‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ Lara Bingle beseeched overseas travellers in Scott Morrison’s successful 2006 television ad. Morrison was managing director of Tourism Australia, an early sign of his marketing genius. Now conservatives around Australia are asking the new Prime Minister, ‘Where the bloody hell are the policy changes?’ Instead of big cuts to Australia’s immigration program, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, immediate personal income tax relief, labour market reform, abolition of the Australian Human Rights Commission, an end to discriminatory anti-male employment quotas and a federal government ban on political virtue-signaling (so that our fighting men no longer have to paint their fingernails pink) we have been treated instead to more of Morrison’s marketing genius. And a genius he is. In dozens of photo opportunities and ‘daggy dad’ moments, the new Prime Minister has convinced voters of two essential facts. He’s not Malcolm Turnbull and he’s not Bill Shorten. He doesn’t own a harbourside mansion or walk through the outer suburbs without touching the ground for fear of contamination, so he can’t be Turnbull. He doesn’t look like someone’s hand puppet with rhetoric as over-rehearsed and wooden as Osher Günsberg, so he can’t be Shorten. Morrison is coming off a low base. All Prime Ministers have a honeymoon. Even Julia Gillard had one, for 10 minutes, before it was wrecked by Kevin Rudd’s revengeful leaks to Laurie Oakes. Even Turnbull had one, in late 2015, before he wrecked it himself with taxation flip-flopping. Remember his support for state income taxes, so that the Australian people would have been over-taxed in two jurisdictions instead of one? For a 10 per cent party, the Greens did incredibly well to have Turnbull as Prime Minister for three years. The question for Morrison is not how long his honeymoon lasts, but what he does with it.
We are living in an age of political disruption, with the greatest disturbance being felt by right-of-centre parties. Public trust in the traditional pillars of conservatism – parliamentary politics, mainstream media, large corporations and church administration – has collapsed. Other institutions, such as the education system, public broadcasters and government agencies have been captured by the Left, leaving conservatives flat-footed. They are good at conserving institutions but have no experience and little understanding of the bare-knuckle fighting skills needed to reclaim them. In the US Republican Party, when timid ‘civility conservatives’ (like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) refused to fight the Leftist takeover of their country, the party’s base enlisted a Manhattan street-fighter, Donald Trump, to do the job instead. On the early evidence, Scott Morrison is no Trump. When asked by Fairfax Media last weekend if he was going to get stuck into the culture wars, he said, ‘That’s not my job’. When asked if he would intervene to ensure the Ramsay Centre’s course on Western civilisation is taught at the Australian National University, he said, ‘That’s not my job’. It’s a recurring question. Where the bloody hell are you, Scott? If it’s not the job of a Liberal Prime Minister to defend the virtues of Western civilisation, ensuring it’s taught in our universities, what is his job? As a cheerleader for the Cronulla Sharks? As a PR man for family snaps and homilies? There must be more to it than that. Morrison needs urgently to resolve the policy wedges splitting the Liberals in two. With the rise in post-modernism, new issues on the public agenda have wrong-footed many conservatives.
Compare and contrast the stance of the leader of the Liberals’ progressive wing (Christopher Pyne) with those of its leading conservative (Tony Abbott). Pyne believes in climate change science while Abbott sees it as ‘crap’. Pyne welcomes Australia’s membership of the UN Paris Agreement while Abbott wants to end it. Pyne supports same-sex marriage while Abbott opposes it. Pyne has been an advocate for gender fluidity programs in schools while Abbott regards them as a form of Leftist indoctrination. Pyne believes in discriminatory employment quotas as a form of social justice while Abbott regards them as fundamentally unfair. Pyne supports the work of the Human Rights Commission and retention of 18C while Abbott wants to abolish them. Pyne is on board for an Australian Republic, a separate Indigenous parliament and softer treatment of refugees while such policies are anathema to Abbott.Pyne believes in Big Australia immigration numbers while Abbott wants to cut them. How can these two be in the same party? Rhetorical flourishes about the Liberals being a ‘broad church’ can no longer sweep cavernous ideological differences under the carpet. Whatever policy disagreements Liberal MPs had in the 1980s and 90s, they have been magnified many times over in recent years. The issues are new and the gulf between progressives and conservatives inside the party is widening. Either Liberals oppose the rise of post-modernism or they don’t.Either Liberals want to reclaim Australia’s institutions from the Left or they don’t. These are the questions Morrison needs to answer, promptly, or his party and his government will continue to fracture. As ever in modern politics, PR-spin is no substitute for serious thinking and serious policy work.