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Even Scott Morrison is trying to distance himself from Scott Morrison now

By Katharine Murphy

If you want to know how much Scott Morrison wants to win this election campaign, I recommend you watch the footage from Friday’s press conference. Morrison wants to win enough to execute a humility flip.

The Liberal campaign has been struggling with its Morrison problem right from the get go. The prime minister is largely a positive for the Coalition in the regions and outer suburbs, but in the Liberal party’s disillusioned progressive heartland, Morrison is seen as irredeemably toxic.

The campaign’s first response to this problem has been Operation Permission To Distance. Liberals in marginal seats have been actively differentiating themselves from Morrison for weeks; even the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, close enough to the prime minister to bunk in with him at the Lodge, now puts his differences with Morrison on high rotation.

But evidently, that’s not enough.

Morrison now has to distance from Morrison. He’s created Morrison 2.0.

The prime minister’s messaging on Friday tells us he understands he’s a barrier to entry for many voters, including people who have voted Liberal all their lives.

So Morrison 2.0 – birthed at a press conference – gets things wrong, but he also learns from his mistakes and strives to do better.

Morrison 2.0 has a positive agenda for the country and a belief that things will be better now we are out of the pandemic that we aren’t actually out of.

Morrison 2.0 has happy, productive thoughts, ideas and plans as well as an insatiable hunger to list Anthony “loose unit” Albanese’s character deficiencies several times a day down to the footnotes, in an effort to spare Australians from the miserable fate that apparently awaits them under Labor.

Morrison 2.0 even revealed that the beta version – that would be the prime minister we’ve all seen in a variety of contexts over the last four and a bit years, the person with very clear and seemingly fixed character traits – was “a bit of a bulldozer”. (Guys. Can you believe it? Who knew?)

Most tellingly of all, Morrison 2.0 acknowledged that beta Morrison had to change. “As we go into this next period on the other side of this election, I know there are things that are going to have to change with the way I do things,” he said.

“We are moving into a different time. We are moving into a time of opportunity and working from the strong platform of strength that we’ve built and saved in our economy in the last three years we can now take advantage of those opportunities in the future.”

Extraordinary is an overused word in political commentary, but it truly was extraordinary to see this person, the person who declared shortly after taking the prime ministership that like General Norman Schwarzkopf, when placed in command, he would “take charge” – suddenly unleash an entirely new prime ministerial character. One that could brook criticism without sulking. One who could sometimes be wrong. One prepared to listen. One prepared to learn.

I say on behalf of the women of Australia – where was this prime minister, the humble and empathic leader the country needed during the cultural reckoning of the past 12 months?

I say to Morrison directly: where were you when you were needed (as opposed to when you needed to win an election)? Seriously, how dare you.

If Morrison could learn (as opposed, to managing, strategising, spinning and fixing) – if this was actually an option, why has he spent the past four years point blank refusing to do so?

Morrison’s stubborn refusal to read the room and be different is the main reason he’s in political trouble now, because Australians can easily recognise forceful characters who always know best, the people who are righteous in their obduracy, people imagine themselves saviours when they are human, and therefore flawed.

Let’s consider why Morrison is pulling his own version of “real Julia” (Gillard’s attempted campaign flip in 2010). The reason is simple. Morrison has a strategy to win, but he doesn’t know whether his strategy is going to work.

He’s uncertain. I can see this sensation he’s battling because it’s brand new, I’ve never seen him battle it before. It’s doubt.

Morrison’s imperative during the final week of the 2022 campaign is hold the base and firm up the soft vote. Morrison has shored up Clive Palmer’s preferences in the seats that matter and given the swinging Liberals who might vote Labor, independent or insurgent, a list of reasons not to do that.

He’s landed some blows on Albanese during the campaign as he’s sought to weight his gravity-defying opponent as a risk. But the torrent of the ad hominem and negativity has obscured the Coalition’s positive messages to the point where swinging voters are wondering whether this government has anything at all to say about the future.

In this final week, Morrison must now communicate with the people he’s persuaded to hesitate. Unfortunately for him, some of these voters loathe him.

His first pitch to this group was: I know you don’t like me but you know I’m good at my job. Unfortunately for him, they don’t know that. So now Morrison has to be better at his job, which is what he told this cohort on Friday. He laced his mea culpa with hope and aspiration and an overlay of Labor’s campaign messaging, hoping for a convergence, hoping for his May miracle.

He might still get it. If anyone can get it, this bloke can, because his political ruthlessness knows no bounds. He is a narrowcaster par excellence.

But the Coalition is in trouble. Friday’s Morrison 2.0 mea culpa isn’t the dawn of self-knowledge. It’s a clarion distress call.

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Dive Deeper:
Analysis-Hero to hindrance: Australia PM Morrison hurts party's election hopes
Three years ago, Scott Morrison's ebullient personality as the little known and newly installed leader of Australia's Liberal Party was…
Grattan on Friday: It's Albanese's to lose, as Morrison looks for some momentum
The Liberals have used John Howard extensively during this campaign. These days, they celebrate their party hero as the great…
Australia's Morrison vows more empathy if re-elected PM
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised on Saturday to be more empathetic if he wins re-election, as his government continues…
Female voters are queueing up to belt Scott Morrison, and it could get very ugly
The prime minister is on the nose with women, and it’s gone from bad to worse since the Brittany Higgins…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Morrison hails close ties with India and Albanese pledges $970m for Medicare – as it happened
Scott Morrison reiterates new pitch to voters, promising a ‘gear change’, and Anthony Albanese reveals plan to boost primary healthcare.…
Albanese says Morrison broke faith with US by delaying Labor’s Aukus briefing
Biden administration reportedly said defence alliance needed bipartisan support, but opposition was not told until day before it was announced
Get all your news in one place