Talk about testing times. In the lead up to the federal election last May, Scott Morrison made an artform of small target government. The Prime Minister concentrated on a small number of key issues the Coalition knew mattered to voters, such as the economy and tax concessions, and allowed the Labor opposition an unprecedented amount of air time to press a wide-ranging, radical agenda.
This focus on Labor rather than the government led to serious questions being asked about the fairness of proposed changes to tax concessions and the impact of the opposition’s then uncosted climate change policy.
Using the political cunning and marketing expertise gained during his time in the private sector and political backrooms, Morrison employed a strategy that capitalised on Labor’s mistakes to win the unlikeliest of election victories.
But where is that clever, switched on and politically aware version of Scott Morrison today?
Yes, he’s probably wisely bunkered down waiting to see if the Nationals explode but earlier, rather than acting commandingly when presented with the bushfires and the coronavirus outbreak’s, the normally skilled political operator was effectively replaced, by his indecisive alter ego ‘Scotty from Marketing’.
Since the Morrison government was first presented with a crisis back in November, it has stubbornly ignored the public’s expectations of its responsibilities and actions, in a pattern that has continued to undermine the public’s confidence in its leadership.
While the Coalition no doubt has one of the top public relations teams in the country and a number of skilled political operatives, the Morrison government continues to make rookie mistakes that would be common sense even to a first-year university PR student.
It shouldn’t take the political equivalent of a rocket scientist to work out that the public was going to react badly to the poorly conceived decisions of the Morrison government during a crisis.
From the PM’s Hawaiian getaway during the bushfire crisis to attempting to force Australian’s being evacuated from Wuhan to pay the government for their services, there has been mistake after mistake all pointing to one conclusion for the public, at times the Morrison government has absolutely no idea what they are doing.
It’s doubtful that this series of poorly thought decisions are as a result of mistakes made by the Coalition’s public relations team. Afterall anyone responsible for even one of these PR blunders would have been shown the door in short order.
Instead, it seems like the Prime Minister, either alone or with senior members of cabinet have begun making ‘Captain’s Calls’, in the finest tradition of then prime minister Tony Abbott’s decision to his decision to knight Prince Phillip.
When examining the recent history of the government’s decision making, one thing is immediately clear — in a crisis the Morrison government has lost touch with the views of the everyman on the street. The PM looked like a ghost announcing Bridget McKenzies’ resignation on Sunday.
True, he has suffered a personal loss after his father’s recent death, as well a political hammering.
But if you were to go into any pub or RSL in Australia and survey the patrons, a significant majority would be in favour of a more rigorous response to the coronavirus than the Morrison government’s policy of handing out pamphlets with a number to call if a passenger should contract symptoms of the virus.
By closing our borders to flights from China for those aren’t residents or citizens of Australia, the Morrison government has finally made a decision at the right time that reflects the public’s expectations of crisis management.
As we head into an uncertain future, filled with unknowns about the coronavirus, Australian’s of all political persuasions, even the Morrison government’s most bitter enemies, should all be hoping that the Prime Minister rises to the occasion and manages the crisis well. Because ultimately the lives and safety of the Australian public may be at stake.
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