For years, the part of Mr Do-no-wrong was occupied by Tony Abbott. In the Howard government, ministers and backbenchers were castigated for speaking out of turn –Abbott could say what he liked, and did. At the 2007 election, when the Coalition needed all the help it could get, Abbott’s silly pronouncements embarrassed Liberal candidates across the land. When Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull led the Liberal Party they had to put up with Abbott’s often unhelpful interventions; sending him to the backbench either never occurred to them, or did and proved too scary.
Now, the part is played by Scott Morrison.
Morrison had been something of a media tart in opposition, talking big about what he was gunna do. In office as Minister for Immigration, he stopped talking. He refused to comment on “operational matters” of his job that were, actually, central to the very point of his job and notions of democratic accountability.
The Labor opposition missed a big opportunity when they failed to bell him as a secretive creep, giving rise to suspicion that they’d behave the same way if given another crack at government. His behaviour casts doubt on his unverified pledge that he stopped asylum-seekers coming to Australia by boat.
Promising ministerial careers have ended after lesser debacles than the riot on Manus Island last year. Reza Barati, an asylum-seeker inmate, was killed. A Senate committee found the riot “eminently foreseeable” but Morrison, as minister responsible for the detention centre and Barati’s guardian, escaped censure. He escaped censure from Abbott too, of course, but also from the press gallery; it was as though the government could not have been held responsible for conditions in an institution within its purview.
Tony Abbott had whittled down his lavish paid parental leave scheme over time, but he had taken it to two elections and consistently used it as his most tangible shield against charges of misogyny and sexism. Had it been a genuine personal commitment Abbott would have introduced it as soon as possible after being elected. When he finally dumped the policy, Abbott said he was putting more money into childcare.
In 2009 the Productivity Commission recommended that childcare should get the money promised by politicians for PPL. Yet, the credit for averting a policy whose cost far outweighed its benefits went not to the Commission but to Morrison, who stepped up to claim credit for increased childcare resources, promising to work bipartisanly with a startled opposition. The press gallery loves bipartisanship and reported the very promise of better resources for childcare as further proof of Morrison’s effectiveness. Abbott had clung to PPL for too long and Morrison weaned him off it; now we see who’s really running this joint.
When the budget was finally released on Tuesday, the narrative was still alive that the attractive but inappropriate PPL had given way to a simpler, better and fairer childcare system. Hockey and Abbott had the limelight on them. They knew that Shorten would have his go in two days, but nobody counted on Morrison.
It was Morrison who described the situation where women in permanent employment can claim both the basic government paid-parental-leave scheme, and any such scheme their employer might offer, as a “rort”. It's an evocative word, a provocative word, and yet Morrison has largely escaped responsibility for using it.
Abbott used much milder language to describe his shift in policy, but he has worn the full brunt of betrayal and disappointment from those who had been convinced that a man who offered women little might come through for them where they needed it. Mia Freedman does her woman-scorned thing, covering the issues:
- The strong, confident women surrounding Abbott are there to support him, and he in turn supports them. Freedman, like many women, assumed that he could and would extrapolate beyond them to the women of Australia; she was wrong. The only women who will get a break from Tony Abbott are those who had formed a close personal and supportive relationship with him well before September 2013.
- The strong, confident women surrounding Abbott aren't what they were. His daughters are spoiled. His wife takes less interest in her husband's career than anyone in her position since Bettina Gorton. His chief of staff has gone to ground.
- All those points Freedman lists about Abbott acting against women's interests should have shown the inevitable fate of PPL. A government that won't even fund women's refuges but might spend $10.1b on PPL? Dream on.
- People wanted to believe in PPL, and in Abbott, against all the evidence. When Julia Gillard nailed him on misogyny, PPL enabled him to draw attention to her childlessness and her cuts to welfare payments to poorer mothers.
Recently, however, Morrison is steadily accruing more and more credit.
Morrison was praised for his handling of childcare until days ago. Morrison was a member of the Expenditure Review Committee that signed off the budget. Morrison did a lot of the spruiking in the lead-up to the budget, more than Hockey as many commentators noted. Yet strangely, as the PPL/childcare furore rages, the Minister for Social Services is unscathed. He hasn't gone to ground, keeping his profile up throughout; the vigorous questioning of the press gallery hasn't troubled him.
Joe Hockey had hoped a cautious budget might save his political skin. He did himself no favours when Laurie Oakes drew him out on "double dipping", but Morrison could have smoothed the waters had it suited him.
Matthias Cormann and Josh Frydenberg were both accused of "double dipping". The speedy discovery of this by press gallery journalists who are better at catching drops than conducting investigative journalism is suspicious. It was fascinating to watch both men try to deflect the accusation by denying double dipping was even a thing.
Cormann controls a number of party-room votes among WA Liberals and Frydenberg is a player in the Victorian Libs. Both men stood by Abbott in February, both will be key when the leadership is raised again. Watch Morrison praise both men, and their wives (which Abbott hasn't), offering a quid that might yield a quo from these men the next time Abbott goes wobbly.
Malcolm Turnbull earlier refused to back the language his frontbench colleagues Joe Hockey and Scott Morrison have used to criticise the existing paid parental leave arrangements.So?
Andrew Probyn quotes from Morrison but puts the blame on Abbott and Hockey. Abbott is the head of government, so ultimate responsibility is his - but he is soft on Morrison:
This is policy development by the lowest common denominator - that if the worker in the bakery doesn't get it, nor should anyone else.This is a lowest-common-denominator government and Scott Morrison is a lowest-common-denominator guy. This should be clear by now, even to press gallery journalists. Some of us were awake to this before September 2013, but never mind that now.
Morrison's charge is that Labor and the unions struck a secret deal to entrench the so-called "double dipping".Liberal minister takes a swipe at Labor and the unions to rally a base cowed by the public storm over this issue. Almost as obvious as the deal over "double dipping", when you think about it.
Not only is it awful judgment and bad politics at a time the Prime Minister and his Treasurer can least afford it, it may also prove to be a policy of false economy ... This, from the side of politics that spent five years railing against the inadequacy of the existing PPL scheme, proposing instead to give women up to $75,000 (later trimmed to $50,000) for six months leave under Tony Abbott's "fair dinkum" paid parental leave scheme.My kids are about the same age as Probyn's, but I'm not a press gallery journalist so I was never taken in by Abbott's carry-on. I mean: Abbott. "fair dinkum". Pfft.
Here is the killer:
Tuesday's Budget confirmed the Abbott scheme would have cost $10.1 billion over four years. Its ditching in February amounted to the biggest saving in Hockey's Budget.The fiscal credit for that saving will be enjoyed by the relevant minister (Morrison) long after the Treasurer who brought that budget down (Hockey) has been forgotten.
Earlier this year, Abbott demonstrated a capacity to lance political boils.I must have missed that - did this happen when he was fighting off threats to his leadership? Proof positive of the failure of press gallery journalism is the idea that Tony Abbott has changed. Abbott hasn't changed. The disingenuousness and ineptitude of this government is a given.
If he truly has changed, he'll be lancing this one early. It's rotten policy and stinking rhetoric.
Now Hockey, Abbott, and the government, depends utterly upon Morrison as the responsible minister to find a detailed solution to the whole PPL/childcare issue, and negotiate it through the Senate. He is both arsonist and fire brigade, hoping - knowing - that only the latter role will be remembered by a press gallery thirsty for a new hero. There are no flies on Scott Morrison. You can't even see where they've been. His run to the Prime Ministership will not be questioned.