You big ugly

Last weekend, Scott Morrison gave one of his pre-election interviews to Nine newspapers. He spent some time with the journalist. He aped for photographs with his dog. He talked about God but not too much.

The piece was written before the health system collapsed, before the deaths and emergency declarations, but there is no reason to believe this would have changed his disposition. Nothing changes his disposition.

Morrison talks about an imagined Australia where people don’t care about politics. These people are his base, the ones who don’t know what is happening. They are defined by what they want and by their willingness to believe he will give it to them.

“They want to live their lives,” Morrison says. “They want to run their businesses, they want a country that is safe and secure where they can have their own choices and make their own way … They want to own their own home, they want to raise their kids, get skills and training for them, they want to be able to save for their retirement and not get too much debt and live their life the way they want to do giving back to their community. These are the great aspirations.”

On Mother’s Day in 2019 he launched his re-election campaign with almost the same speech. Nothing in the past three years has changed his mind or made it larger. “My family story is not uncommon in our country,” he said. “Australians quietly going about their lives with simple, decent, honest aspirations. Get an education. Get a job. Start a business. Take responsibility for yourself, support others. Work hard. Deal with whatever challenges come your way. Meet someone amazing. I did: there she is, Jenny. Create a life and a family together. Work even harder to support them and give them the choices and, hopefully, an even better life than the one that you have. Save for your retirement and your future.”

Morrison talks as if he read the poet Ania Walwicz and took her words as affirmation: “You big man. Poor with all your money. You ugly furniture. You ugly house. You relaxed in your summer stupor.”

Walwicz’s poem of the small bigness of Australia is like a Morrison speech in the second person: “You go to sleep too early. You don’t excite me. You scare me with your hopeless. Asleep when you walk. Too hot to think. You big awful. You don’t match me. You burnt out. You too big sky. You make me a dot in the nowhere. You laugh with your big healthy. You want everyone to be the same.”

Walwicz migrated from Poland in 1963, five years before Morrison was born. She wrote Australia in 1981, the year he committed himself to Christ. Her vision is from his childhood, from a country that was even then several decades behind.

Morrison’s Australia is Walwicz’s Australia, without the venom or the insight. He is not a politician but a time traveller. When he talks about the future he promises the past. Calamities don’t worry him because he is always walking backwards from them. He would sooner beat polio than confront coronavirus.

These are the “simple, decent, honest aspirations” that Morrison speaks of – to live in a world that doesn’t exist, in a country that says it can. It’s not possible or right but it’s what’s on offer and like everything else with Morrison it worked once before.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 22, 2022 as "You big ugly".

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