Life inside a lie

The government Scott Morrison leads has achieved less in three terms than perhaps any other in Australian history. What it has accomplished has largely made the country worse. It has dismantled an effective carbon price, antagonised China, cowed the national broadcaster, diminished the broadband network. It has confected a national circus on gay rights, alienated allies, rigged the tax system to ensure a country that will be less fair, where there will be less money for health and education.

Morrison’s is a government of gross rorting and frivolous obsessions. It has no coherent plan. Its refusal to establish an integrity commission is an admission of just how bent its members are. It indulges peccadilloes on religious freedoms but refuses to legislate an emissions target. It muddled through the pandemic on luck and the work of the states.

Competence is a novel concept to Morrison. He does not possess it and nor does he expect it from his ministers. Billions of dollars are wasted on defence contracts. Billions more are rorted in election spending. It is government by boondoggle.

On refugees, he has refined a system of cruelty unmatched anywhere in the world. He will be remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the country’s great torturer. He is a man who will not pass up even the smallest advantage. He is constantly chiselling at the nation’s soul.

He has lied so often and with such certainty that the truth seems to slide off him. He is an oiled-up showman. In the early days of the government, when he was Immigration minister, he lied and said Reza Barati was killed outside the fence of a detention centre on Manus Island. The implication was that it was his fault for escaping. In reality, he was killed by guards. Morrison lied again and said social workers were coaching refugees to self-harm, and eventually his government had to pay compensation for this. It stands out as a lonely consequence in a career absent of them.

Morrison, this cruel and bilious man, now asks for a fourth term. He says he’s just getting started. He plans to be different. He looks out at the carnage behind him, all of it the result of his ineffectiveness and ineptitude, and says he is a bulldozer. There is no crisis that doesn’t begin and end with him imagining himself as a small boy playing with a toy truck.

His pitch, as ever, is comfort. He has the shape and bearing of a Jason recliner. He speaks to one half of Australia and promises he will make them comfortable. They will not have to worry about climate change or an unstable world. They will live in Morrison’s Australia, protected by selfishness and indifference. They can live inside one of his lies, in a house they bought with their superannuation, safe in the constant present that is more accurately a suburban past. The future doesn’t exist in this world because it is too real to consider.

Today, there is a chance Morrison will be re-elected. If it happens, it will be a tragedy for the country.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 21, 2022 as "Life inside a lie".

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