MUNGO MACCALLUM: Morrison's post-Wentworth stable chaos

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Prime MInister Scott Morrison (Screenshot via YouTube)

Scott Morrison is ploughing on regardless — business as usual. There is no need to change direction. Rather the imperative is to go on pretty much with what we are doing, but more aggressively.

ALBERT EINSTEIN once said that insanity was repeating the same actions in the hope of producing a different result. But what would Einstein know? He never worked in marketing.

ScoMo ProMo knows the way to get the outcome you want can only be achieved through remorseless repetition, preferably by shouting the same thing more and more loudly. In the end, those who have not been persuaded will be battered into submission.

Well, that’s the theory. Unfortunately, it does not always work in practice — jobs and growth, the great company tax cuts strategy, had to be severely curtailed before the Coalition could defiantly call it a victory.

Our politicians generally justify their tergiversations in the name of the great economist, John Maynard Keynes, who once said:

”When the facts change I change my mind. What do you do sir?”

But what would Keynes know? He never worked in marketing either.

Our dauntless Prime Minister understands that any concession to unwelcome facts would be a sign of weakness. So get used to another six months of slogans, non-sequiturs, internal contradictions and relentless negativity. That Morrison is confident is what the voters want. And even if they don’t, that’s what they’re going to get. In the instability and chaos Morrison so perceptively foresaw, there is really nothing else to offer.

The Libs and their mad right boosters justify this stance by declaring that, just as Malcolm Turnbull was never a real Liberal, Wentworth is not a real electorate. It may have voted their way for well over a century, but let’s face it, it is little more than a refuge for spoiled, rich do-gooders, latté sippers and bleeding hearts, who have never had to worry about anything important and can be left to indulge their fantasies of compassion — like not leaving incarcerated children to go mad and die.

And that could be – and usually was – ignored in the bigger picture devised by Morrison and his colleagues. True, it might be a bit tough on the kids but for the greater good – votes in the marginal seats of the western suburbs – the policy must be stern and immovable. As Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has made clear, even the smallest spark of human decency must be expunged from any consideration which would weaken the great goal.

And so the idea Morrison hinted at of rejigging the New Zealand offer to resettle some (though far from all) of the refugees in the frantic lead up to Wentworth is now, it seems, too hard to manage and, of course, it is all Labor’s fault. Back to business.

But it is not turning out quite that way — the times may be finally a-changing. And interestingly, the rumblings emerged before Wentworth and Kerryn Phelps uncompromising promise that getting the children off Nauru would be her overwhelming priority.

During the campaign, we heard that 11 refugees and their families had been medivacked to the Australian mainland — and without the customary opposition from Border Force and the need for court orders. The official line is that as soon as they are diagnosed and treated they will be returned to Nauru but, in practice, some 600 have already followed the same course and have not yet been summarily returned. There is at least a suspicion that the Government is trying, surreptitiously but deliberately, to solve the problem while preserving the brutal rhetoric.

Even the dwindling handful of moderates in the Liberal Party room have started to raise their concerns, Julia Banks is on her way out of the Liberal Party anyway, so has nothing to lose by speaking out, but others are murmuring too. And most of the crossbenchers are eager to move.

Most importantly, there are signs that the public’s willingness to accept the catchcries of the politicians – national security, stop the boats, evil people smugglers, tragic deaths at sea and the rest – is becoming more sceptical. The success of the controversial turn back policy has now been confirmed and the horror stories of the medical experts are gaining more and more credence.

The possibility of an infant death as a result of the political solution is being taken seriously and Morrison, however reluctantly, is realising that perhaps he can no longer rely on the issue, which has served him for so well for so long.

Certainly, another leader is already worried. The Nauru autocrat Baron Waqa has redoubled his efforts to smother scrutiny and dissent, expelling medical staff in increasing numbers and silencing the judiciary. And, in this case, our foot-in-mouth Environment Minister, Melissa Price, has got it pretty right: with this bit of the Pacific, it is always about the money. Australia pays the impoverished island a motza to work as a gaoler, enforcer and suppressor and Waqa trousers a good chunk of it for himself. He is not about to relinquish such valuable host stages lightly.

But Morrison’s professional experience will tell him that it is all about customer preference — if the demand becomes unstoppable, the product must be withdrawn. And if the brand itself becomes tarnished, like the Pacific Solution is threatening to do, it will have to be changed. Wentworth may not have been the start of the movement, but it has provided an effective catalyst. And perhaps, just perhaps, we can remove the atrocity and shame of offshore detention from our must-have list.

Morrison is determined to move slowly, if at all, but he cannot simply wish away the Wentworth result of a political tantrum brought on by generations of wishy-washy affluence — the politics of envy, as our millionaire right-wing commentators are wont to call any desire for reform.

Closing Nauru and Manus would not save the world, or even the Government, but it would be a vast improvement. And all things are relative — surely even Morrison must agree with Einstein on that.

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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