The Eden-Monaro by-election was held on Saturday, July 4th and it was won by the Labor candidate, Kristy McBain, with a two-party preferred vote of about 50.4%1. At such a by-election you expect to see corflutes and posters of the local candidates adorning any vacant spaces on fences, nature strips and near voting booths. However, this by-election was a little different. While McBain’s visage was all over the place, it was Morrison’s face not Kotvojs’ on Liberal corflutes outside the 70 or so polling booths, urging voters give Liberals their first preference2.
In the weeks and months before the 2019 federal election, both Murdoch media and 9 Media maintained that Bill Shorten was unpopular, with all sorts of polls, vox-pops and sundry opinion pieces reinforcing that assertion. It was everywhere, such that it became self-fulfilling. According to the post-mortem conducted by the Labor Party, they lost the election because of three overriding reasons: aweak strategy, poor adaptability and an unpopular leader3. To that, I would also add the lies put out by the Coalition parties. These included saying that Labor would introduce estate taxes, full term abortions, and taxes on cars and homes. They also called the Labor policy of getting rid of franking credit refunds a retiree tax4. Some people were so bafflingly gullible that they bought this tripe, and after the election turned up at Centrelink offices to get their franking credit cheques despite owning no shares5. The stupid are everywhere.
Jump forward to just before the Eden-Monaro and Newspoll indicated that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was very popular. The May 13-16 Newspoll (for example) gave him an approval rating of 66% and a disapproval rating of 30% giving him a net rating of +36, around the best net approval of a PM for a decade. The Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese had a net approval rating of +7. The same Newspoll also gave the Coalition a rather slender two-party preferred 51%-49% lead over the Labor Party6.
Given the overwhelming popularity of Morrison, it seems strange that the two-party preferred lead over the Labor Party was so small. It tends to make one suspicious of the quality of the poll. After all, Murdoch’s NewsCorp part owns Newspoll and the NewsCorp ‘newspapers’ have been relentlessly biased toward the government7, another reason to be suspicious. While Morrison had been party to the continuous vilification of Shorten and had seen the effect of the ‘unpopularity’ stories in the media, he apparently did not make the connection that his ‘popularity’ may be similarly manufactured drivel. So, the Liberal Party plastered his face everywhere in Eden-Monaro, but it didn’t work as Morrison would have liked. Indeed, the Labor Party had expected a swing of about 3% against it because of the previous incumbent’s personal popularity. However, the swing was only about 2%. Conversely, by-elections usually swing against the government, and this was not the case in Eden-Monaro, so it wasn’t a complete dead loss for Morrison2.
While I suspect Morrison’s disappointment would have been palpable if he had shown his face, he didn’t show up anywhere for about 4 days after the by-election. This disappearance was so obvious that the hashtag #WhereIsScotty appeared on Twitter and a new entry appeared in the Australian Political (Auspol) Dictionary: Crisis (noun) – a time of intense difficulty or danger, often when Scott Morrison goes missing or on holidays, leaving Australians to fend for themselves8.
The parallels between Morrison and Trump are considerable. The most obvious is his bald-faced lying, his non-answering of questions9, his willingness to create and exploit division in Australia10 and the almost idiotically facile policies, such as the priority aircraft boarding for men and women from the services11, rather than spending money on their welfare. The only significant differences between Trump and Morrison is that unlike Trump, Morrison is not inarticulate, although he does ramble on interminably sometimes, and, while like Trump in disappearing during a crisis or after a rebuff, it is not to play golf, but to holiday with his wife and children, or in the most recent case, to dump them and go to the football.