MUNGO MACCALLUM: Morrison offers nothing

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Scott Morrison was questioned by David Speers about his response to the bushfire crisis (Screenshot via YouTube)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is telling the people what they want to hear while his approval rating plummets, writes Mungo MacCallum.

IT WAS ALMOST a throwaway line. In the course of his friendly chat welcoming David Speers to the ABC, Scott Morrison mused that his climate change policy was “evolving”. And since, as usual, he had nothing substantial to say in his ramblings, the commentators, speculators and fortune-tellers seized on the remark, investing it with genuine significance.

Was our leader finally ready to face reality? Would he confront the knuckle draggers, flat Earthers and self-interested fossil fuelers and do something serious? We waited in hope and anticipation. But of course, yet again, we were disappointed.

When ScoMo said things were evolving, he meant exactly that. And like any disciple of Charles Darwin, he knows that evolution is a long, slow process — it is not noticeable over a couple of parliamentary terms, or even a human lifetime.

The mutation that triggers evolutionary change may be a sudden one, but almost all mutations do not survive and the few that do take many generations to be embedded to supersede the less fit species that they replace. The dinosaurs lasted some 250 million years without any discernible progress — indeed, they were brought to environmental extinction before they could overcome their inertia, a thought for Morrison as he contemplates the herd of cold-blooded reptiles in his party room.

So roll on evolution, but for the foreseeable future, it will be business as usual as Morrison was quick to confirm when asked about the interview.

This does not mean he will be totally inactive — the political climate change has at least forced him into that. But it will be little more than tweaking, smoke and mirrors, distraction and spin.

The Prime Minister now insists that his government fully accepts climate change is happening. But it is patently evident that many of his backbenchers and a large chunk of his ministers accept nothing of the kind and there is a lingering suspicion that Morrison strongly sympathises with them — that he is even denying his denialism.

So, he is eager to offer money to a range of victims, from multi-billion agribusinesses to singed koalas which looks like a safe bet — although there are risks even in that, given the rushed process. After all, he definitely does not want a repeat of Kevin Rudd’s pink batt insulation scandals.

And the rest of it is little more than the usual waffle. When the inevitable inquiries report, there will be much talk of resilience and adaptation — palliative care as the patient goes steadily downhill.

We will look at more prevention, which will mean in practice more ruthless land clearing and, no doubt, tougher penalties for arsonists and looters. There are strong indications that our minister for stuff-ups, Angus Taylor, is planning to revive the idea of carbon capture to make coal slightly less polluting, with the added benefit of encouraging the big polluters, the fossil fuel magnates, to ramp up their production.

We may also talk up hydrogen, hydropower and burning waste to fuel electricity generation. But not much for the things that are actually working, mainly wind and solar.

However, there has been at least a semblance of a response to the near-universal view that Australia is not only lagging behind the civilised world but bludging on it, not doing its bit with the ludicrous excuse that because we can’t solve the problem on our own, it is better to do nothing — to go full emissions ahead until everyone else does the job and only then will we sign on.

As the rest of the world watches bemused as the bushfires blaze on and offers us comfort and succour, our government continues to play down the issue — nothing to see here except, of course, our unique environment, so drop over and we’ll slip another shrimp on the barbie just as soon as lighting barbies is permitted.

But the backlash is not just coming from overseas, pesky foreigners who should mind their own business, the country is our toy and we can break or burn it if we want to. It was all going along nicely, until Newspoll arrived last week spreading a bucket of vote retardant across the Coalition in general and Morrison in particular.

The two-party vote of 51 to 49 in Labor’s favour can be dismissed — that was the default position for many months before the last election and Bill Shorten still lost, as we will never forget reminding the bed-wetters. But the drop of eight points in ScoMo’s personal approval rating can hardly be ignored. This is not a statistical aberration or a blip within the poll’s margin of error; it is a dive, a plummet, back to the worst numbers of Bill Shorten, whose unfailing unpopularity presaged his defeat.

Morrison’s numerous apologists assure us that it will be washed away when – if – the fires are actually extinguished, but there is a far grimmer possibility — that the Murdoch columnist Graham Richardson’s constant refrain is coming true: the mob has found him out, that our leader has final been exposed as a double-dyed phony, superficially mouthing profundities but deep down hopelessly shallow.

This is the way it looks from where I sit; I have watched all the 30 Prime Ministers since Menzies and I have never seen one so inadequate. Billy McMahon may have been more risible, but even he had a version of economics and policy and usually tried to implement a coherent free enterprise agenda. Morrison offers nothing but daggy dad clichés, mendacity and evasion.

There is no point in accusing him of insincerity — he has nothing to be either sincere or insincere about.

As always, Shakespeare said it best:

‘…a walking shadow/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ Signifying nothing.’

The antihero Macbeth was despairing of life in general, but he knew a doomed and despised leader when he saw one. Actually, that would not be so bad — “nothing” could be seen as an unfortunate pause, common in the long tale of the struggle for survival of the fittest.

ScoMo is a throwback, a reversion to the primeval ooze from which intelligent life eventually emerged. Darwin would discard him. And perhaps, just perhaps, the mob is considering that this may not be the worst option.

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist who worked for many years in the Canberra Press Gallery. This article was published on 'Pearls and Irritations' and is republished with permission.

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