It’s been an amusing weekend, starting with the recent Australian – published leaks against Abbott, identifying a Biggles – style desire to bash up ISIS with a unilateral campaign. What was especially amusing was to see Joe Hockey, Matthias Cormann and Tony Abbott assert in no uncertain terms that the Oz was wrong. Ever helpful, Andrew Captain Timestamp Bolt came in with the support that the timeline was all wrong (provided by one of those annoying Liberal #auspol zombies who repeat talking points with monotonous regularity).
Not so amusing for Abbott, however, with the leaks against him continuing, indicating that we still don’t have this new, settled “good government”. It also brought to my mind a piece written last Sunday by Judith Ireland that presented future Liberal leader Scott Morrison through a frosted lens. It struck me at the time as a way to start the process of making Morrison a palatable alternative leader into the future. As puff pieces go, it’s pretty puffy – like this puffy.
What it achieves is it reveals the remaking of the new Social Services minister – strong, yet soft and absorbent. As ever, the article is in italics.
New Social Services Minister Scott Morrison shows his colours
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has declared he is not “wedded ideologically” to the government’s controversial dole and pension budget measures and says he does not want to be “combative” in his new portfolio, a move that flags a more pragmatic approach to families and welfare policy for the Coalition.
Comforting words, those – not ideological, more about getting pragmatic things done. Also, not “combative” – clearly showing that he realises that his image – his brand – up until now has been all about being combative with those foreign “queue jumpers” and the like.
In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Morrison stepped back from the tough “lifters not leaners” rhetoric of the Coalition’s 2014 budget, instead talking of the need to inspire young people and get them to “engage” with the workforce.
Another admission – that the Government is stinging from the stupidity of Hockey’s “lifters and leaners” rhetoric from the previous budget. Morrison’s new rhetoric appeals to the stereotype believed by those in Generations X and the Baby Boomers, that all young people need is “inspiration” to work (which sounds a touch Pentecostal, Morrison’s denomination of choice, which has a great love of that word)
I have no need or interest or desire to take this policy area into a combative space.
“That really is my pitch to the country,” he said. “Australia is something that you get involved with.”
Essentially, this is a variation on the Team Australia idea – get involved or get left out. In a funny move, however, the article throws in this excellent Matt Golding cartoon that undercuts somewhat Morrison’s goal.
Mr Morrison, who took on the massive social services portfolio in a move that surprised political insiders in December, has responsibility for developing the Coalition’s “families package”, a review of the welfare system and key budget measures that are stuck in the Senate – including a six-month wait before young unemployed people get the dole, an increase in the pension age and a decrease in pension indexation.
Mr Morrison said that his aim was to get young people into work, get mothers back to work after having children, and help older Australians to stay in work. If people had better ideas than were currently before the Senate, he said they should “bring it”.
“I’m trying to solve the problem. I’m not wedded ideologically to any particular one of these measures,” he said.
While on the one hand Morrison is trying to make himself seem more gentle, but there’s something menacing about the comment that anyone with a “better idea” can “bring it”, though it would be interesting to see him actually changing his mind – this being a clear message to cross bench Senators that this is an approachable, more absorbent ScoMo.
The former immigration minister is best known for his hard-line role in “stopping the boats”, and has been touted as a potential replacement for Treasurer Joe Hockey and even Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Yes, hence why you have this exclusive…?
But despite his “tough guy” public image, several welfare and community groups have said Mr Morrison has been surprisingly easy to deal with. They have talked about his openness to new ideas and enthusiasm for the portfolio.
When it was noted that some groups had been anxious about meeting him, Mr Morrison laughed and exclaimed “no!”
“I have no doubt that there have been some who have been quite surprised,” he said.
“If they had had a misconception previously, what I’ve always tried to do – in whatever role I’ve been in – is I’m there to try and fix a problem. That’s what Tony, I think, sees my key role in the government as being.”
There’s a number of boxes being ticked here.
