He’s still smiling but Scott Morrison might not be after reading this revealing book. If he reads it that is. If I were him, I might not. However, Rocco Loiacono and Augusto Zimmermann’s analysis of Australia’s now deeply unpopular Prime Minister makes fascinating and instructive reading and couldn’t be more timely.
In Deconstructing ScoMo, the authors – both of whom hail from Western Australia – liken Scott Morrison to a ‘windsock’ that we often see at airports and sports grounds. In other words, what Morrison appears to stand for depends on which way the wind blows. They cogently argue that Morrison changes his tune constantly and will say anything to get a headline and appease the focus groups or the mob, most of whose vote he is unlikely to receive anyway. It seems to me that in blowing with the wind left, right and sideways, Australia’s 30th PM is no different from the current leader of the ALP opposition, Anthony Albanese, whose nickname ‘Each-Way Albo’ is also well deserved.
In twenty thought-provoking pieces, many of which were published in The Spectator Australia and Quadrant, Loiacono and Zimmermann canvass a broad and illuminating cross-section of topics. They cogently argue that Morrison has been one of Australia’s worst Coalition prime ministers, almost on a par with the hopeless and devious William (‘Billy’) McMahon. This is not just because Morrison seems devoid of principle, but because his authoritarian bent runs counter to the traditions of the Liberal party and, to a lesser extent, to his professed Christian beliefs.
At the 2019 federal election, after the left-leaning Malcolm Turnbull was given the well-deserved shove, many conservatives went back to the Liberals. However, these same conservatives have reason to be very aggrieved with the Morrison government and are seriously considering voting for alternative parties at the forthcoming federal election. These parties include One Nation, the Bob Katter Party, Campbell Newman’s Liberal Democrats and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party. The latter has no relation to the previous UAP led by Tasmanian-based prime minister, Joseph Lyons, from 1932 to 1939 and, after Lyons death, by the Victorian-based PM, Robert Gordon Menzies from 1939 to 1941.
Loiacono and Zimmermann’s key thesis is that Morrison has failed traditional Liberal voters and the so-called ‘quiet Australians’, by not standing up for conservative values. In particular, he has abandoned the key Liberal principles of smaller government, economic reform, free speech and, above all, individual liberty. Deconstructing ScoMo stresses that Morrison has not implemented one policy of which a true centre-right party could be proud. He has, they argue, ‘dragged the Liberals to the left, and it has not done this country any good having two left-leaning major parties’.
They unambiguously state that Morrison’s prime ministership has seen the Liberals continue the lurch to the left that was started by Turnbull, leaving many ‘quiet Australians’ feeling more concerned than ever about their and their children’s future.
Loiacono and Zimmermann want people to understand why Australian citizens should consider voting for alternative, true conservatives. Indeed, they suggest that the time has come to send an unambiguous message to the established parties – Labor, the Libs, the Nats and the Greens. In part this is because Morrison ‘has fallen prey to insidious identity politics, grovelling to appease it’. As they write in chapter 3, ‘it seems that when push comes to shove Morrison will side with the Left every time’. They convincingly argue that ‘freedom of speech remains under serious threat in Australia, despite several years of Coalition government’. In a chapter pithily titled ‘Scott Morrison: Australia’s Lord Protector’, they claim‘Morrison’s first instincts are inherently authoritarian, and he appears to have developed a deep distrust of the Australian people’.
Our currently besieged PM acquiesced in the trampling of fundamental rights and freedoms by consistently supporting state-government-imposed Covid lockdowns. Morrison’s support of Victoria’s Socialist-Left Premier, Daniel Andrews, they argue, was particularly contemptible. As they explain, Morrison told federal Parliament that it was the ‘right decision of the Victorian Premier’ to impose draconian lockdown measures. Loiacono and Zimmermann tellingly argue that Morrison’s ‘egregious silence following the arrest of Zoe Buhler, a pregnant woman in her pyjamas, in her own home, for daring to question these measures on social media speaks volumes’. This attitude, they claim, ‘is consistent with Morrison’s past statements on his lack of belief in the importance of free speech in a thriving liberal democracy’.
As Rocco Loiacono and Augusto Zimmermann conclude in their impressive book, ‘When you look at its record, the Morrison government is like Seinfeld, a show about nothing (but without the laughs). It hasn’t achieved anything of significance in three terms that you would expect a centre-right government worthy of the term to achieve. Why would it achieve anything in a fourth?’
This compendium of political pieces is extremely reader friendly. As is the authors’ intention, it could usefully help focus voters’ minds as they head for the polls in time for this year’s May federal election, which is one of the most crucial in modern Australian history. After reading Loiacono and Zimmermann’s powerful polemic, it is to me crystal clear that John Howard, Bob Hawke and Tony Abbott’s prime ministerships emerge in a very positive light. If only we had a leader of their calibre in the political contest today.
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Ross Fitzgerald is AM is Emeritus Professor of History/Politics at Griffith University.
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