Scott Morrison considers himself first and foremost a marketing man. Unfortunately for him, and Australia, he’s not a very good one.
His entire approach to government is based on the premise that he is a “brand” and that policies and government decisions are marketing exercises whose single aim is to support and enhance the brand. There is no national interest in such an approach, only self-interest.
When Morrison government ministers are revealed to be philanderers, crooks or incompetents – and as is frequently the case, all of the above – the prime minister’s first and only consideration is to protect the brand. Whatever the charge levelled at him, his government or his ministers the default reaction is to stonewall, deny and deflect.
It’s a simple proposition – simple as in puerile: that to admit to any deficiency is to place at risk the reputation of the brand. Quite apart from being a doubtful marketing strategy, such vacuity is the antithesis of good government.
Because the brand – not the good government of Australia – is Scott Morrison’s number-one priority, all the conventions and norms that define and protect our democracy have been jettisoned with trademark arrogance and contempt. (The comparisons with fellow salesman and flim-flam man Donald Trump make themselves.)
With breathtaking audacity Morrison has ditched any notion of ministerial standards and propriety, let alone observance of the law. He doesn’t even pretend.
The Prime Brand of Australia
Under Morrison’s government-by-marketing mandate the brand is sacrosanct so anyone daring to question a government decision or failing is ignored, belittled or fed an incompressible word-salad response that drips with condescension and indignation. Never has an Australian prime minister considered media enquiry with such scorn; Morrison considers it a personal affront to be held to account by journalists.
When Morrison treats media enquiry with such disdain he is treating the Australian public no differently. He is of the view that the public’s right to know – or the public’s entitlement to expect certain standards of behaviour – is secondary to the greater good, of which he is the sole arbiter. It is an attitude he practises, one might observe, with pentecostal fervour.
Morrison conducts government from the pulpit and expects his congregation to be compliant and adoring.
And because marketing is a religion of sorts, its deity being the brand, Morrison, the Prime Brand of Australia, has made self-aggrandisement at the centre of his prime ministership.
His prime ministership began as the cringeworthy cult of the Daggy Dad – all baseball caps and thumbs-up bonhomie – and after a sojourn away from the limelight, Daggy Dad is back with a vomitous vengeance.
There were the recent photos of Backyard Daggy Dad building a cubby house and a chicken coop, but the most egregious has to be the latest staged photo, taken by his official photographer: Scott Morrison in his Zoom ensemble, besuited upper half, baggy shorts and thongs below.
The spectacle demeaned his office
The occasion was the aftermath of a tele-press conference conducted while the prime minister is in “iso” at the Lodge – that’s man-of-the-people speak for isolation – following his somewhat gratuitous trip to Japan.
Frankly, if Morrison had kept his wardrobe secrets to himself, perhaps to surface years later in his memoirs, the matter could stand unremarked. But what marketing man worth his salt could give up such an opportunity? Certainly not Scotty from Marketing.
The spectacle demeaned his office – particularly at such a grave time when the Brereton war-crimes report hangs over Australia, a topic he addressed at the press conference – and confirmed his attitude that Australians are mere children to be entertained.
What other prime minister would have authorised publication of such a photo? Perhaps Bob Hawke, but at least that would have been an accurate reflection of a genuinely larrikin personality, although it’s to be questioned whether even Hawke the iconoclast would have exposed the office of PM to such ridicule. Certainly not John Howard, Paul Keating or, setting aside irony for the moment, Malcolm Fraser.
The photo of Scott Morrison sans trousers rankles most of all because it perfectly sums up the man: tin-eared, self-absorbed and utterly convinced that running the country is all about PR and marketing. Even worse, that it’s all about him.
Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is a former columnist with BRW, brw.com.au and the Australian Financial Review and was a senior writer at The Bulletin magazine. Connect with him on Twitter @DAngeloFisher