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Where would this man be without pollsters dictating his every utterance?

Opinion

Scott Morrison’s cynical and manipulative style of leadership is more in keeping with Boris Johnson than Donald Trump, writes Dennis Atkins.

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Two things define Scott Morrison’s transparent mask of leadership above all else.

He has never taken an unpopular decision and never accepted serious responsibility for any error, mishap, policy blunder or failure of public administration. He’s certainly never owned up to his lies which are served up by the chum bucket.

Morrison might like to boast, with a stiff lower lip and jutted jaw, about “tough” and “difficult” decisions but they are all washed, rinsed and dried through the Liberal Party’s cashed-up spin cycle machine of quantitative and qualitative polling.

Never in this country’s history has an incumbent government used polling throughout its time in office in a way that’s even close to Morrison’s addiction to opinion testing. This government is not so much poll driven as linked to a research report drip through a cannula tube.

Almost without fail, his words are tested within an inch of their dictionary (if not grammatical) existence. If he does slip, he’s back to mop up.

What he doesn’t do is buck the findings in those reports. When pressed in January he dismissed genuine policy reform as being akin to a “vanity” project. Put that kind of jelly backed caution to Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard.

He walks away from bold (or even a bit brave) plans on superannuation, taxation, workplace flexibility and climate change.

He can offer sufficient glib phrases and otherwise unintelligible garble to cover his reluctance to do anything that might lose him even one vote but that electoral calculation is preeminent. It trumps all.

At the weekend, confronted with the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan, accelerated by the blinkered decision by the United States and Australia to preemptively withdraw their small military contingents, Morrison was reduced to Hallmark card platitudes.

It was an insult to those who served, were injured, physically or psychologically, or died.

On responsibility, the litany of policy dysfunction and twisted outcomes, the bald lies and obfuscation, the blame shifting and refusal to even acknowledge a sunny day is in fact one without clouds or rain is breathtaking.

As an art form of political guilelessness, Morrison is without equal, certainly in Australia and globally only Boris Johnson is in his league.

While many Australian commentators have drawn points of comparison between the Morrison and Trump political style and operating principles, the closer point of reference is with Johnson.

Both are craven populists, calculating consequentialists who measure every action in electoral cost and benefit and compulsive liars.

Morrison, like Johnson, used his populism and convenient denialism when confronted with rational reality to swarm the political conversation throughout 2020.

Both battled and swatted down scandal upon scandal – more than enough in number and seriousness to consign other administrations to the electoral grave in times when consequence mattered.

In 2021 they have had differing paths to tread. Johnson has been saved from what was almost certain death at the beginning of the year because of a successful vaccine rollout.

Morrison’s political trajectory was the polar opposite. He looked unassailable in January this year but now looks as fallible as he ever has – due to two failures.

The first was based in his intellectually and politically stupid response to the February and March women’s rights demand being shouted in capital cities and suburbs around the nation.

The latest has been the vaccine rollout – or strollout as London’s The Financial Times referred to it derisively – particularly in the wake of Australia’s third COVID wave sweeping through Sydney and the regions of New South Wales.

The greater the threat to Morrison’s political mortality, the greater is the prime minister’s wanton abandonment of institutional protections, norms in and outside Parliament and any basic respect for the truth.

He clearly thinks Australians are like the mythical goldfish who are wrongly said to have a memory of just three seconds (they actually have acute abilities when it comes to recall).

Morrison, who always prefers myth and the common canard for reality, would like everyone to remember nothing occurring prior to his latest statement, news conference answer or Facebook post.

Look at the three step history of a Morrison fib in the past week. As NSW was moving to a statewide lockdown on Saturday, Morrison’s office briefed out he had been urging Premier Gladys Berejiklian to do just that.

At a Sunday morning news conference (before Berejiklian) Morrison kind of confirmed this, saying the lockdown was “consistent” with advice he’d received.

“Those discussions, of course, have been held with the NSW government,” he added.

Morrison’s version of the “truth” was now on the record. It was his idea. The trouble is, it wasn’t.

Just an hour later, Berejiklian, sick of being briefed against by Morrison’s official staff, hit back with a resolute version of events.

She had received advice from her chief health officer Kerry Chant after her Saturday morning news conference and acting on that, after consultation with her inner cabinet, decided to take the state into a full lockdown.

She did not mention Morrison or the Commonwealth in the process.

This is how Morrison operates. Look at how he’s backgrounding with senior journalists against the states in the hope they will be portrayed as the villains.

He is not getting a free ride on this path anymore – the premiers are pushing back and even the Canberra media, for so long accepting the call to be part of “Team Australia”, are displaying the skepticism and even cynicism needed for a healthy democracy.

A lot of people now realise “Team Australia” was always a marketing cover for the real product: “Team Morrison”.

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