Dennis Atkins: Scott Morrison’s antics show Australia is going to the polls in 2021

The PM pretends to be above playing politics, but his habits reveal otherwise.

The PM pretends to be above playing politics, but his habits reveal otherwise. Photo: Getty

Scott Morrison likes to look studious in Question Time, busying himself with his papers, turning his back on Opposition leader Anthony Albanese or attentively using his mobile phone.

He might look like he’s ‘doomscrolling’ but he’s more likely to be engaging in a pastime which is probably unique to his intriguing and infuriating turn at being prime minister.

Morrison likes to send text messages and he loves including emojis – hardly surprising for a person with an ordinary geography and economics degree who went on to major in the lived experience of political tactics and tourism marketing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on his phone while appearing on audio video link during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, November 30, 2020. Prime Minister Morrison

Morrison is known to fire off emoji-filled texts to reporters during Question Time. Photo: AAP

A big player in Morrison’s chosen target audience for text messages is the national political media. During Question Time the Prime Minister thinks little of firing off a quick message to political journalists sitting in the gallery to his left and one level up.

More often than not – almost always – Morrison offers assessments of how Labor is performing. “Look at Albo’s backbench,” he might offer. “No happiness there.” This would probably be accompanied by a thumbs down or sad face emoji.

Instead of a ‘The Buck Stops Here’ sign on the Morrison desk, a more suitable pronouncement would be ‘Texts Are Us’.

This is a small insight into the working habits of a politician who pretends to be above the fray, dismissing issues he doesn’t care for, or is embarrassed by “just politics”.

However, for Morrison, everything is politics, even when he stumbles into territory where he does the right thing.

It’s worth remembering a year on from when Morrison could do nothing right, not even shake someone’s hand or recall that two men had perished in a raging, climate emergency-sparked bushfire on Kangaroo Island.

Now, after learning the most basic of political lessons – don’t do stupid – Morrison is being lauded for getting the basics right during another emergency, the rolling global COVID-19 pandemic and its economic disruption.

Many of those journalists who happily receive and repeat those text messages – with the attribution of “a senior Liberal” – have given Morrison high marks for his pandemic period efforts.

It will be interesting to chart the performance and daily reviews of Morrison during the eight or nine months until the almost certain 2021 election date.

The first days of this year have given us all the clues needed to confirm this is an election year.

Morrison oh so casually rolled out a new nickname for Albanese, “Each Way Albo”. He’d road-tested it during the last sitting days of 2020 and found it pleasing to his ears.

Scott Morrison has started using Sky After Dark host Paul Murray’s ‘Each Way Albo’ sobriquet. Photo: AAP

“No wonder everyone calls him Each Way Albo,” said Morrison. Most people don’t call Albanese this, with the Sky After Dark host Paul Murray being the only person other than the Prime Minister who uses this sobriquet.

This is going to be on high rotation in Morrison’s political commentary on his opponent, just as he deployed “Shifty Shorten” against the former Opposition leader.

For Morrison, this is just good-natured political banter. When Albanese assesses the Prime Minister’s character it’s a nasty, personal attack.

Next, we were told by way of background, and then official confirmation, that Australia’s modest stocks of COVID-19 vaccine would be available from early February, not March as first announced.

What was a dangerous, rushed timetable when suggested by Labor was now the right thing to do. In reality, it was a political imperative driven by gathering voter demand that the March date be brought forward.

This was the second sign on the road to a September/October poll.

The third was the dramatics surrounding action on the highly infectious mutation of the coronavirus sourced from the United Kingdom or South Africa.

Everything that was done was essential and correct – greater screening, testing and regulating of flight passengers and crew from overseas, mandating masks on domestic air travel and new levels of protection in and around hotel quarantine.

However, the politics should not be missed or overlooked. Morrison played it so that he was the centre of the “doing” – the action of calling a national cabinet and of setting an agenda.

Morrison wants to keep alive his remodelled persona as the guy who kept Australians safe, regardless of how thin some of this “achievement” might be.

We are going to the polls and for Morrison, it’s going to be all politics all of the time.

The only possible speed bump in this plan is whether Labor acts on its leadership problem  But doing something about that – whether it’s fixing the incumbent or wholesale change – seems destined to stay in the “too much like real work” folder.

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