The organ grinder

Last month, Scott Morrison updated his register of interests. It’s a brief document, but then disclosure does not come naturally to the former prime minister. The words “not applicable” appear 22 times.

There are a few club memberships, most of them sporting. There’s a family trust and a company of which he is director and sole shareholder. There’s a free subscription to Foxtel at his electorate office, and at Cronulla Sharks home games a guttering company chips in for hospitality. That’s about it.

Under potential conflicts of interest with his public duties, he makes a small note: “From time to time, I will receive honorariums from speaking engagements overseas. In the interest of full disclosure, my attendance will sometimes be arranged by the Worldwide Speakers Group.”

The agency has begun marketing Morrison as an “exclusive thought leader”. Presumably, this refers to their arrangement and not his number of thoughts. Morrison, they claim, is an expert in Covid-19, the Indo-Pacific, faith and technology in liberal democracies, and the net-zero global emissions economy.

“Scott Morrison is the true definition of a leader with a 360-degree worldview,” the agency notes in a one-pager for potential clients. “During his tenure, Morrison was tasked with several difficulties that required unique and innovative solutions. From managing the public safety of Australians during the pandemic to mitigating an economic crisis, controlling natural disasters, and leading the country while others were at war, Prime Minister Morrison led Australia with his particular brand of calm decisiveness and rationale. A virtuous globalization mastermind, Morrison lends his boundless influence and experience to audiences around the world.”

Morrison missed the first sitting of this parliament to attend a speaking gig in Japan. A week earlier he accepted business class travel and was paid to talk at an event in South Korea. The same month he approached the Australian Rugby League Commission, hoping he could join their board. They could not find an opening.

It is easy enough to forget, but Morrison is still paid to represent the people of Cook. He draws a $200,000 salary and will leave the parliament with a generous travel allowance and other benefits. He says he intends to stay in politics: “I’ve got no plans to go anywhere.” He also intends to work less: “I’m looking forward to being a dad again – it’s been a while since I’ve been able to spend as much time as I would like with the family.”

Morrison is in the grubbing phase. The corporate world is not interested and so he is on the speaker circuit. Talking comes to him easily. He has a preacher’s knack for movement and pat phrases. His bio makes clear he is happy to talk on topics about which he knows nothing and others where he has been comprehensively destructive.

The truth about Morrison is this: the country is worse off for the fact that he led it. He was mendacious and sly and unserious. His self-interest consumed everything. To see him now pretend at competence, to offer himself as a thinker of any special qualities, is to watch the organ grinder become the monkey and realise that for him there was never any difference.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 22, 2022 as "The organ grinder".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription