Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared on the ABC political show Insiders on Sunday and was interviewed by Barrie Cassidy, and as one wag said: “it was a ‘get to know you’ interview for the PM, and unfortunately for him, people got to know him”. Morrison bridled at questions from Cassidy who asked him if he thought the government would have won an election under Malcolm Turnbull. Morrison replied that they would have won. Cassidy asked him about the surplus, and Morrison replied that the economy was essentially in great shape. So, Cassidy asked him why they got rid of Turnbull. Morrison was unable to answer coherently1.
Cassidy asked Morrison about the ABC and the ‘wisdom’ of appointing a friend and business associate (of Turnbull) to the chairmanship of the ABC Board. And what was Morrison’s reply? “I think the ABC needs to stop talking about itself and get back to work.” Cassidy’s perfect riposte was: “We never stopped work”1. It is difficult to understand what goes through Morrison’s brain at the best of times, but I can only presume he saw footage of ABC staff protesting at government interference and assumed it was a riot aided and abetted by union thugs. In fact the protest was in the staff lunch break; i.e. in their own time2.
The stupidity of Morrison in assuming staff at the ABC had stopped work and were so self-absorbed is profound, given that the government suspended the House of Representatives to avoid the embarrassment of having a largely empty front bench during the collapse of the Turnbull prime ministership3. I was going to write ‘vacant’ instead of ‘empty’ in the previous sentence, but even when the government front bench is replete with members, it is still largely vacant. So, unlike the ABC, the government did stop work. Indeed, after Morrison became Prime Minister, he cancelled a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting scheduled for October, effectively stating that the government hadn’t gotten their act together sufficiently to be able to discuss any of the topics slated. These included health and education funding4. It seems that the government was too absorbed in its leadership shenanigans to do its job. Pot, kettle, black.
Morrison’s conflation of the ABC with its government-stacked board is disingenuous at best. The ABC has been running its programming without any interruption, except to report on the ructions at the board level during its news programs. This is while the board has been attempting to micromanage; even attempting to have journalists sacked if it perceives those journalists might have upset the government by doing their job. So, the government is the cause of the ABC board debacle, simply because it constantly tries, in a variety of ways, to pressure the ABC into giving it favourable coverage. It is difficult to be positive about a government when they behave, as Morrison said, like a “muppet show”5.
As a last word on government interference in the ABC, it can be explained no better than Kerry O’Brien did on The Project6.