Morrison embraces U.S.-style populist conservatism as desperation sets in

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(Image via @shane25873 / Twitter)

Even after it was sent a clear message by the Australian electorate in the Wentworth by-election and polling continues to deteriorate, the Morrison Government insists it is still in control of the nation’s political narrative. 

Coalition members and pro-LNP media commentators have been quick to dismiss the outcome of Wentworth as an outlier, stating that despite the seat’s previous status as one of the safest Liberal seats in the nation, the area was unrepresentative of Australia in general.

They argue that it was solely the local demographics and political ideologies of the electorate that tore the seat from the Coalition’s grasp, never to be repeated elsewhere.

Except that narrative is blatantly untrue, despite going through the new leader “honeymoon” period, the polling shows a Coalition Government in decline. While in some states there is a dimmer view of the LNP’s leadership of the country than others, their popularity remains low nationwide.

As its desperation to find a way to gain some form of political traction continues to grow, the policy thought bubbles that would have previously been dismissed by the Liberal Party room are being considered for implementation.

With the Government’s flagging fortunes, Scott Morrison seems to be attempting to “Americanise” his political narrative, in an effort to repeat the tactical successes of conservative U.S politicians such as President Donald Trump.

The past few weeks have been quite an education for the Australian public. From the bait and switch with the funding cuts to the NDIS to provide for the Drought Relief Fund and the proposed Jerusalem embassy move, the Prime Minister has embraced what he believes is politically advantageous, rather than truly acting in the interests of the Australian people.

When Labor criticised his plan to move the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – there wasn’t a real plan, they hadn’t got that far – Morrison accused Labor of anti-Semitism. This is known in the U.S. as the go-to defence whenever anyone voices criticism of the U.S. policy on Israel and there is no appropriate factual counter-argument.

Despite the complete lack of a thought-out and consultive strategy on the prospective embassy move, former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce remains committed to admonishing Malcolm Turnbull — for pointing out the obvious fact that moving the embassy will affect Australia’s ties with Muslim nations throughout the world, including Indonesia.

With Joyce saying in an interview with Sky News:

“It’s become messy now because Mr Turnbull’s gone over there (to Indonesia), and rather than putting the fire out, he’s thrown petrol on it. Now we’ve got to try and manage that.”

In an attempt to reinvigorate his "everyman" image, Morrison has proposed that a Drought Relief Fund is created “for non-rainy days”, which in and of itself is probably a wise move, as our nation’s farmers continue to face the harsh realities of our changing climate. However, instead of finding the money through closing multinational tax loopholes or postponing corporate tax cuts, Morrison has instead chosen to cut the funding to the National Disability Insurance Scheme instead (NDIS).

This strategy is very similar to one employed in recent years by President Trump, who slashed corporate tax rates then claimed the budget needed the revenue, leading him to ask his Cabinet secretaries for a five per cent budget cut on all U.S. Federal Government departments. This is a move which his political opponents have characterised as an attack on America’s most vulnerable, who rely on government healthcare and welfare programs.

With the clock ticking down to the 2019 Federal Election, Morrison’s politically rudderless government continues to meander from one policy thought bubble to the next, without any coherent attempt to create a policy platform that would have any success resonating with the electorate as a whole.

Despite Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s lack of personal popularity, Labor is quickly building an appealing political narrative around fairness and changes to policy that would make Australia a more egalitarian nation. 

With a policy platform built on idea’s that are ideologically compatible with the electorate such a commitment to Medicare and increased support to the most vulnerable in our society, Labor’s policy team are giving the Morrison government an education on how to successfully craft a political narrative.

While brands of populist conservatism have had successes in the United States and elsewhere in the world, Morrison’s attempt at channelling similar political sentiment in Australia has fallen flat. Polls reflect an electorate that has seen through Morrison’s clumsy and at time cringe-worthy attempts at being “fair dinkum”, with his net approval rating falling fast, sinking ten points in just one polling cycle.

With no real policy and an increasingly rattled backbench fearful of a repeat of Wentworth in their own seats, Morrison seems set to continue jumping from one policy to another in an attempt to get anything to appeal to a majority of the Australian people.

If Morrison continues down the path of U.S style populist conservatism, the LNP will be sent yet another message by the Australian people, that there is no interest in being governed by a Coalition that has no real political vision for the future, beyond the continuation of their own power.

Tarric Brooker is a freelance journalist and political commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @AvidCommentator.

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