Scott Morrison's impenetrable Canberra bubble

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Scott Morrison has made much of his claim to be focused on life outside the Canberra bubble. However, Dr Martin Hirst argues, Morrison is the Canberra bubble.

OUR PRIME MINISTER is breathing the rarified air of the Canberra bubble and he exists inside a permanent, mobile bubble that protects him from the harsh realities of the world around him. How else can we explain his inability to climb a small hill while bushwalking recently? He was sweating profusely and doubled over with breathing difficulties.

Is it a lack of oxygen that is leading to Morrison’s impaired decision-making? In the last couple of months alone, we’ve seen Morrison moving from photo-op to photo-op at various sporting events and national disasters. He never has anything useful or insightful to say on these occasions. It’s all “thoughts and prayers” with the happy-clapper slogan bogan.

Scott Morrison has claimed that he is governing for the ordinary Australians, those of us fortunate to be living outside the inner-city latte belt, but the reality is that he is out of touch and living deep inside his own political bubble.

The aim of the game is to wedge the opposition, keep up a relentless schedule of photo opportunities and not sit still long enough for your opponents to get a fix on your actual position.

The harsh truth is that Morrison has no regard for anything that is not of immediate political benefit. Like many postmodern conservatives, the Prime Minister knows that he must be in constant campaign mode.

The Morrison Government is lacking in vision, ambition and any sense at all of finding a direction for Australia to navigate climate change, global recession or the rank populism of white nationalism.

There is no time for actual government or for such timeless truths such as the national interest; there is only a laser-like focus on the next political fight. The temperament must be on winning at all costs. There is no room for sentimentality or thoughtful consideration.

Events of the past week or so have made this assessment abundantly clear, but there were signs emerging as early as September. Even the Nine/Fairfax political commentator, Peter Hartcher was noticing, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘Morrison himself is the king of the bubble’.

Issues where I think it’s clear that Morrison is ignoring any distracting or upsetting noises emanating from outside of his bubble are:

Defending the indefensible:

All of these issues are built around wedge politics, not principles of fairness and equity. The real target of the Government’s action (or deliberate inaction) on these topics is to attack Labor.

The view from inside the bubble

Throughout 2018 and continuing this year, Morrison has invoked the Canberra bubble trope to avoid answering questions about his government’s policies and positions.

Morrison has adopted this phrase as an explanation when asked tough questions by journalists, to avoid answering them.

When asked about a possible dual election for the Senate and House of Representatives, he said:

“We’ve got no plans for that. That’s just more Canberra bubble chatter.”

When Michael McCormack’s leadership of the National Party was called into question, he said:

“The Canberra bubble is the Canberra bubble, I’m not distracted by it. You guys can focus on politics all you like I’m focused on what the Australian people are focused on.”

In November 2018, Morrison responded to a journalist’s question by saying:

“You’ve clearly got a hotline to the Canberra bubble on your phone as they’re feeding questions to you.”

Basically, “Canberra bubble” has become Morrison’s go-to cop-out. The idea he wants to push by repeatedly using this phrase is that the Coalition is focused on issues that really matter, that are fuelling water cooler discussions and front bar arguments — the so-called “barbecue-stoppers”.

The truth is that the concerns of ordinary Australians are the last thing that this government is concerned about. Morrison knows that, despite the election win in May this year, he is actually deeply unpopular and he knows that his best chance of political survival is to deflect attention from his government’s lack of policy agenda by blaming the opposition, public service bureaucrats and the media for his own failings.

The longer Morrison clings to power, the more Trump-like he becomes in tone, style and rhetoric. Invoking the Canberra bubble is his version of Trump’s draining the swamp.

The problem is endemic and symptomatic of the ways in which candidates for political office are selected and self-selected. The vast majority are career members of the political elite who see a seat in Parliament as a reward for services rendered. This process can have no other outcome than the creation of a Canberra bubble.

Scott Morrison is the Canberra bubble

Morrison is the paradigm example of a bubble-dwelling career politician. He was groomed from his university days as a young Liberal and stepped into Parliament from a well-paid job in the NSW branch of the Liberal Party.

Morrison is also a very good exemplar of the postmodern conservative. In this world view, truth is not only relative – “I believe it to be true, so it is” – it is totally irrelevant. As we’ve seen with Donald Trump, lying becomes second nature and does not even present as a moral problem. If your lies can be weaponised to energise a political basis of support, then they are justified.

Morrison’s appeal to a largely imaginary base of “quiet Australians” is straight from the postmodern conservative playbook. It is an emotional appeal that is gaslighting his supporters into thinking they will benefit from their silence. The truth is they are being screwed by Coalition policies.

Today the Canberra bubble is a way of containing the fallout from all the poor decision-making and policy vacuum that are the hallmarks of the Morrison Administration.

Perhaps the biggest issue for Morrison is the total lack of accountability and his refusal to hold his own ministers to standards of honesty and propriety. Being inside the bubble of his own making means that Morrison can be blithely tone-deaf to his own hypocrisy.

For example, take this statement from an August 2019 speech to Canberra public servants, in which Morrison makes it clear that ministers are the ultimate decision-makers and responsibility-takers:

"A public servant providing advice must exercise all due diligence and professional care in its preparation, but it is the minister who must decide as it is they who will face the public and be held to account. This is how it should be."

Except that Morrison does not live or govern according to this gospel.

This week we’ve seen the Prime Minister in action, defending Angus Taylor and allowing him to retain his position on the front bench despite a NSW police inquiry into how forged documents came to be used within the Minister’s office to defame the Lord Mayor of Sydney with false allegations and doctored numbers.

Taylor has refused point-blank to explain how he came to be in possession of the clearly forged numbers and Morrison is refusing to hold this minister to any kind of account.

Instead, Morrison called the NSW Police Commissioner to check on the strike force investigation of Taylor and then came back into Parliament to declare an all clear, nothing to see here, move on.

You can’t get more bubble than that.

You can follow Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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