Recent social media posts by Scott Morrison show a leader seizing an opportunity and playing a role to win political points, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.
In two selfies, Morrison is shown in a close up with a curry he has apparently cooked for the family and embarking on a shopping expedition wearing a mask.
The Sri Lankan curry has become the Prime Minister's trope for his self-proclaimed identity as the daggy dad with a couple of cooking skills, despite its problematic juxtaposition with the former Immigration Minister’s appalling record on the treatment of Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Morrison, as is his wont, has remained steadfastly inured to the ghastly irony of appropriating the food of those he torments as a prop for his image, the centring of himself being his primary objective.
It’s revealing, therefore, that Morrison feels the need to remind us of this treasured and carefully cultivated persona at a time when he is under scrutiny for his threats earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic to mandate rules for aged care facilities that would prevent them from isolating residents.
His government is also responsible for the supply of personal protective equipment to these facilities and there are consistent complaints that many such institutions are undersupplied, resulting, along with understaffing, in the catastrophic rate of infections in private Victorian aged care homes, for which the Commonwealth Government is responsible.
The lack of PPE was one of the factors cited as a reason for the outbreak at Newmarch House, NSW in March this year in which 16 residents died. Morrison stands accused of failing to learn from this experience — a failure that can be nothing other than wilful, given the PM’s privileged access to all the information he could want or need.
We are left with the impression that Morrison cares little for the country’s aged, an impression that does not sit well with the daggy dad persona. No dad, however daggy, would choose to leave his mum and dad or his gran and grandad in urine-soaked nappies waiting for attention from overworked and underpaid staff who can’t even get access to adequate PPE in a pandemic. And anyway, such inhumane disregard is not a signifier of dagginess, which, although possibly irritating, is not intentionally harmful and cruel.
A neoliberal believer in prosperity theology, on the other hand, very well might. There are more COVID-19 infections in privately-owned aged care homes in Victoria than in those run by the state. By far, the majority of infections are occurring in facilities that prioritise free-market principles and also lack accountability.
This reality led Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to remark that he wouldn’t put his mother in such a place — a comment that caused Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck and Health Minister Greg Hunt considerable angst.
Morrison’s apparent conversion to the mask over the weekend, as evidenced by his selfie, seems at first blush more like a reaction to the popularity of Dan Andrews – who does wear a mask – rather than an indicator of concern or responsibility. Given the PM’s consistently tardy response to the pandemic, for example going to the football sans mask, an excursion that called down the wrath of even The Australian, it’s difficult to believe he’s experienced sudden enlightenment.
Comparisons were made between Andrews and Morrison on social media that did not favour the latter after this event. Indeed, the comparison between the two is always there, if not always so overt and it always favours Andrews.
Andrews has so far been the only high profile politician to consistently appear masked and therefore has come to be associated with care, concern, responsibility, caution and an apolitical authenticity the Prime Minister conspicuously lacks. Indeed, there is much about Andrews that suggests a genuine daggy dad, in contrast to Morrison’s strained efforts to perform a role that does not come naturally to him, but that he perceives as necessary to garner votes.
We can safely assume that Morrison doesn’t spend much time in supermarkets or doing the shopping, though his social media posts imply otherwise. He’s just a dad, the post infers, like so many other dads who pop down the shops to buy the ingredients they need to cook a weekend supper for their wife and kids.
However, we know he is not such a dad and according to his wife Jenny, has never been such a dad as she revealed the depression she suffered as a consequence of being left alone for 12 years while her husband pursued his political career.
Morrison is playing catch up with his mask selfie. He doesn’t believe in the mask and never has. He does see the advantage to be gained in appearing to care.
And there we have the Morrison character in a nutshell. He seeks out the advantage to him in every situation and that is his only concern. He’ll push every boundary in search of that advantage. He’ll try anything on and if public reaction is negative, he’ll backflip and pretend it never happened.
What we know about Morrison is that there’s nothing he won’t do in the pursuit of his own ambitions. When it doesn’t work, he’ll disappear till the dust settles.
On the rare occasions when he admits a mistake, it’s because public opinion has forced his hand, not because he regrets what he doesn’t consider to be a mistake in the first place. In Morrison’s world, he doesn’t make mistakes, he simply sees how far he can push before he gets a reaction.
Dan Andrews is, unintentionally, showing Morrison up for the performance artist he is. It’s a unique situation nobody could have foreseen. Yet here we are.
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