‘Celebrate Medicare’: Scott Morrison’s extraordinary pivot

Mr Morrison jokes with wife Jenny before a speech in Albury, New South Wales, 2018.

Mr Morrison jokes with wife Jenny before a speech in Albury, New South Wales, 2018. Photo: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has marked five straight years of Coalition government with an extraordinary embrace of traditional Labor areas of universal health care, housing reform, wages growth and environmentalism – topped off with an approving nod to the ABC.

In a sure sign an election is looming, and perhaps to head off another ‘Medicare scare’, Mr Morrison said the four things Australians can “celebrate” on Australia Day are the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, the age pension, the disability support pension, and the national disability insurance scheme.

“All of these things are made possible because of the sweat and the work of Australians who create a stronger economy that make all that possible,” he said at an event hosted in Albury by the Menzies Research Centre, a Liberal Party-aligned think tank.

Albury was chosen for Mr Morrison’s manifesto-style speech because, 76 years earlier, Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies gave a similar speech there at the Liberal Party’s first conference.

The speech was an open pitch to voters ahead of the next federal election, which must be held by May 18 next year.

It followed Mr Morrison’s first and biggest policy announcement as prime minister – his promise this week to keep the retirement age at 67, rather than pushing it out to 70, as the Coalition had threatened to do for most of its five years in power.

Mr Morrison paid “respects” and “honour” to his former boss, Tony Abbott, for defeating Labor five years ago. But his election pitch was markedly different to the ‘debt and deficit’ line Mr Morrison adhered to as treasurer, when he presided over unpopular cuts to services, welfare and the ABC.

The Prime Minister admitted his government needed to “do better” on housing.

“[Menzies] talked about a ‘comfortable home’ and an ‘affordable home’. As important today as it was then,” he said.

“One of Menzies’ greatest achievements was the increase in home ownership, and affordable home ownership. I think it went from around 40 per cent to around 70 per cent.

“We’ve slipped back a bit from there. We need to do better on that score.”

He denied that Liberal Party politicians “aren’t interested in pay”.

“We are,” he said. “Because we know a job changes a life, and a wage changes a life and a family.”

He added that he and Kelly O’Dwyer, minister for industrial relations, use the fraught ‘industrial relations’ term “proudly”.

He even said he was “very alert” to “environment issues”, with a reference to the ABC’s popular pro-recycling TV show War on Waste.

“The War On Waste – yes, I have seen it, on the ABC – The War On Waste. I get it. That’s what’s focusing and concerning [Australians], so that means it matters to me too.”

His “key difference” with the Labor Party was what he termed “ugly envy”.

“I don’t think that, for someone to get ahead in life, you’ve got to pull others down. I believe that we should be trying to lift everybody up at once. That we get away from this politics of envy.”

As was normal for a Liberal prime minister, Mr Morrison swore to “keep our economy strong”. But his slight nuance was on why: “So we can guarantee the essentials that Australians rely on – the services, the Medicare.”

As did Mr Menzies, the Prime Minister also emphasised personal freedoms and personal responsibility.

He repeated his new slogan – ‘A fair go for those who have a go’ – several times.

I think that’s what fairness means in this country. It’s not about everybody getting the same thing,” he said.

“If you put in, you get to take out.”

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