Fair bunkum

The problem with Scott Morrison is that it seems as if he is pretending. When he looks up from his phone screen to address the camera in his office, he has all the credibility of a corporate training video. He is avuncular and insincere, and then he starts to speak.

“We’ve got to get electricity prices down,” he says, rushing. “I met Avril and Colin this morning. Colin served in our defence forces and is a defence force pensioner. Avril’s gone back to work to pay for the bills.”

The details of this story have as much to do with the policy Morrison is announcing as the policy has to do with addressing climate change. This doesn’t matter.

Morrison holds up a sheet of paper. “This is their electricity bill. You can see it’s paid, but they are paying too much.”

You can see neither of these things.

“I look through your comments and you say, ‘Well, how you going to do it?’ ” Morrison says, his face folding with concern: “We’re going to get the electricity companies in line. We’re going to do it with new laws and new rules, which means they can’t rip you off simply by you being a loyal customer. If you stay with them you shouldn’t be penalised for that. We’re going to stop the price gouging and have tough penalties for the big electricity companies if they try and do that. And thirdly, we’re going to force them to put more fair dinkum, reliable energy, power, into the system.”

Morrison goes on like this, rocking forward in his chair, his jacket off to show he is working hard. There is satisfaction in the phrase “fair dinkum” – his ocker euphemism for coal.

The condescension in this video is not just to the Avrils and Colins who people Morrison’s Australia, whose bills and service records he uses as props. The condescension is to climate change and to energy policy.

The price control is a fiddle: some bills will go down, others will go up. The cost to the environment is the cost of a country with no policy on climate change, willing to destroy the Earth for politics.

“Renewables are great,” Morrison says, his expression unchanged, as if calibrating a polygraph. “But we’re also needing the reliable power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. That’s what keeps the lights on. Lower electricity prices. Meeting our emissions reductions targets. And ensuring the lights stay on.”

Morrison says all this in a phantasm of ordinariness. He keeps a picture of the Queen in his office and one of each of his children. A statue depicts two soldiers in the act of mateship. On his bookshelf are spy novels, a few popular histories, Nam Le’s collection The Boat, and, apparently, no room for irony.

Morrison’s Australia is aggressively pedestrian. It prefers to be wrong than complex. It values work over ingenuity, rejects the world because it is anxious about its place in it.

That’s what is most worrying about these videos Morrison makes. They re-create the worst version of Australia: prideful and insecure, too afraid to act on anything more than what it already knows.

There is no plan in this country to address climate change. We are going backwards. Scott Morrison is there, waiting for us. He’s set up a camera and taken off his jacket and is pretending to look at his phone.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 27, 2018 as "Fair bunkum".

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