The myths of Morrison and the so-called Canberra press gallery

May 10, 2022by Jane Gilmore

A few myths entered the Australian political lexicon after the 2019 election and they’re still skewing political debate now.

Myth 1: The polls were wrong and can no longer be trusted. As I’ve written before, it’s not that the polls were wrong (they weren’t) the problem was that the journalists reporting them didn’t understand the data they were reporting.

Myth 2: Morrison is a canny politician who swiped the election from Labor under the nose of the so-called experts who underestimated him. As far as I can tell, this appears to be a direct result of Myth 1. Political journalists, particularly the so-called Canberra press gallery*, are held in high esteem by the journalism profession. They are the Serious Journalists, providing Expert Reporting with insider information from Very Important People. Sometimes, this is even true. It did, however, present them with an existential crisis when they got their prediction of a runaway Labor victory in 2019 election. Political polls are the most basic tools of political journalism, so how can they be respected experts if they didn’t understand the polls? Insider information and nuanced analysis of the electorate’s mood is what elevates them above the jumped-up bloggers on Twitter, so of course they didn’t fail in their understanding of those things. The only possible explanation is that the polls were wrong, and Morrison is just that good.

Scott Morrison is very, very good a few things. He is very good at appealing to the men he thinks he understands. Hardworking family men who think politics is unimportant. The men who have to ask their wives to explain why rape is bad and make that a point of pride because they’re a) too manly to understand “women’s issues” and b) so far removed from violent men that they can’t even comprehend the phenomenon. Morrison is very good at making those men his brothers in arms. Football. Family. Fun. Mateship. Let’s not rock the boat with anything else (unless those boats are full of people who don’t look like us). Those men voted for Morrison in 2019 and probably will again in 2022. Their womenfolk, who have been told repeatedly that politics is not about them, msotly voted with their men in 2019.

They may not do so in 2022.

Morrison is also very good at controlling the so called Canberra press gallery*. Simply refusing to answer questions. Bullish lies and buffoonery instead of policy works for him because he avoids the journalists who won’t let him get away with it *waves to Laura Tingle* or browbeats the ones he cannot avoid *waves to Sam Maiden*.

The one remaining thing he appears to be very good at is painting all politicians with his own brush. Lies, pork-barrelling, jobs for mates, illegal actions by government, policy hopelessness, and a litany of other failures don’t matter because if all politicians are just as bad as him. Without a widespread acceptance of that myth, the better-the-devil-you-know argument can’t work.

These things made him an effective campaigner in 2019, but only to the tune of a two seat majority. He didn’t win a sweeping victory, he won with 51.5 percent of the national two-party preferred vote (well within the margin of error on the pre-election polls).

A truly canny politician would have seen, well before the women’s march in 2021, that he was losing women’s votes and, when only a few percentage points could lose him the next election, assuming those women will continue to vote with their menfolk is a mistake. A truly canny politician would not have assumed women could be placated for decades of being ignored with the political equivalent of some flowers and a piece of cheap jewellery.

Morrison doesn’t make these assumptions because he’s stupid. I don’t believe he is stupid. But he is limited. He cannot understand the people outside his genre of the hardworking man who loves football, family, and fun. Using trans kids as a political sword and human shield is not unconscionable to him because they’re so far beyond his ken that they’re not really people. Ditto the people who do see these actions as unconscionable. Rinse and repeat for teens who are desperately worried about climate change, and people who genuinely care about social justice and integrity, and First Nations people, and the magnificent Uluru Statement from the Heart, and women who are dedicated to their professions, and children who live in poverty, and the notions that government has a responsibility to care for public good, and anyone who believes men’s violence against women, children, and each other is a public issue not a private problem.

The outcome of this election is impossible to predict because the factors that will decide it are outside the ability of polls to measure – demographic clusters and new candidate options in individual electorates – but if the Coalition loses, Morrison will bear almost sole responsibility for that loss. It will be interesting to see whether bluster and buffoonery will be enough to evade the price many people will want him to pay.

* Notice how calling them the “so-called” Canberra press gallery reads as a delegitimising sneer? Worth considering when you hear the press gallery journalists constantly refer to the many highly accomplished and predominantly female independent candidates as the “so-called Teal independents”.

© Jane Gilmore 2014