Scotty from Marketing: What a way to run a country

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Word is, Prime Minister Scott Morrison intensely dislikes the moniker "Scotty from Marketing" bestowed upon him last year by the Betoota Advocate.

It’s difficult to escape the strong impression that one of Morrison’s few talents is the grand announcement that, not much later, turns out to have minimum substance. Just one example is the $2 billion bushfire fund — $1.6 billion of which remains unallocated while survivors who lost everything are still living in tents and caravans without running water and toilet facilities.

“Whatever it costs,” vowed the Prime Minister at the time. He was smarting from sustained criticism of his abject failure to be present in our burning country when a leader was most needed. Like the recalcitrant father who’ll promise anything to get back in the good books and with the sole aim of avoiding criticism in that moment, Morrison made a promise that is still very far from being fulfilled.

For the Prime Minister, the thrill is in the making of the promise, not the delivery of its substance, as may be in keeping with the general goals of a marketing man. Delivery is long and boring. Gratification comes immediately with the grand announcement and the praise with which it is greeted, particularly by the media. Who cares if the damn thing actually works or not?

So what if the $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy program has gone astoundingly awry in so many ways, not least of which is that it was overestimated to the tune of some $60 billion? Who cares? Announcing “the biggest economic lifeline in the country’s history”, as Morrison proclaimed at the time, brought him peak gratification and was immediately rewarded by lavish praise from business groups and the mainstream media.

Morrison’s primary goal is to persuade the punters he’s a good "dad" to the country and to this end, he seeks to dwell in the eternal present. The past is a country he increasingly needs to move on from, with a vicious cattle dog nipping at his heels — unless of course it’s got something to do with Labor that can be spun to his advantage. The future is of equal irrelevance, outside of Morrison’s personal ambitions. The Liberal Party itself is little more than a vehicle for the realisation of these personal ambitions, as is Morrison’s affiliation with his church — the man would likely hurl both of them under the bus if they in got in the way of the gaping maw of his gluttonous ambition.

Morrison’s primary talent is marketing himself. He did actually win the last Federal Election almost entirely without assistance from his ratbag crew of discontents and right-wing loons — and this is an indicator of his bottomless supply of self-belief and enviable lack of doubt.

Which brings us to China. On 22 April this year, Morrison had a phone chat with U.S. President, Donald Trump.

Following hard on the heels of this call, the Prime Minister got in touch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as other world leaders. He urged them to join him in launching an investigation into China’s role in the dispersion of the COVID-19 virus. Macron declined, asserting that the current dire health situation should be everyone’s focus and investigations could wait a while.

Morrison decided to forge ahead with his calls for an independent global investigation into China’s role in the pandemic, predictably enraging China, as well as creating the strong impression that he was acting at Trump’s behest, which further enraged China. His unilateral action quickly precipitated an ongoing unfolding of serious woes for exporters, as China takes its revenge.

In acting hastily, without waiting for other countries to come together on the matter of an independent evaluation not specifically centred on China but into the broader cause and management of the COVID-19 pandemic, Morrison hung Australian exporters out to dry — leaving us as the primary target for China’s wrath.

Just how much Morrison was acting on Trump’s whims is unclear. What is alarmingly clear is that regardless of Trump, Morrison saw this as an opportunity for him to strut the world stage and transmogrify himself into the leader he believes he’s destined to be. Hopefully, this would play well for him domestically, as well as garnering him respect from other leaders.

Neither of these goals has been or will be achieved in this instance, but marketing himself is the man’s reason for being — no matter what the cost to his country and its people. He had a go in the hope he’d get a go. He gave it a whirl. He’ll move on and the media will permit that. Australia’s exporters not so much, but that’s a small price to pay, in Morrison’s universe, for seizing the opportunity to be out there in a big way.  

What the mainstream media is far too inclined to overlook is Morrison’s utter ruthlessness. He is pragmatic and many appear to admire that quality, but it is a pragmatism whose genesis is to be found in breathtaking ruthlessness, and overweening self-interest — and it is not admirable.

Morrison has held three ministries and in every one he has demonstrated this ruthlessness. As Immigration Minister, Social Services Minister and as Treasurer, he repeatedly displayed his lack of interest in and concern for anything other than the realisation of his own ambition.

In 2011, as Immigration Minister for example, Morrison urged the Cabinet to take advantage of community apprehensions about Muslim immigration to garner votes. His interest is solely how the decisions he makes will appeal to the people who keep him in power — both his base and the colleagues who support him.

This is Scotty from Marketing. Find something to sell, and sell it regardless of the consequences. It’s the selling, stupid. What a way to run a country.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and academic. You can follow her on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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