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Morrison's battle cry: 'They can take our lies, but they'll never take our freedom'

Opinion

Having told Australians what to do for the better part of two years, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is suddenly cosying up to a rag-tag bunch in his efforts to wrong-foot some Labor Premiers.  Dennis Atkins looks on in wonder.

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Our prime minister is the guy who 20 months ago stood in the national Parliament’s messaging megastore, known in the trade as the ministerial blue room because of its drab drapes, and banned people from going to an exercise class he’d never heard of and couldn’t pronounce.

“Bar classes,” said Scott Morrison when scattering his list of things people couldn’t do by executive fiat. He kind of corrected himself to say “bar-ray” before spelling it out “b-a-r-r-e”.

You’d think someone who swaggered around the power to ban something he not only had no idea about but hadn’t even been briefed on how to say the word might blush at condemning governments for telling people what to do.

If you have felt the slightest spread of floridity on your face you haven’t been paying attention.

Morrison cranked the shameless dial beyond Spinal Tap levels last week, hugging the protesting throngs who were in the streets cranky at the very things he’d been doing wilfully for one and three quarter years.

Among the protesters milling outside the Victorian Parliament were some with tactics and messages borrowed from the kind of free range alt-right terrorists seen attacking the US Capitol Building in January this year.

There was a ute with a gallows on the back, another “protester” had a couple of pieces of wood banged together with the extended bar festooned with three nooses; and a woman familiar to social media doom scrollers told how she couldn’t wait to see Victorian Premier Dan Andrews swinging from a rope.

After a few days of considered silence Scott Morrison whispered code to the protesters while deploying his “bad things are bad” safety net.

In the context of the protests – mostly against the Victorian Labor government’s amended pandemic powers – it was clear what Morrison was saying: “I’m on your side.”

Find it in the following: “Australians have done an amazing job when it comes to leading us through this pandemic, but now it’s time for governments to step back and for Australians to take their lives back, and for Australians to be able to move forward with the freedoms that should be theirs,” he said mid-last week.

“Businesses can make their own choices under the law, but we’re not about telling them what to do or telling Australians what to do.

“[Australians] should be able to go and get a cup of coffee in Brisbane when you’re over 80 per cent [of double-dose coverage], regardless of whether you’ve had the vaccines or not.”

Using this language, Morrison hinted restrictions would soon end for anti-vaxxers, despite the firm opposition of all states, Labor and Coalition governed.

This was a pointed criticism of Labor’s Annastacia Palaszczuk and her government. It came on the same day the Steven Marshall’s Liberal-led administration in Adelaide was announcing a ban on unvaccinated people from attending not just the coming cricket test but all big sporting and entertainment events.

To add power to the big government action in SA, “Marshall law” said the capacity of the Adelaide Oval would be slashed from 53,000 to 35,000.

Morrison had no criticism of Marshall’s forthright stand just as he didn’t say “boo” when New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet declared at the weekend he wasn’t backing down from his insistence the unvaccinated would be banned from eating and entertainment venues including those pesky no vax/no coffee cafe rules.

This is Morrison’s operating style. He is tribal beyond normal behaviour. He can’t resist scoring a point against a Labor state and he will be blind to any contradictions.

Partly, it’s his background. His only moderately successful job prior to parliament was as a state director of the Liberals in NSW. He thinks like a campaign director and this guides his politics and policy proclivities.

In the case of giving a heavy lidded wink to the “freedom now” crowd, Morrison was reacting to his instincts and to a direct message he’d been given by Queensland One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson.

She boasted on breakfast TV she had raised the issue of unvaccinated people in Queensland being denied access to cafes to “get a cup of coffee”. Right on cue, Morrison repeats the message and says he’s onside.

Score one for Hanson. However it’s a risky business, as is everything in these pandemic politics times. Most political pros reckon a strong majority of voters quite like the idea of not mixing with the unvaccinated while sipping and supping.

Overall, the zero sum game has pretty much had its day. Now we have political consequences spreading like octopus tentacles with the uncertain and the unknown the dominant features of the modern era.

It’s not just the coming election where Morrison is dancing between his hard right and moderate centre friends and colleagues. This was made clear on Monday when Morrison had to deal with an open revolt by five his own senators on state vaccine regulations.

After One Nation moved a motion to somehow use federal powers to ban mandatory vaccinations, five Nationals and Liberals broke from the governing coalition and supported the losing side.

Queensland LNP mavericks Gerard Rennick and Matt Canavan were joined by a Nationals MP from the Northern Territory, Sam McMahon, and two Liberals, Alex Antic from South Australia and former minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells from NSW.

Whether one or all of these senators might help frustrate the government’s legislative agenda is unknown.

These exquisite problems are nowhere more apparent than in Queensland where the election has many moving parts. There is a solid Labor Party, as unified as it has been for quite a while, on one side, with the Greens snapping away at the ALP’s left flank.

To the centre right and beyond sit a splintered LNP ranging from moderates in the metro areas to the hi-viz, take no prisoner Nats in Central Queensland and the fringes mainly occupied by Clive Palmer, Hanson and some anti-vax eye-rollers.

Morrison is hoping his coded messages, using Hanson’s script, will work in preventing some votes going to the far right and harvesting back some of the preferences of those who do.

Maybe he should have a conversation with former Nationals Senator Ron Boswell who stood up to Hanson in 2001 by taking her on directly. Boswell understood the road to appeasement is a crooked highway.

Morrison might find himself driven off the road, pushed into a ditch and left to find another way out of Dodge. Meanwhile, the posse is closing in on him and his campfire has long burnt out.

The fact it took three attempts to get close to telling the truth about whether he had sent a text message to Anthony Albanese saying he was going on a family holiday to Hawaii in December 2019 (he did send a text but it didn’t say what he first claimed it did) was not a good way for Morrison to kick off this last sitting fortnight. He might be a desperado waiting for the pain.

 

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