There’s a checklist of issues referencing Scott Morrison negatives that are continually raised during those message-shaping election campaign tools, the focus groups.
Seldom have they been distilled so neatly as they were this week when the Coalition leader fronted on Channel 9’s A Current Affair for one of three head-to-head interviews held over a couple of days.
Host Tracey Grimshaw, who has a track record of holding the prime ministerial feet to the fire, went early with a full-throated summary of community sentiment.
Referencing the bold boast from Sunday’s Liberal campaign launch that he had one focus he said was “to save the country”, Grimshaw wanted context.
“You don’t hold a hose, you weren’t in your tinnie plucking people off rooftops, you weren’t doing 16-hour days in PPE on Covid wards, you didn’t get enough vaccines soon enough, you didn’t get enough RATs so that we could finally have a holiday interstate for Christmas, and China is set up, based in the Solomons,” she rolled out as a preface for the rhetorical charge.
“Do you think maybe you slightly over-egged the part about saving the country?”
Morrison looked like he’d rather be somewhere else. Not just on another planet but in another solar system.
Through furious blinks, Morrison scrambled for composure. “Well, that’s quite a long list you’ve been able to pull together.”
From there it was the shop-worn laundry list of achievements – how many jobs were saved, how many fewer people died during the pandemic here compared with other countries, how much was spent on this, that and everything and an exploding Catherine Wheel of economic statistics.
It’s something we hear all the time and, according to pollsters who listen in on those focus groups, voters really don’t like the party trick.
At one stage they had some sympathy for the “what I’ve done for you” spiel but now not so much. It changed at about the point participants stopped referring to Morrison with his self-styled nickname “ScoMo” and just used his actual name.
“People regard it as boasting, they aren’t interested in how we compare with the price of Corn Flakes in Kansas or whether or not you can get a job in Canada,” said one pollster with a high end list of corporate clients.
Perhaps the most telling exchange came when Grimshaw quizzed Morrison about his “I’m going to change” declaration following his admission to having been too much like a “bulldozer” in recent years.
Grimshaw asked whether Morrison had done the wrong thing in respect of a range of events since the last election with each response refusing to concede or taking issue with the points.
On one of these “please explain” points, Morrison was stubbornly defensive about his refusal to meet with women who marched outside Parliament House early in 2021.
“I did the right thing on that day. I would have welcomed the opportunity for the top of a discussion in my office,” Morrison said.
He then went through one more laundry list of “achievements” – “improving” gender equity, shrinking the gender pay gap and investing $2 billion on programs aimed at violence against women and women’s health.
“I accept that at times people may not have liked my language, but the actual policies that we put in place have been getting very strong results,” he said.
Morrison looks like he will lose this election – the trends of the solid, tested public polls indicate a steady track of 52/48 or 53/47 towards Labor with an ALP primary of 37 or 38 percent just in front of a Coalition primary of 35 or 36.
These kinds of results would give Labor a comfortable working majority of four to six seats. Of course, it is within the margin of error.
If this plays out and Morrison has any time or inclination for self-reflection he might want to review the Grimshaw interview.
It showed why so many Australians have given up – or are still giving up – on him. It also illustrated why his bull-headed, stubbornness is not some reflexive response to the big job at hand but rather is the real Scott – it’s who he is. The bulldozer is a bulldozer.
Of course, Morrison is not going to engage in any self-reflection or introspection. The idea hime dealing with what’s now a self-confessed lack of empathy is absurd.
There is a boastful nature of Morrison and his government – he almost always begins news conferences with two thousand or so words of self-congratulations, comparisons and spending totals.
Pollsters report they are eye-glazing turn-offs which people started off being annoyed with but now just dislike.
These things are bad enough but it was that sharp point when Grimshaw asked about why Morrison gave the brush off to the women who rallied outside Parliament.
In the context of the time it was a lame and insensitive reply – the revelations about Brittany Higgins, the tin eared assertion people “not far from here” were met with bullets when they rallied, the mean attack on a female journalist, briefing by his office against female complainants and his retreat behind his spouse “Jen” to explain how he’d not understood the impact of violence against women.
These things set the tone for what’s become a serious gender gap between the party leaders.
The latest Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods tells a story, with the number of women voting for the Coalition rated at almost 6 per cent below men doing the same. On the Labor side of the equation the gap is half as much.
There’s an even bigger gap between the number of women picking the Greens as opposed to men – almost 20 percent in the case of the former and just 12 percent for the latter.
The reaction to Morrison’s one-dimensional response to everything that occurred in the wake of Brittany Higgins’s revelations last year prompted some to say the anger and resentment would ring in the prime minister’s ears through the months leading to the election.
The relative silence that’s followed has made a few people think this might have been wishful thinking. Perhaps women have been waiting to respond in a way impossible to ignore – with their votes.
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