Many Spectator Australia readers will recall the way Paul Keating taunted John Hewson in the lead up to the 1993 election. Over the course of twelve months, Keating did indeed ‘do Hewson slowly’. Keating reserved his most cutting lines for parliamentary debate, and one that remains imprinted in collective memory is this invective from a censure motion in 1992: “Mr Speaker, he’s going troppo! He is to be more pitied than despised, he’s simply going troppo.”
John Howard wrote in his autobiography, Lazarus Rising, that, as exaggerated as these attacks may have been, they unnerved Hewson, which led to him making clumsy mistakes and put him on the road to defeat. After that election loss, and particularly in his career after parliamentary life, in the mind of many John Hewson has in fact lost the plot.
Fast forward 29 years and it looks as though another Liberal leader is going nuts. Look at these gems delivered by the Prime Minister in Question Time yesterday.
“I don’t know what world those sleepwalkers opposite are living in, Mr Speaker. I don’t know what world they’re living in. But I know every Australian is very happy to be living in Australia during the course of this pandemic,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“I know that Australians – because they approach me every time when I go out into regional Australia or the suburbs and cities of this country – they know here, in this country, they’re living a life during Covid like few are anywhere else in the world.”
“I am going to thank the states for the great job they are doing … I commend the Victorian state government for the work that they are doing, even now, to ensure that they are tracking down all of these cases”.
Every Australian is happy to be living here? How many Victorians were happy over 112 days of suffocating lockdown last year? If the Victorian government is doing such a great job, Prime Minister, why is it that five million people have been put under virtual house arrest once more? Ask them if they are happy about that. How can the other states be doing a great job when their premiers — with the exception of Gladys Berejiklian — continue to fearmonger and wet their pants over a handful of cases?
Do tell, Prime Minister, how many Australians were happy when state premiers decided that hospitals were for “their people”, leading to the tragic deaths of unborn babies, among others? How many Australians were happy to have their relatives stranded in India and declared criminals if they tried to come back to their own country, while cricketers were able to return safely?
How can you possibly say, Prime Minister, to every Australian who has had a business he has worked all his life to build now smashed by your encouragement of lockdowns and public health orders? Ask those mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, Prime Minister, who have had their children or siblings take their own lives because they could not socialise with their friends over a virus that has basically no chance of killing them, let alone making them sick, how happy they are.
If Scott Morrison truly believes every Australian is happy, he is living in a parallel universe. He seems to think that, just as state premiers have shown, electoral success lies in fomenting fear. Let’s keep Australians locked up until mid-next-year so that I can guarantee myself another three years in The Lodge. However, with only just on 50% of the primary vote being given to the major parties in the Upper Hunter by-election, and a budget that has yet, to use another Keating epithet, to bring home the bacon in the polls, the patience of Australians may be wearing thin. This correspondent, a former life-long Liberal voter, has already lost his patience.
The ALP started losing the plot under Doc Evatt, displayed some sort of reason between 1983 and 1990, only to then sell out their base permanently in favour of inner-city elites. The crass insensitivity on display in the parliament yesterday is confirmation (if any were needed) that Scott Morrison and his Liberal Party have also gone troppo. Whether they are to be more pitied than despised we will find out over the next few months as we head towards an election.
Rocco Loiacono is Senior Lecturer at Curtin University Law School.
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