- Morrison wants us to know that he is no longer that tough guy that made him popular with certain groups, but unpopular with others
- There’s welfare groups (unnamed) that like him! (See! Not a tough guy now)
- He fixes problems (in case you missed that earlier)
- You know he can fix problems, right? Like the ones Tony wants him to fix, whatever they are.
- Absorbent to different ideas and groups
- Making a guess as to what Tony wants him to do, even if the “I think” could suggest that Tony can be a little hard to read in terms of what he wants of people.
- But ScoMo is supportive of Tony, even if he’s unpredictable.
NewScoMo is always supportive of Tone, as we can see. But onwards…
With a portfolio that comprises about a third of the federal budget, Mr Morrison has swapped his role on the National Security Committee of cabinet for a spot on the government’s Expenditure Review Committee, which will design the upcoming budget.
Well, yes, that would be part of the job.
While he led the fight against Labor over asylum-seeker policy in opposition and government, he is calling for childcare to become a bipartisan issue similar to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“I have no need or interest or desire to take this policy area into a combative space,” he said.
See? NewScott is not combative, in case you missed that earlier. It’s also vital for the Government to be seen as soft and sensitive on childcare, which will continue to be a tricky policy area for a Government. Abbott’s ridiculous paid parental leave scheme set the Government back on its heels in that area, as it played to a 1950s vision of women at home rather than one of women wanting to return to work. It’s an area that needs careful stewardship because it’s a crucial vote loser with a number of key Coalition voter sectors if it’s done badly.
Back to Morrison’s language games…
He also said that he preferred to talk of the upcoming families policy as a “stream” and not a “package” because it would involve more than one set of reforms over multiple years.
By the time the next election rolls around, Mr Morrison said he would like lower and middle income families “believing if they went back to work [after having a baby], then they wouldn’t have to go back to work just to pay childcare”.
A “stream” infers a flowing set of small changes rather than a package – maybe indicating a desire to under promise and over deliver. In addition, there seems to be a refocus to making affordable childcare for lower to middle income families. Which leads to this…
The government is yet to release the Productivity Commission’s final report into childcare, which it has had since October. Mr Morrison said he was now seeking “practical feedback” from the sector about how to implement ideas.
“I won’t rush it for a political deadline,” he said.
But then, this week, hey presto! It’s been released in the week after this puff piece. In Ireland’s piece about the Productivity Report, the new, softer, more absorbent Scott is revealed further.
The government is yet to respond formally to the report, but Social Services Minister Scott Morrison told Fairfax Media that the Coalition was “considering” the nannies idea.
“I think the recommendation reflects an observation that there needs to be a greater array of services offering to deal with a much more diverse range of needs,” he said.
But he cautioned that there were issues associated with the nanny move, including losing staff from long day care centres.
“If everyone goes off and becomes a nanny, there will be no one working in childcare centres.”
Morrison shows the knowledge that supporting the idea of nannies would scare away the new aspirational Coalition voter, to whom nannies is all very old money and British, a little like the Knights and Dames Abbott. In Morrison’s new language and approach as potential leader of the nation, it’s all about negotiation.
“It is a significant input to our process.”
Question is, however, will people accept this new strong, but softer and more absorbent Scott.
It remains to be seen if puff pieces like this are for a longer game, such as making Morrison the ideal Liberal leader in a future time, especially if accompanied by matey, friendly appearances on Today and Sunrise, featuring Morrison making self-deprecating jokes about three word slogans. It’s also likely that News Ltd will pick up the lead started by Fairfax. It’s difficult to see that Morrison’s makeover will work, however, in the short term and get him into the leadership chair in the coming months. The old Morrison may still loom large for many, including swinging voters…
Curious to see Mark Knight doing this cartoon summing up the Morrison makeover
Also, here is ScoMo smiling on Insiders, after rolling out more of the softer side. It’s a touch unsettling.
With thanks to @chrisjrn, this is the picture that accompanied this story in the newspaper version. Quite the softening.