variety of demanding workplace situations. In every situation I employed the “bringalong” strategy of group leadership – be honest, be authentic, do your share of the shit jobs, don’t ask anyone to do something which you wouldn’t be prepared to do, listen to and respond to criticism as a professional, not as a personality.
I am proud to be able to make the claim that, when moving on from any leadership role, the members of that group were, for the most part, not pleased to see the back of me.
My political stance has been created by my personal history. As a child of poverty, I was never going to be a supporter of the conservative powers which created and promoted that poverty. My early support of the Labor Party waned as that organisation became more and more “Liberal”, and due largely to the hypocrisy of Bob Hawke.
My current stance, whilst “left-leaning”, focuses upon the creation and proliferation of social justice. I am specifically not a communist.
* * *
When Morrison succeeded Turnbull, the man to whom he had pledged support, as leader of the Liberal Party, I did some serious research on the man, due to the fact that, by dint of his public performances, he initially impressed me as being phony. Since that time my initial impressions have been confirmed, so much so that now it is my opinion that he is a self-serving hypocrite.
My feelings about Scott Morrison, the man, are largely based upon my observations of his public behaviours, behaviours which are inextricably linked to his position as Australia’s Prime Minister. So, when I make a judgement about Morrison the person, it is inevitably based upon my judgements of the actions of Morrison the politician.
I believe that it is likely that most of us make our initial judgements about another person based upon their behaviour, and that, over time, we refine those judgements in the light of broader experiences of the subject. It’s why first impressions are often telling.
My first impression of Morrison, the man, was essentially a negative one, and, over time that impression has been confirmed and expanded, but I try to put aside my dislike of the individual when I make judgements about his performance as our country’s leader, and that is the purpose of this writing.
Even allowing for my limited capacity to remain objective, with respect to the person, I must confess to finding Morrison an abject failure as a leader.
Leadership styles vary, in line with differences in personalities. My perceptions of leadership styles will be influenced, but not necessarily determined, by my perceptions of leaders’ personalities.
Here are a few personal opinions of recent examples: Keating – a “head kicker” with an incisive mind, a social democrat with a hard edge, refused to suffer fools; Howard – a committed elitist hard-liner, ruthless in his pursuit of power, he expressed and achieved clear gaols; Rudd – employed an intellectual approach to dealing with aggressive opposition, probably let down by a gentility incompatible with his role; Gillard – a little overwhelmed by her position as a female prime minister, imbued with principle but lacked the steely nature and aggression of a Thatcher, in a setting which reeked of macho bullshit; Abbott – not worthy of comment; Turnbull – entirely focussed upon the pursuit and gaining of the role of prime minister at any cost, lacking personal integrity, willing to tread whichever path resulted in the retention of power.
Morrison’s “leadership style” has been developed over a relatively short period, given that his elevation to the prime ministership happened almost by accident. When it became necessary to dispose of Turnbull, the Liberals were left with a leadership vacuum. When it became a choice between Dutton and Morrison, it became a task of choosing the “least worst” option.
I believe that this is where Morrison first struck trouble. Without the necessary lead time, during which a potential leader is able to build and modify a “style”, Morrison was forced to fall back on a “manner”, a system of behaviours which he had used to create a political persona that had only been suited to his position within the party.
The manner which he chose was that of “the good bloke”. Hawke had taken much the same position as a “man of the people”, a “loveable larrikin”, and had carried it off, since he had intellect and had already had years of service in the union movement in order to perfect the play, but Morrison is no Hawke.
Morison’s image is essentially “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars”, but in my opinion, that image creates a conflict, and belies the person. Here’s where Morrison’s chosen persona conflicts with the demands of leadership, and where his personality conflicts with, not only his persona, but with the demands of leadership.
Let’s consider his background, and identify the conflicts which it creates. An upbringing in upper-middle class east Sydney separates him from his blokey image, in much the same way as Malcolm Fraser’s image as “the grazier from Nareen” separated him from ordinary Australians. Morrison’s strong religious convictions, and the ethical requirements which they place upon him, conflict with the public’s perception of him as refusing to apply empathy in his decision-making, and opening him up to allegations of hypocrisy.
In my opinion, it’s the perception of hypocrisy which causes Morrison to be disbelieved and distrusted by so many ordinary people, and creates his greatest weakness as a leader.
His ham-fisted attempts to identify with Australia’s “working class people”, have created cynicism. A significant number of thinking individuals doubt his sincerity, and even his understanding and application of the concept of truth.
As an avowed atheist, and an entirely irreligious individual, I may be criticised for focussing upon Morrison’s religious proclivities when assessing his behaviour as a leader, but I don’t see how personal beliefs can be separated from personal and professional actions.
I know nothing substantive about Morrison’s form of Christianity, except that it is a form of Christianity. I will focus attention upon only three key Christian religious precepts which I believe should underpin Morrison’s personal, and therefore professional behaviour. It is coincidental that these Christian values coincide with the behavioural tenets adhered to by many who pursue no formal religion.
