Because I said

Scott Morrison’s smile is like a measuring tape. It lengthens as he decides what it is he can get away with. The calibration is sometimes off but this does not affect his confidence. Before he speaks, he sucks air hard through his nose: one last assessment, as if to smell the credulity of the room.

“Um, well,” he said this week, “I’d have to check with Jen, because she, um, she’s the one that goes and, and gets them, um, for, for those situations.”

The question was simple enough: How many rapid tests have you personally paid for? What was really being asked was: Do you understand how difficult it is to get them, that symptomatic people are going from pharmacy to pharmacy because of a failure of supply?

The smile arrived as Morrison said his wife’s name. The measuring began. Jen holds a special purpose in the Morrison government: she is a reminder that the prime minister is a husband first, that he governs from this position and that the sanctity of family means he will not give clear responses. Like all fathers, his final answer is because I said.

“When they’re being used for private use, then Jen’s popped around to the chemist or wherever she’s gone,” Morrison continued. “I think recently she went to one here in Canberra, um, for that reason, and was able to eventually find one. Just like everyone else, driving around looking to find one.”

A few weeks ago, he claimed he bought his own test at a pharmacy in Terrigal. “Picked one up. Took the test. It was negative. I didn’t need the government to tell me to do anything.” Of course, that’s not true: Morrison is the government. He waited in a Comcar while a staffer bought the test for him. He called this “a real-life example”.

Morrison governs through anecdote. He lives entirely in the first person. He’s in it, just like you. Except he’s not. He’s the prime minister. He shouldn’t be driving around looking for tests. No reasonable person expects that. What he should be doing is making them available. If his wife is driving around looking for them it is not because he’s on your side – it’s because he’s not. He has failed you and he has failed the country. If he wants to add Jen to the list of people he has let down in this pandemic, that’s for him.

Morrison is fundamentally confused about the role of the prime minister. He remains a state party director at heart: he works for the people who voted for him, and no one else. This has been the fundamental failure of the pandemic. He never believed himself responsible for the country as a whole. Now he has failed even those who put him in charge.

Morrison’s response is the same as it has always been: to smile and hope the country will look after itself; that he will continue life as the ordinary man who found himself miraculously prime minister, the King Ralph of Australian politics.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 8, 2022 as "Because I said ".

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