Voters are increasingly angry about issues that PM Scott Morrison seems to be ignoring. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty
Voters are increasingly angry about issues that PM Scott Morrison seems to be ignoring. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty

ScoMo is deaf to anger on sexism and climate change

IN 1972 Gough Whitlam campaigned with the slogan "It's Time" which captured the mood of the nation in the run up to a pivotal election.

Part of that changing mood was caught in Helen Reddy's No 1 hit I Am Woman - "hear me roar; In numbers too big to ignore''.

Sadly for William McMahon and his weary government, even then they couldn't hear the roar or capture the temper of the country.

Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government seem similarly cloth-eared to a rising tide of disenchantment with the implicit sexism in our political system and society as a whole.

It is symptomatic of what seems to be a failing government, and makes comparisons with 1972 inescapable on so many levels.

There was a sense of inevitability about the result of that election and there is a similar feeling about this government's glacial slide into defeat as reinforced by 40-plus successive Newspoll defeats and the Wentworth disaster.

In 1972 McMahon and his government found themselves on the wrong side of history and unable to turn the page.

Labor Leader Gough Whitlam, with singer Little Pattie during the ALP “It's Time” campaign for the 1972 Federal Election. Picture: News Corp
Labor Leader Gough Whitlam, with singer Little Pattie during the ALP “It's Time” campaign for the 1972 Federal Election. Picture: News Corp

McMahon, PM through virtue of endemic instability, led a party that was old, tired, out of ideas and out of touch. There was resentment at his style and duplicity, and the party still had to go through the ignominy of defeat and the idiocy of the Billy Snedden interregnum before it could renew itself under Malcolm Fraser.

The blatherskite Morrison is PM only because of long-term instability in a Coalition that was deprived of a therapeutic period of reflection and reinvention by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd war that prematurely propelled Tony Abbott into the top office for a few calamitous years.

In 1972, the Conservatives' economic credentials were under siege and the messages on which they had hung their hats for decades were no longer cutting through.

As the Coalition solemnly talked economic management and trade while still trying to manage the lost political cause of the Vietnam War, Labor spoke of quality of life issues defined by Whitlam as a focus on "cities, schools and hospitals".

The Government talked security; Labor talked sewerage. The Government looked backward; Labor looked forward.

And today the gap between the past and the future is nowhere more yawning than on climate change.

Only last week our kids demonstrated they are no longer prepared to be seen and not heard on the issue. They have reason to be angry as they digest the scientific facts and ponder a future blighted by the inaction of the past.

Student protested last week to demand the government take action on climate change. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty
Student protested last week to demand the government take action on climate change. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty

The strike was enough to send Morrison into a fit of harrumphing about the need for kids to get back to school (when the school year for seniors was about done and dusted).

It was a silly, kneejerk, grey-tinged, tin-eared response to a bunch of earnest youngsters who will be voting soon (maybe next year) and one guaranteed to put off-side thousands of equally concerned parents and grandparents.

It signalled that the Government is not aware that the ground is shifting under its feet. Or, if it is, it is unable to regain its balance.

On foreign policy, the Government of 1972 was locked into a fatuous Cold War policy of containment of China which blew up in its face when Whitlam visited Beijing and coincidentally found himself on the same page as US President Richard Nixon.

Today the Government is less than reassuring as it tries to accommodate our traditional alliances under the unpredictable Donald Trump with the reality of rising Chinese influence in our region.

William McMahon as he casts his vote in the 1972 election, where he was defeated. Picture: News Corp
William McMahon as he casts his vote in the 1972 election, where he was defeated. Picture: News Corp

It has opened a wound by its ill-advised floating of moving our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and succeeded only in offending our neighbours.

By abandoning bipartisanship, the Government has left itself vulnerable on foreign affairs, traditionally one of its strengths.

It doesn't seem to know who its friends might be in the world any more than it can differentiate between friends and enemies within the party itself.

Changing party rules to protect incumbent conservative prime ministers will no more cure the sickness of ideological division than lashing a ship's captain to the wheel will quell a mutinous rabble in the engine room.

The underlying and undeniable problem for the Government is that nobody really believes it is united and nobody really believes Morrison is the man to unite it. The disunity is demonstrated in almost daily disruptive utterances and Morrison's inability to repair it is shown by his continued appeasement of the hard right of his party and his clunky interference in state branches.

It is difficult to deny that the LNP is at the point of no return that all governments eventually reach when leadership fails, reality is denied, the public mood is ignored and survival becomes the main game.

Scott Morrison, meet William McMahon.

Terry Sweetman is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.

 

Scott Morrison’s reaction was to tell students to get back to school. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty
Scott Morrison’s reaction was to tell students to get back to school. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty


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