Back in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, snapback was what passed for the Morrison Government’s vision of where it wanted the country to land after a massive government stimulus had done its work.
JobKeeper, JobSeeker and all of the other measures would be quietly retired once normality returned.
As marketing – and this is a Government that takes marketing rather seriously – snapback had its problems. There’s something rather violent about the image. If something doesn’t snap back, it might just snap off. People who lose their temper just snap.
Snapback is an image of reaction and reversion: it implies a return to some former state. Modern governments like to imagine they are “moving forward”, as Julia Gillard said 24 times in five minutes while announcing the 2010 Election.
As snapback wandered off into the sunset, we began to hear about comeback. This one apparently came from professional marketers, so voters can be pleased as punch their tax dollars have been hard at work.
Comeback relies on sporting analogy. Comeback is what Carlton used to do in the good old days, when it came from 44 points behind to win the 1970 AFL Grand Final against Collingwood. Comeback is what Scott Morrison did in the 2019 Election. Comeback is about getting behind but coming out in front.
Snapback was defensive politics. There was a subtext: we might be spending billions of dollars, paying people to stay home, doubling the unemployment benefit and leaving a massive debt for future generations to pay back. And we are practising the kind of profligacy we normally attribute to the Labor Party and the Greens. But never mind.
Once it’s over, Superman will become Clark Kent again and the Incredible Hulk will revert to Bruce Banner.
The spirit of the Morrison Government, insofar as it can be discerned beyond its incessant marketing and its quagmire of scandal, is better captured by snapback than comeback. This is a Government that has resisted every opportunity offered by the greatest crisis faced by an Australian Government since World War II to break the policy gridlock of a generation.
The forgiving would point to its success in helping to steer Australia through the pandemic. To expect policy innovation in such an environment of crisis is to ask too much. The Government has had difficulties of quite sufficient scale and complexity to keep it fully busy. There will be time for policy adventures later, when we are safely vaccinated and feeling more secure.
There is a long list of stalled policy challenges that would fit this narrative.
The running on China policy is being left to sinophobic and shouty backbenchers rather than being subjected to the disciplines of a government process concerned with the national interest.
Religious freedom – deemed so urgent and significant just a year or so ago that one might have imagined that Australia’s pagans were already marinating the nation’s Christians for a hungry lion’s dinner – is barely heard of these days.