Time for some dark amusement. Rising water levels are being recorded in Victoria and New South Wales. Homes and businesses have been inundated before swelling rivers. And Australia’s former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is being advertised in his latest private engagement as a global visionary of vast influence.
The snake oil merchants on this occasion are not from his office but hail from the Worldwide Speakers Group, a motley, miscellaneous tribe of uneven quality that includes such members as former US Vice-President Mike Pence and former US Speaker Newt Gingrich. “After extensive research and due diligence,” Morrison stated, “I am excited to be joining Worldwide Speakers Group who will help facilitate my growing relationships with the private sector.”
Still a parliamentarian representing the federal seat of Cook, Morrison – so we are told – did remarkable things. According to the group’s blurb on Morrison’s achievements, they are manifold and grand, the sort expected from this “globalization mastermind”.
Any wise head will appreciate that resumes should never be taken seriously. They often document a series of piffling exaggerations, even lies. Fibs and fantasies commingle. At times, the omissions are just as significant. Eventually, the person behind the document will out. So we find in this instance that virtually nothing attributed to the former Australian PM was actually of his doing, and what was done proved to be a stupendous failure.
On the issue of pandemic management, Morrison supposedly showed “national leadership” that led to Australia having “the third lowest COVID fatality rate in the OECD [and] one of the highest vaccination rates in the world”. Throw in Australia’s economic performance, which bettered “all G7 and most OECD nations in both employment and economic growth”, and we have an omniscient genius on our hands.
In truth, Morrison’s pandemic stewardship proved woeful. Much of the legwork was performed by the States and Territories in combating the transmission of COVID-19 in the pre-vaccination phase. All the PM did was turn off the tap of arrivals and seal Australia from the outside world. When it came to something the Commonwealth could do – namely, a timely rollout of vaccines before the next outbreak – Morrison showed spectacularly poor form.
During the pandemic emergency response, Morrison also stretched the limit of Westminster conventions by the clandestine commandeering of five ministries. With the blessing of the Governor-General, and virtually no-one else, he revealed his deep, troubled, inner authoritarian self.
In terms of “speech topics,” those familiar with Morrison’s world view will be surprised to learn that he is happy to talk about “The Net Zero Global Emissions Economy.” This, from a man who resisted the very concept of “net zero” and refused to take climate change seriously, mocking, along the way, the island states of the Pacific for their existential concerns. At the Glasgow summit last year, he stonewalled an international effort to curb global methane emissions and refused to make advances on feeble 2030 emission reduction targets. Australia’s memorable if embarrassing contribution to that event was a glossy, graph-filled brochure emphasising the merits of technology.
Where he is likely to get his waffling engagements is in the field of China gnashing and bashing. “On the international stage, Mr Morrison was known for his leadership role to counter an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.”
He did this by “his founding membership of the Quad leaders dialogue with India, Prime [sic] Japan, and the United States”, in being an “architect” of the AUKUS security agreement between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom and “restoring Australian defence spending to more than 2% of GDP.”
It’s good to finally have a frank admission that AUKUS is a security alliance speared at Beijing, a point that Australian security officials and their colleagues have tried to underplay. On other points, the anti-China section of Morrison’s biography is less than frank.
On the issue of the Quad and his role in founding it, Morrison wanders in the realms of fantasy. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, initiated by the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was a 2007 creation. The Australian Prime Minister at that time was John Howard. While the agreement went into hiatus during the Rudd years, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed, along with India’s Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump, to revive the dialogue in 2017. Morrison, like Columbus and the New World, found something that was already very much there.
A lack of frankness is also shown by Morrison’s omission of his handling of the French submarine contract with the Naval Group, worth A$90 billion. His failure to inform the Macron government in good time that the deal for twelve diesel powered submarines had been terminated by AUKUS and its promise of nuclear-powered submarines was a monumental failure of diplomacy. Morrison’s conduct during this time was also brazen, incompetent and callous, leading to a souring of Franco-Australian relations that is only now on the mend.
Nothing is mentioned about his muddied record in the private sector, something he is so desperate to get back into. We are merely told that he “served in a series of senior executive roles in the private and Government sector in tourism, events and commercial real estate, both in Australia and New Zealand, including as Managing Director of Tourism Australia.” Responsible for some cringeworthy product during his stint at Tourism Australia, he was eventually forced out by former tourism minister Fran Bailey for what she called “a complete lack of trust”.
The Morrison biography for this speakers’ group is a tell-tale reminder that the over-remunerated lecture circuit is filled with opportunistic frauds and fantasists keen on fees rather than facts. Hopefully the good burghers of Cook will wake up to that fact soon.