Take this, where he is trying to get you to accept the fact that Scott Morrison is on the rise and there is nothing you can do about it: you have to accept Hartcher's premises unquestioningly, just as he accepts Morrison's.
A boatload of asylum seekers had crashed into the rocky cliffs of Christmas Island in stormy seas. Forty-eight people died. Forty-two survived. When some of the survivors travelled to Sydney for the funerals of their relatives, the federal government paid some of their travel costs. Morrison complained about it.Morrison diminished the humanity of those who died, and their grieving relatives. His comments then gave an insight as to how he would behave as minister, and someone like Peter Hartcher should have been awake to that. Instead, Hartcher was peeved at the then government for dumping his best source ever, Kevin Rudd. Anyone who opposed both Gillard and Rudd, as Morrison did, and who talked the language of polls and talkback radio (which people like Hartcher, and Michael Gordon from The Age, regard as the epitome of political sophistication) did not prompt scrutiny on Hartcher's part but instead a simple awe.
It was a formative moment in the public's impression of Morrison, then opposition spokesman for immigration.
"I was wary of dealing with Morrison after that," says Xenophon. "His comments were appalling." Many others had the same reaction. The former Liberal leader, John Hewson, called his remarks "insensitive, lacking appropriate compassion, even inhumane". I described him at the time as "the greatest grub in the federal parliament".
Once in power, Morrison went on to do what Labor had said was impossible. As immigration minister, he stopped the boats. Totally. He was effective.Rubbish. He stopped announcing boat turnbacks. He held farcical press conferences. He was effective only in fooling gullible clowns like Peter Hartcher and those who report to him.
His treatment of asylum seekers appeared to be exuberantly harsh. He was effective, but he was ugly.His treatment of asylum seekers has been catalogued by the Human Rights Commission, the Moss Report, and international agencies including the UN. Hatcher is wrong to gloss over that, and to elevate Canberra impressions over realities on the ground.
Second only to Tony Abbott, Morrison became the most divisive figure in the federal cabinet. When his alma mater, Sydney Boys High School, invited him to appear as the guest speaker at a fundraising dinner, nearly three hundred old boys signed a letter demanding the invitation be withdrawn. The dissenters did not want to "endorse the actions of a man who has demonstrated callous disregard for human rights".He's not a 'divisive figure', he's an arsehole. Do what a real journalist should have done and go to Sydney Boys High School, ask the boys about their migration stories and those of their parents, and realise that Morrison was a poor choice for a role like that.
Morrison suggested ...Who cares? The interests of hundreds of boys, old or not, is not trumped by some half-baked quip. Hartcher is wrong to frame this issue in this way.
"A lot of people are now asking, who is Scott Morrison?" a Labor frontbencher posed this week.This is Peter Hartcher's favourite type of journalism: anonymous source. Anonymous sources insisted for years that Costello would challenge Howard, they were there when Labor and Liberal underwent leadership challenges, they chewed up space that should have been devoted to policy - and then Peter Hartcher wrote sonorous pieces about how successive governments could not do policy because leadership. Even after Rudd was trounced in leadership ballots, Hartcher's anonymous sources were the artificial resuscitation for his political career. Rather than examine his own reporting practices he declared the whole country to be adolescent, rather than his reporting method. If you cut anonymous-source articles out of Peter Hartcher's backlog he would be left with a slender offering indeed.
Media organisations in the US and Britain apparently have rules surrounding the use of anonymous sources. These rules are frequently broken - Woodward and Bernstein's reporting of Watergate relied entirely on an anonymous source - but in Australia there are no such rules. An Australian journalist who has a story rejected due to over-reliance on anonymous sources should count themselves unlucky. Hartcher's underlings at the SMH lined up to bag this anonymous-source article online, not daring to take on Hartcher nor do anything to put their own house in order (see The proper use of anonymous sources here).
Consider three Morrison actions.Yes, let's.
First, Morrison persuaded Tony Abbott to euthanise his long cherished but half-dead pet, his forlorn paid parental leave policy ... Abbott had protected his PPL from Liberal party assassins, sustained it through six years and two elections, and spent enormous amounts of precious political capital to keep it alive. But the Senate would not endorse it.Why is Morrison not an 'assassin'? When does a Liberal Party policy become a policy? Why don't Senators get the credit that Hartcher would sheet home to Morrison?
But Abbott's new minister for social services convinced the prime minister that it was time to let the PPL die. This would free some funds for a more important purpose – improving childcare.No it won't. The 1.5% levy on big business that was to accompany the PPL has been abandoned. No funding that would have gone to PPL will go to childcare or anything else.
Second, Morrison conducted emergency surgery on an even more urgent policy disaster that he inherited.This is not policy, or even surgery; it's a cat-and-mouse game. Morrison is not a builder of policy but a stunt man attuned to the media cycle.
Three days before Christmas last year, his predecessor, Kevin Andrews, had quietly started to cut off a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of federal funding that had been expected to support community services over four years ... Morrison announced that all the community groups would keep their existing funding till June 30 while the government reconsidered the policy. He is working now on a longer-term fix.