My understanding of religious values suggests that the inappropriate use of power over others is not OK, that empathy for and consideration of the needs of others is mandatory, and that lying is taboo. (Where “truth” is concerned, I’m talking about “the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, not selective truth, the convenient truth which suits a purpose, or creates a lie through the omission of inconvenient, critical facts – the latter traditionally being the brand of truth favoured by certain politicians.)
Let’s consider those, one at a time.
It’s my opinion that Morrison is guilty of the inappropriate use of power over others, and in this specific case, vulnerable others.
On Morrison’s desk is a trophy. It’s a facsimile of an Asian fishing boat, with the words, “I stopped these”, engraved upon it.
From a “Guardian” article produced a couple of years ago: “Morrison was instrumental in designing the country’s notoriously harsh border protection policies when he was immigration minister in the Abbott government.
Morrison and his successor, Peter Dutton, have never been apologetic over the Operation Sovereign Borders policy which includes offshore processing and turnbacks of asylum seeker vessels, because it brought to an end the deaths of people when boats often capsized.”
Here we have a conflict between perception and reality. It raises questions in the minds of Australians. Did Morrison stop the boats in a bid to save lives, an action consistent with his religious position, or did he stop the boats simply because he could, as an indication of the power which could wield as a government minister? Were his actions humanitarian or narcissistic?
Documents revealed today (9 September 2021), suggest that Morrison chose not to secure vaccine doses, when pressed to do so, in the middle of last year. He had the power to ensure a supply of vaccines which, many speculate, may have prevented the current crises in NSW and Victoria.
Additionally, it has been alleged that he chose not to use his power to create safe, dedicated quarantine centres which, people speculate, would have prevented the escape of the virus which is currently killing people in NSW and Victoria. A question of opinion arises – was Morrison, as has been alleged, simply negligent in his choice to delay ordering vaccine supplies, or was he just utilising his power to influence the lives of others?
His now notorious one-liner, “This is not a race”, may be seen to support the latter of these two propositions, in the mind of a biased commentator such as myself. It’s my perception, but what is the reality?
Morrison has the power to end the suffering of the Biloela family, to end the practice of refugee isolation and imprisonment – a potential denial of human rights – but he refuses to do so, claiming that this would precipitate an influx of “boat people”. Another abuse of power over those weaker than himself, or a Christian endeavour to save lives? Perception versus reality.
Here’s a major problem for Morrison as a leader, in my opinion. Trophies are associated with success in a competition. Displaying his “boat” opens his motivation to interpretation. Does his trophy say “I stopped people smuggling and the resultant loss of life”, or does it say “By using my political muscle, I stopped these unwanted bastards from polluting Australia”?
I’d suggest that, since the display of the trophy could be construed in multiple ways, he should not have it where it can be seen as a possible sign of narcissistic arrogance. His action in placing the trophy in his office is an indication of political and public relations naivety, which is not consisted with what we should expect from a prime minister.
Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It would be expected that, as a devout Christian, Morrison would feel empathy. To what extent have Morrison’s behaviours displayed a capacity for empathy?
His immigration stance, his reluctance to engage in discussions around women’s right to live safely in an Australian context, his perceived attempts to limit his government’s duty of care for women and for minority groups, his implicit refusal to improve quality of life for First Nations people by acting with them in appropriately-centred, community managed enterprise, his public displays of apparent contempt for actions such as the women’s march and Brittany Higgins campaign on sexual assault, mark him as someone who not only lacks empathy, but perhaps, uses his power to crush those who most need it.
What is most concerning, however, is that Morrison appears to believe that his image as a leader is better served by expounding his love of “the Sharkies”, his awareness of “how good is Australia!”, and his apparent willingness take policy-influencing advice from Jen. His lack of awareness of the issues which bring him into disrepute and subject him to public ridicule, reveal a worrying lack of perception and leadership skill.
However, it is perhaps Morrison’s seemingly strained relationship with the truth, which puts him up there with Howard and Abbott as among the most despised prime ministers that Australia has produced – my personal and biased opinion, of course.
Good Christians don’t lie.
Effective, skilled political leaders do lie, but they don’t do so blatantly, in the public eye.
Morrison fails in both respects. Perhaps he justifies his reluctance to tell the whole truth as allowing him to do his “good works”, to remain in power so that her can pursue his vision of a better, fairer, more just, egalitarian Australia. Perhaps he thinks “I may not be telling the absolute truth, but enough truth to ease my conscience, and I’m only doing it for the greater good.”
I’m sure that a committed practising Christian would not have allowed the Sports Rorts to occur, and that other Ministers would not have been permitted to allegedly engage in activities which, in my opinion, are potentially inappropriate, and he certainly would not have defended the perpetrators, when their indiscretions were revealed.
