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May His Like Never Be Seen Again: Scott Morrison Departs

His type should never be seen again. Born from the dark well of swill and advertising, former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was always the apotheosis of politics’ worst tendencies: shallow form, public service for private interest, and, ultimately, the scrap for survival at the expense of the grand vision. Get the vote, keep the seat. Get the party in, forget the intellectual or social picture. Bugger the broader society with a hefty stick, sod the beastly populace, betray your colleagues and everybody else besides: there is only me, Scomo, the man who will reliably fail you at every turn and stab you in the front, given a chance.

In a January 23 Facebook post, Morrison announced his decision to – and here, his priorities are clear – “leave parliament at the end of February to take on new challenges in the global corporate sector and spend more time with my family.” Making the announcement now would “give my party ample time to select a great new candidate who I know will do what’s best for our community and bring fresh energy and commitment to the job.”

This was the sort of thing he should have done months ago, along with a few other former Coalition MPs. Depart, disappear, vanish into history’s chronicles on refuse. But Morrison is fastidious about soiling venerable institutions on his terms. He does not so much dismantle as vandalise them in his own inimitable way. Given the chance, he is likely to head off with his host’s toilet seat.

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As a federal member for the seat of Cook, his lack of attention to the burghers must surely have been noted after his electoral defeat in May 2022. Local representation, if taken seriously, is a grind, a series of constituency concerns, attending events and yawning at meetings. It’s hard to tend to such things if you are on the payroll of the Hudson Institute being praised for countering “an increasingly assertive China in the Indo Pacific and beyond” or spending time in Israel praising that state’s execrable efforts in quashing aspirations for Palestinian statehood.

None of this bothers the departing Morrison as being inconsistent. He can still say in his official statement of departure that he was “able to deliver new and upgraded sport and community infrastructure, such as major upgrades to our local surf clubs and new artistic installations and visitor facilities being provided at Cook’s landing site at Kurnell.” And let’s not forget the charity work, the grants programs, and the activities he had a minimal hand in.

That remains Morrison’s talent: greased enough to wriggle out of failure; an opportunist determined to take credit for the successes of others. Take one example. Australia’s attempts to prevent the transmission and spread of COVID-19 during the global pandemic was mostly aided by the variable policies of the country’s states and territories. The Commonwealth merely turned off the tap to visitors and, scandalously, Australian citizens desperate to return to their homeland. Stranded, often impecunious, and left without resources in countries being ravaged by the coronavirus, such citizens were demonised rather than aided.

Morrison’s sole obligation, at that point, was to make sure that vaccines being developed would be made available to the public in due course. Instead of ensuring standard, ready supply when the time came, the rollout, as it was termed, was a stuttering affair. But the then Australian PM had a familiar retort: global supply lines had been “choked”. Again, he wasn’t to blame.

The list of errors and stumbles is extensive, showing varying degrees of callousness and indifference. When parts of Australia were being incinerated by bush fires in the latter part of 2019, he thought it wise to take an unannounced holiday to Hawaii. He was forced to admit “regret” for “any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time”.

Like a walking advertisement of anachronism, he loved the fossil fuel industry with such passion he brought a lump of coal into Parliament to assure fellow lawmakers that they need not fear it. He issued directives that the words “climate change” would not feature in environmental talks Australian diplomats would participate in. He scorned the Pacific Island states for worrying about disappearing under the sea because Australia was not pulling its weight in cutting green-house gas emissions.

As a proponent of cruelty and plain sadism, Morrison’s true Pentecostal spirit was also on show. As immigration minister, he presided over the “turn back the boats” policy of the Abbott government, treating the naval arrival of refugees and asylum seekers as a national security threat. Towing boats out to sea, bribing traffickers to return, and sending broken, traumatised people to such Pacific prison outposts as Manus Island and Nauru, were all cloaked in the secrecy of Operation Sovereign Borders. When the New York Times interviewed Morrison after becoming prime minister, the paper noticed that, “His office features a model migrant boat bearing the proud declaration ‘I Stopped These’.”

His qualifications as a dinner circuit speaker, boring lecturer, tedious advisor, and outrageously paid consultant, are next to nil. But near the universe of zero, the cusp of talent’s infinite absence, opportunities bloom. The corporate entities and think tanks, many keen to ensure the enduring power of the US imperium, will barely notice the man’s colossal ignorance, his cultural insensitivity, his lack of education. What mattered was that he could be Washington’s stalking horse in the Indo Pacific.

Eventually, the member for Cook proved to be more than just that. He would go so far as to sell off Australian sovereignty for a song via the AUKUS security agreement promising nuclear powered submarines, leaving the Australian taxpayer in bondage to Washington for the next half-century. What a triumph that was, and if Samuel Johnson was right in calling patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel, he would have had someone like Morrison in mind: the figure who uses patriotism as a guise for his own scoundrel cunning.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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