Third, Morrison amazed many by doing something rare among Abbott government ministers. Instead of trying to ram poorly conceived policies down the throats of a reluctant country, the new minister for social services sat down and listened.Having failed to scrutinise the Abbott government in any meaningful way, Hartcher is trying to make a virtue of a necessity, to render basic competence extraordinary and deserving of gratitude.
Nick Xenophon again: "There is a public perception that Morrison is a mean, uncompromising bastard, but I've found him to be terrific to deal with."Xenophon voted before Christmas to have children released from immigration detention, as Morrison promised they would. They haven't been released. Xenophon has been made to look foolish once, and now twice with that quote; the fact that children are still in detention and that Morrison used them as bargaining chips is still the issue here.
Again, where the 'public perception' differs from reality is a failure of journalism.
The cost of the age pension today is the equivalent of 2.9 per cent of GDP. The Intergenerational Report found that this will rise to 3.6 per cent over 40 years. That equates in today's terms to $14.5 billion a year in extra spending. As Morrison points out to welfare advocates, that's equal to the cost of the full-fledged National Disability Insurance Scheme.Or, equal to the cost of 15 F-35s, or [insert your idea of $14.8b of public sector bloat here]. While Morrison isn't the Minister for Defence, but the political editor should bring a wider perspective.
... Morrison has adopted an ACOSS idea to tighten eligibility for the pension. At the moment, a couple can own their home, have $1.1 million in investments and still receive a part pension. ACOSS proposes reducing the extra assets threshold to about $800,000 instead. This measure alone would save the budget $1.5 billion a year without hurting the poorest pensioners.Morrison has accepted nothing of the sort: no announcement, no commitment whatsoever, another 'consideration' designed to disarm ACOSS and fool Hartcher.
Morrison is also working to improve childcare.Childcare is an issue of direct interest to my family, and I'm not convinced Morrison won't make things worse. Note Hartcher does not know or care enough to investigate what the problems are and who the knowledgeable stakeholders might be. Even if you give Morrison the benefit of the doubt, sincere and well-meant measures can be counterproductive; Hatcher can't tell, relying entirely on Canberra shenanigans rather than policy outcomes.
Labor has been surprised and a little taken aback at Morrison's new collegiality. When he first sat down with Labor's childcare spokesman, Kate Ellis, to seek common ground, she, like Xenophon, was wary. Was Morrison wanting to meet just so he could say he was meeting? Look at me, I'm the new, warm and friendly, bipartisan Scott Morrison! But eventually Ellis decided he was serious. He really does want to put together a practical and responsible childcare policy, she decided. And he's not being nice for the sake of it – he wants to get it through the parliament. Bipartisanship is practical politics.Bipartisan outcomes can be impractical, as Manus Island shows. Policy does not end once a bill passes through the parliament; this is so obvious that it ought to go without saying, but only if you could negate it could you support Hartcher's belief that "[b]ipartisanship is practical politics".
Childcare is expected to be the centrepiece of a families package that the government plans to announce in the next month or so, before the budget.Covering off with people who know about childcare will enable you to evaluate this package, otherwise you rely entirely on he-said-she-said from Morrison and Ellis. On this government's form it's likely that the budget will undercut the package, and that Hartcher will not notice until someone in the sector points it out (and then the coverage will be about "controversy" rather than the issue itself).
But the government will also demand offsetting concessions from the Senate on some cost-cutting measures already before it.Morrison won't sit down and listen to them, it would seem, just demand. This goes against Hartcher's leopard-changing-spots narrative, doesn't it.
Morrison sees childcare as a social issue, but also an economic one. A key aim – to give more single parents the childcare support they need to get into the workforce. It's about participation. Single income families with young kids need extra help with childcare to hold down a job. Morrison wants to give it to them.Morrison isn't entitled to be taken at his word, as Hartcher unwittingly demonstrates later in his piece by reference to Morrison's promise-everything-deliver-nothing approach on asylum seekers. He can't imagine why children would need education, or even to be free of abuse and neglect; that such a man now wants to look after children, or would even know where to start, strains the credibility of everyone but Thirsty Pete.
This economic theme of participation is to be a recurring theme in Morrison's approach to reforming social services.
Tony Abbott's whole political outlook assumes that Australia's mothers are, and want to be, stay-at-home-mums like his own wife. Any "package" put up would not have the comprehensive policy reinforcement it would need to succeed. Hartcher can't pick that because he has no respect for policy in that area.
Peter Hartcher has been lost since his career high-point as Rudd's apologist. He couldn't get any inside running from Abbott. who didn't need Hartcher. Hartcher tried Joe Hockey but Hockey faltered, ceasing to be a leadership contender after the 2014 budget and then suing Fairfax.
Hartcher tried a Woodward-style imagined dialogue with Julie Bishop and Abbott before the latter's leadership was challenged - but Julie Bishop doesn't need him either. The Sydney Morning Herald barely reaches into Sydney's western suburbs, petering out long before Bishop's powerbase in Perth. Hartcher can't go back to Labor; they're awake to him. He can't go beyond the major parties because he regards them as freaks, notwithstanding a longterm decline in support for the majors that Abbott and Shorten look to accelerate.
Now he's lit upon the idea that Morrison is the coming man, and is giving him the green-light absence of scrutiny. We'll see whether a deft media operator like Morrison needs a clapped-out groupie like Hartcher, to what extent, and to what ends.