February was the time for the big re-set. National Press Club address, assorted ministers as support, Murdoch journalists at the ready. He was welcomed by Laura Tingle. That was probably his last moment of tranquility. She opened proceedings by asking him if he would like to take the opportunity to apologise for his and his government’s performance. She included the bushfires, and the trip to Hawaii. A tough start.
Then after a typical speech where he invoked the curious amnesiac defence, he re-wrote recent Australian history; the bushfires, the pandemic, the vaccine strollout, the opening up of the borders, the lack of RATs, were all roaring successes. If anything ruined his perfect memories, it was his delay in using the military to deliver the vaccines. But Australians were resilient. Even his being surprised by the Omicron strain was just the nature of the virus. Anyone could have been caught wrong-footed.
Except he had had the advantage of watching its devastating advance through the northern hemisphere. He opened up in a massive gamble which has caused more deaths than the previous two years, and rising. His greatest strength, of having ‘handled’ the pandemic has turned into a failure. He can’t shift blame on the aged care crisis, because the electorate has finally understood it is a federal responsibility.
Peter van Onselen then got up and blew his efforts at rehabilitation out of the water. Peter is a conservative journalist, and he can be relied on to usually normalise most of the government’s shoddy performance, but this time he had different intentions. He demolished Morrison, personally, by quoting a couple of texts to him, on national TV. A reset, perhaps, but in the wrong direction.
Gladys Berejiklian had called him a “horrible, horrible person”. An unnamed Liberal cabinet minister had labelled him a “psycho”. The journalist did not identify the source. This was the stuff usually discussed in a closed room of huddled advisers. It was riveting TV, with Morrison unable to attack back, or to deny the substance. He couldn’t even reject the premise of the question. The journalist had become the story, with Morrison the collateral damage.
By the end of the week, most of the cabinet had handed in their denials of being ‘the leaker’. Canberra was lit up by the drama. The culprit has not been hunted down yet, but he was about to be up-staged by the one and only Barnaby Joyce.
By the end of the week, Barnaby Joyce was warned that one of his own texts, sent via a third party, to Brittany Higgins, was about to be leaked. As he invariably does, Barnaby took the bull by the horns, and confessed to his own disloyal text, and enjoyed a small victory of beating ‘the Barnaby leaker’. He had called Morrison a “liar and a hypocrite” amongst other things. To a third party, of all people, from an MP, and ex Deputy Prime Minister. How secure was that text chain?
The National Press Club was booked, the next week, to host an appearance by two of the most popular young women in Australia – Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins. The problem for Morrison is that not only are these women joined by a common goal, of making women safe, but they also openly jeer at his lack of action to protect women, both in the parliament, and in society at large.
Of course he has been clueless in many of his interactions with them, but they are a generation prepared to throw away the etiquette book, and to demand change. Attacking them is risky, because they have captured the public imagination.
Their addresses were different, but shared a theme that the Morrison Government had talked the talk, but had not followed through with actions.
In the meantime, Peter Dutton and Josh Frydenberg have begun counting numbers, and attacking Anthony Albanese, because they feel the panic. Opinion polls have been disastrous. It is as if a dam has burst. Can Morrison retain the government’s leadership as we head into another election?
Dutton has engaged in scurrilous attacks accusing Albanese of being a communist China sympathiser, and casting Labor as weak on national security. This from a defence minister who appears way too nervous and frisky to handle any real dispute with China, and who scares all of us with his intemperate language.
Frydenberg continues to hysterically lambaste Albanese with the curious attack line that he has never had a Treasury portfolio. As many have pointed out, neither had Robert Menzies, John Gorton, Malcolm Fraser, Tony Abbott, or Malcolm Turnbull. It is presumed that Mr Albanese can count, which is a skill Frydenberg continues to search for.
The question is who do we think we can bear for the next three months of escalating personal attacks on the Opposition Leader? Scomo, Dutts or Joshie? May the lord save us all.