An effective leader might have acknowledged very real and very human errors of judgement. That leader might have apologised and asked for forgiveness, and then moved on with the business of leading. Morrison refuses to do those things. In fact, he refuses even to acknowledge many of his blatant mistakes. That’s lousy leadership.
I think that even Hard-line Howard acknowledged that “errors” were made with respect to the Children Overboard Saga, and I seem to remember that he even tried to explain his failure to live up to his promise that no GST would ever appear under his leadership. Morrison appears to believe that acknowledgment of errors is not a requirement of a strong leader.
In the interest of fairness, or in attempt to make it look like I’m trying to be fair, I need to suggest that, as is true with many public figures, there are at least two “sides” to Scott Morrison. I’ll record some opinions with respect to just two.
I’m imagining Scott Morrison, husband, father, devout Christian, and productive community member – a normal person who exists without the trappings and limitations of political life. He’s a decent person who is devoted to his wife and children, who feels love and empathy for the people who are closest to him, and a person to whom Christian beliefs, and the behaviours which those belief teach, are a mainstay of his life. He is someone who would never knowingly do anyone a bad turn. He enjoys his football and the company of like-minded people. He’s remarkably similar to men everywhere.
However, I’m also seeing the public face of someone who is totally lacking in authenticity, a show pony to rival the inimitable Bob Hawke, and someone who is so ambivalent about his public image that he can’t decide when to be the politician and when to be “one of the boys”. It is this confusion that marks him as fake, and as totally incapable of fulfilling the role as Australia’s leader. They don’t call him “Scotty from Marketing” for nothing.
Morrison’s political persona is full of contradictions. He presents himself as a font of wisdom, as precise, aware, having “a plan” to meet every eventuality, but he shoots himself in the foot at the first opportunity, creating an image of a buffoon who carries out “stunts” as exercises in leadership. He effectively makes himself a laughing stock, and people, especially this person, are running out of humour.
An effective political leader doesn’t perform in parliament, wielding a piece of coal as he denies climate science, in the support of his political party’s financial backers.
He doesn’t appear in “The House”, wearing a supercilious, almost Trump-like grin, and mocking legitimate opposition. He leaves that sort of behaviour to individuals like Tony Abbott.
He doesn’t go on holiday as his nation is engulfed in fatal bushfires.
He doesn’t return from holiday when shamed into action, and then visit fire-ravaged areas, where he allows a media crew to film him as he tries to force people to shake his hand.
He doesn’t use ludicrous one-liners like “I don’t hold a hose”, and get up the noses of the thousands of men and women who do.
He doesn’t obscure the truth, as he seeks to cover up political indiscretions by his parliamentary colleagues. He doesn’t use another glib remark, such as “Nothing to see here”, when Blind Freddy can see that there’s a hell of a lot which needs to be seen.
During a pandemic, and with evidence available on a global scale, to support the need for fast action, he doesn’t put the creation of effective quarantine measures in the “too hard”, or “not immediately necessary” basket, nor does he try to shift blame to others when his failure to act becomes apparent.
He doesn’t delay the ordering of essential vaccines, and then try to place the blame on others when his alleged negligence potentially results in illness for thousands and death for hundreds.
He doesn’t hide from the public and the press when the shit hits the fan, reappearing only when he has devised a suitable programme of spin, with which he expects to extract himself from the pile of excrement which he has created.
He doesn’t create yet another catch phrase – Hindsight Heroes – in order to denigrate his critics.
He doesn’t place himself above the people whom he claims to serve, by using the power of his position in order to have a benefit which is not available to the powerless members of society.
When hundreds of thousands of families are separated, by virtue of lockdown health orders, it is cruel and unconscionable behaviour to engage the services of the RAAF to fly himself to Sydney, in order that he may then travel by car from the airport, past the homes of thousands of people for whom such an action is illegal, to spend Fathers’ Day with his family.
He doesn’t further compound the error by posting on Facebook, a photograph, reproduced in an entirely inappropriate context, along with a message to fathers everywhere, in what might be interpreted by an unreasonable individual such as myself, as “rubbing our noses in it”.
We can expect our prime ministers to be heroes, or complete bastards, or a blending of the two, but we don’t expect them to be phony.
The following are statements of opinion, not provable fact: Morrison is an exceptionally poor excuse for a leader. His commitment to himself is greater, by far, than his commitment to the people. He creates and expounds excuses for himself and for his failures. He “blame-shifts”, another Trumpian strategy, at the first opportunity, refusing categorically to accept responsibility for his mistakes, but glorifying himself by publicly revelling in his self-perceived success – “I stopped these”.
His public behaviours are, all too frequently, “cringeworthy”.
I can live with my dislike of Morrison, the personality, because he doesn’t otherwise affect me, but I cannot countenance the existence of Morrison the Prime Minster of Australia – in my opinion a hollow figure, a phony.
I think that I’d even swap him for Peter Dutton.