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Scott Morrison’s political recovery falls flat

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the National Press Club address (Screenshot via YouTube)

This week’s National Press Club address by Scott Morrison was hyped as an opportunity for the Prime Minister to recover from the bushfire crisis and set out an agenda for his government. In the end, it was a great big nothing, writes Dr Martin Hirst.

WE LEARNT this week that “Scotty from Marketing” brought in some outside help to workshop “sales strategies for the new year” according to a report in the Australian Financial Review. Apparently, Morrison wasn’t there, but his staff were given a pep talk by self-promoting advertising guru, Russel Howcroft of Gruen fame.

It’s a shame Morrison skipped the group hug. Given his performance at the National Press Club on Wednesday, he could have used a bit of help in the sales talk department.

We know what Morrison and his staff thought was the key take out from the Press Club address because parts of his speech were selectively leaked to the media the day before. Politicians do this when they want to frame something pre-emptively and get their message out in front of the news cycle.

The message Morrison was pushing in the extract was that he wanted to position the Federal Government as the leading force when emergencies like this summer’s bushfires become a national crisis situation:

I believe, however, there is now a clear community expectation that the Commonwealth should have the ability to respond in times of national emergencies and disasters, particularly through deployment of our defence forces in circumstances where the life and property of Australians have been assessed to be under threat.

 

After this fire season and before the next one, this is an area where we need to get clarity and make some decisions, including changing the law where necessary.

Morrison duly delivered and certainly, there will be a focus on this element of the speech in coming days. This is deliberate on Morrison’s part. His proposal was deliberately short on detail, almost guaranteeing that journalists and political chat shows will be consumed with filling in the gaps and speculating about what the Prime Minister meant and what the states’ and territories’ responses might be.

One glaring omission in Morrison’s remarks about the declaration of national emergencies is how they will be defined. At the moment, the focus is on bushfires and other “natural disasters” (more on that in a moment), but there is no explicit limit.

I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to think that episodes of civil unrest could also become a “state of emergency” justifying the domestic deployment of ADF troops on the streets. We’ve already had comments from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton seeking to criminalise climate protests.

Late last year, Peter Dutton made comments suggesting that protestors should lose welfare benefits (simultaneously feeding that atrocious stereotype), be subject to a mandatory jail term and labelled them anarchists who should be “named and shamed” for protesting.

Don’t be complacent. The ground is being prepared for further assaults on the rights and liberties of climate protestors. And I would argue that other sections of Morrison’s speech to the Press Club also provide cover for this to occur.

“Climate action now”

One clear sign of the marketing push from Morrison was his repetition – I counted at least six times – of the Coalition’s new three-word slogan: “Climate action now”.

Our Prime Minister wants to convince us that he is the new action man who can save us from the damaging impacts of climate change, but he didn’t actually say the words “climate change” in the speech. He danced around it and, certainly, he wants to be seen to be doing things. Something. Anything.

Anything, that is, except dealing with Australia’s emissions, looking for alternatives to fossil fuels or stepping up as a player on the world stage arguing for nations to do more to prevent out-of-control global warming.

So, what does “climate action now” mean?

Well, there’s a list of actions that the Morrison Government will take, including continuing to make the false claim that Australia’s emissions are falling and that Australian coal is cleaner than coal from elsewhere.

But most of all, “climate action now” means implementing Morrison’s mantra of “adaptation and resilience,” not “we should do something about global emissions”.

And all of his stock answers were well-rehearsed and duly trotted out at the Press Club.

Building dams, developing new crop varieties, improving planning for natural disasters is climate action now.

 

The development of drought resistant crops. That’s climate action now.

 

Sustainable stock management, soil and water regeneration and the like. Climate action now.

 

[These are] among initiatives we are taking to build future climate resilience. Climate action now.

And of course, the kicker, which in the end became just another way of saying “it’s all Labor’s fault”:

“So our climate action agenda is a practical one, it goes beyond targets and summits and it’s driven by technology, not taxation.”

Scotty from Marketing wants us to know where the Government’s priorities lie because taking action means “resilience and adaptation”. It also means that “hazard reduction is more important than emissions reduction”.

Because, you know – or at least Scotty wants you to know – that no matter what Australia might want to do, the truth is we can’t do much so we’d better adapt:

”…adaptation is how we prepare for the climate risk we cannot reduce.”

Fracking reduces emissions

No, that’s not a typo, this is what Morrison wants us all to believe:

“We need to get the gas from under our feet. There is no credible energy transition plan for an economy like Australia in particular, that does not involve the greater use of gas as an important transition fuel.”

Unfortunately for Scotty, the science doesn’t support any scenario in which switching to natural gas might reduce carbon emissions. In fact, the CO2 emissions from gas are just going to replace any reduction in emissions from coal.

This wasn’t the only porky in Morrison’s barrel either.

The comments on “climate action” repeated the now solidly debunked lie that Australia’s emissions are falling and (to use Scotty’s favourite marketing phrase) “meet and beat” our Kyoto commitment:

“Our 2030 target is set and we intend to meet it and we intend to beat it. Just as we previously beat our Kyoto one and Kyoto two targets, when all the critics said we wouldn’t. And are saying so again about 2030.”

Of course, the rest of the world is not happy about Australia using the Kyoto “carry-over” credits and there’s a strong argument to say that there is no legal basis for Australia to do so.

Bridget’s in the room…akward!

We shouldn’t be surprised that Morrison and his cohorts are happily ignoring the legal niceties around the carry-over credits. It fits in with the Government’s general attitude of ignoring uncomfortable legal opinion, just like they have in the Bridget McKenzie sports rorts scandal.

Bridget McKenzie was in the room for Morrison’s speech, along with most of the front bench and it’s pretty certain she would have been squirming when the questions started popping.

To their credit, Mark Riley of Channel 7, The Guardian’s Sarah Martin and the ABC’s Andrew Probyn all attempted to put Morrison on the spot with their questions, but he was having none of it.

He waffled and deflected in response to Mark Riley asking if his office had any responsibility for the rorting. He angrily dismissed Sarah Martin by rejecting the premise of her question. And he brushed off Andrew Probyn by arrogantly smirking that he would leave the editorialising to the media.

Basically, Morrison’s position was that he’d done nothing wrong and that the grants scheme was all above board and, really, it was all about giving the girls somewhere to change.

When Michelle Grattan and Laura Tingle tried to get some answers on the rorting issue towards the end of the Q&A, Morrison again retreated into condescension and angry bluster.

At the end of the day, there was nothing new from Morrison. He hasn’t shifted from his arrogant and bullying demeanour, there’s no action to reduce emissions or deal with climate change and there’s a threat hanging in the air that the army will be used to deal with protestors.

He might as well not have bothered.

Martin Hirst is a journalist, author and academic. You can follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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