As the year comes to an end, political commentators in the mainstream media have been giving their analysis of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance in 2020.
It is an end of year tradition, a wrap-up of the political events of the year. This year, one can’t help reflect on the remarkable parallels some of this analysis has with the children’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’.
The tradition kicked off back in November when Sky News host Chris Smith commented that Scott Morrison “has had a very, very good year”.
Recently, Sky's Kieran Gilbert interviewed The Australian’s Paul Kelly. Gilbert gushed “the Prime Minister, he has had one amazing year himself”. Say what?
Kelly responded with all the enthusiasm of an undertaker. This one episode could be dismissed as an anomaly; after all, it was Sky, it was Gilbert and it was Kelly — a trifecta of dyed-in-the-wool Right-wing conservatives right there.
Surprisingly, last week, another two Australian journalists suggested Mr Morrison had had a good year and emerged strongly. This incredible claim was their genuine, professional analysis.
On Friday 11 December, while discussing the last show for the year on the News Breakfast couch, ABC's Insiders host David Speers mentioned he thought Mr Morrison had had a good year.
On the very same day, as if by Christmas magic, chief political correspondent at the Sydney Morning Herald David Crowe published an opinion piece in which he states:
‘Morrison emerges in a strong position when judged on the numbers. Australian elections are almost always close, of course, and it is fair to expect the next one to be the same. But governments lose elections, oppositions do not win them. Morrison has not handed the next one to Albanese.’
Speers and Crowe really are “glass half full” kind of guys when it comes to Mr Morrison’s 2020. Their recollection of the events of the year seemed somewhat as rose-coloured as Mr Morrison’s end-of-year report card. Even a brief recap of some of the events of Morrison’s year does not in any way lend itself to the narrative that he has had a good year. Far from it.
Perhaps Speers, Crowe et al didn’t recall the thousands of angry Australians who protested in the streets last January, calling for Mr Morrison to be sacked for going on holiday to Hawaii while Australia burned. Perhaps they forgot the people of Cobargo just as Mr Morrison has.
Did Speers, Crowe, Smith and Kelly forget about the resignation of Minister Bridget McKenzie in February as a result of the $100 million sports rorts scandal? After weeks of standing by his embattled Minister, Mr Morrison was forced to accept McKenzie’s resignation. It was later revealed that 136 emails linked the Prime Minister to the sports rorts affair. Morrison took no responsibility — still hasn’t to this day.
By March, Mr Morrison’s year was not getting any better as the reality of the pandemic literally hit home.
Morrison tried hard to appear prime ministerial when he announced on March 15, 2020:
“In specific cases where we have Australians on cruise ships then there will be some bespoke arrangements that will be put in place directly under the command of the Australian Border Force to ensure the relevant protections are put in place.”
Four days after this announcement, Ruby Princess docked at Circular Quay, 2,800 passengers disembarked and scattered COVID-19 across the length and breadth of Australia. 900 people tested positive, 28 people died. Mr Morrison took no responsibility.
Things went from bad to worse in April for Morrison. Australia was in lockdown, massive unemployment queues and an increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths from the virus in the federally controlled sector of aged care. Rather than create a national aged care COVID-19 plan, Morrison decided to use his considerable political weight to demand aged care facilities open their facilities to allow more visitors in — in the middle of a global pandemic. Yes, you read that correctly.
To make matters worse, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne appeared on Insiders on 19 April and announced Australia’s push for an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus in China. Essentially, the Foreign Minister upped the ante on escalating tensions between Australia and China. It later emerged that she did that because she wanted an announcement for the show.
Predictably, China did not take it well and China carries a grudge better than most. To this day, neither Mr Morrison nor any of his ministers can get their Chinese counterparts on the phone. Talks are non-existent.
May was not a good month for Morrison either. That was when Treasury made the biggest accounting error in Australian history, a $60 billion mistake. Through pure luck, the accounting error gave Mr Morrison an unexpected windfall of $60 billion but could’ve just easily gone the other way. Morrison chose not to extend the windfall to those Australians who fell through the JobKeeper cracks or had been left behind entirely, like those in the Arts sector, universities, some casuals and foreign workers.
Mr Morrison had previously argued that “We’ve got to draw the line somewhere”, but didn’t redraw that line even when he got a $60 billion unanticipated windfall.
By June 2020, Australian states and territories had their individual restrictions and some domestic borders were closed, as were international borders. Mr Morrison was publicly encouraging all Australians to follow health advice while simultaneously undermining state and territory leaders for following the health advice by demanding domestic borders reopen.
Morrison wanted things to snap back but the state and territory leaders did not bow to his demands. Later, they achieved world-leading success in controlling COVID-19 because they did not cave into the Prime Minister’s demands. Mr Morrison later accepted the credit for their success.
July saw Morrison shut down Parliament. For months, Mr Morrison had been encouraging Australians to restart the economy, saying: “We can’t keep Australia under the doona.” So, you can imagine how popular the decision to shut Parliament was received among those whom the PM had been demanding to get back to work.
In August, a Senate inquiry into aged care and the hundreds of COVID-19-related deaths asked the Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck how many COVID-19 deaths there had been. The Minister didn’t know. The inquiry revealed the Morrison Government had never created a COVID-19 plan for all aged care facilities. Morrison supported his Minister and no one was sacked.
By September, Morrison was getting increasingly frustrated with the inertia of state and territory leaders on the issue of opening borders. Morrison, in his infinite wisdom, thought the best way to deal with this was to bully Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk for following the health advice. It didn’t go down well with Queenslanders — in fact, they showed their support for their Premier at the ballot box the following month by returning Palaszczuk for a history-making third term on 31 October.
The same Mr Morrison who was the darling of Queensland in May 2019 was ballot box poison in October 2020 in Queensland.
The year still didn’t get any better for Morrison. In October, he issued his ill-fated promise to bring all stranded Australians home. At the time of publication of this piece, less than two weeks before Christmas, thousands of Australians remain stranded overseas. Morrison failed to fulfil his promise to bring them home by Christmas.
November was another bad month for Mr Morrison, with the Robodebt class action being settled out-of-court for $1.2 billion. Morrison stood by all his ministers, no one was sacked and Morrison refused to accept responsibility even though he had been the architect of the illegal scheme. The Prime Minister remained characteristically unempathetic to the catastrophic repercussions of the Robodebt scheme. November was not a good month for Mr Morrison.
To round the year out, Mr Morrison had another shocker of a month in December. The Prime Minister ended the year in a foul mood at being snubbed at the UK Climate Ambition Summit. Morrison had had delusions of grandeur of securing a speaking gig, a privilege reserved for those doing their best on climate action. Even though Mr Morrison said he’d announce that he won’t cheat on the Paris Agreement with carry-over credits from the Kyoto Agreement, he still didn’t get a gig. Reports say the PM was quite ‘livid’.
It's unclear what the Prime Minister was expecting — perhaps for the international community to treat him the same way as the mainstream media in Australia does. You know, like when he’s had an absolute shocker of a year and the media says it’s been a good one.
Mr Morrison’s year has not been a good one, not by any stretch of the imagination, despite what you read or see in the media.
You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.
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