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A very Morrison Christmas

Dec 20, 2019 • 16m 04s

As fires continue on both sides of the continent, and the government succeeds in putting off commitments at the UN climate talks, Scott Morrison has gone on holidays.

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A very Morrison Christmas

147 • Dec 20, 2019

A very Morrison Christmas

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

As fires continue on both sides of the continent, and the government succeeds in putting off commitments at the UN climate talks, Scott Morrison has gone on holidays. Paul Bongiorno on what the year looks like from this end of the calendar.

[Theme music ends]

[Music starts]

Archival tape — Unidentified female reporter:

‘As Scott Morrison’s decision to take a family holiday during the bushfire crisis is drawing headlines, the Daily Telegraph uses a slogan from the PM’s time with Tourism Australia to ask “Where the bloody hell are you?’

Archival tape — Unidentified male reporter:

‘Wanted. Scott Morrison. Status MIA. Last reported sighting holidaying in Hawaii. Any sighting of a real Australian PM would be appreciated.’

Archival tape — Unidentified female reporter:

‘Everybody knows that the prime minister is entitled to a holiday just like everybody else. It’s been a long year. Just tell everyone, be upfront about it. Why does it have to be a big secret?’

ELIZABETH:

Paul, where is Scott Morrison?

PAUL:

Ah, Elizabeth, if only we knew. There's a rumor he was spotted at Sydney Airport with his family boarding an international flight which had Hawaii as one of its destinations.

[Music ends]

ELIZABETH:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30 year veteran of the Canberra press gallery.

PAUL:

As this tip took hold on social media, the prime minister's office became, well, I'd have to say, indignant and intimidatory. Morrison's chief media flack sent out a terse message to select media outlets, a copy of which came into my possession. It was on background and not for reporting. He confirmed that the prime minister had taken, quote, a couple of quick days of leave with the family. I don’t know if a quick day is less than 24 hours, but that’s what it said.

ELIZABETH:

Ok.

PAUL:

The note went on to say Morrison was doing this instead of taking leave between Christmas and New Year and instead of taking leave during his wedding anniversary in January. It said this was to enable the prime minister to make some important visits in January, one to India and one to Japan. The message went on to say, we obviously can't tell you the location due to privacy and security concerns, it would be great if the gallery could respect this. So it would be great if the gallery whose job is to report on the elected government in a democratic society, didn't do its job.

ELIZABETH:

But seriously, Paul, is that all the detail we have about where the prime minister is right now?

PAUL:

Well it is. Journalists called the deputy prime minister Michael McCormick's office for confirmation that he was now the acting prime minister. As is usual, when the boss is on leave or out of the country and we were told you'll have to call the prime minister's office, we're not allowed to comment either way. Look it was a bizarre situation. But on Tuesday, McCormack threw off the shackles and held a news conference in his hometown of Wagga Wagga, which he says was now the national capital.

Archival tape — Michael McCormack:

‘And fact is I'm representing this country. And as acting prime minister from Wagga Wagga. So how good is that? You've got the acting prime minister running the country from Wagga Wagga…’

PAUL:

He also confirmed that Scott Morrison was overseas.

Archival tape — Michael McCormack:

‘Yes, he is overseas. Uh. The fact is, this is a matter for his privacy and security.’

PAUL:

Look, I've gotta say that some of the government backbench are gobsmacked. One Liberal MP said to me, why would you sneak out of the country and worse, create a story that didn't need to be there? Well, one Labor insider said imagine what the tabloids would have done to Julia Gillard in similar circumstances. The headlines would have screamed, Gillard leaves fire victims in the lurch and flees the country.

But there's more than a hint of hypocrisy about all of this, Elizabeth, because Scott Morrison, as an opposition frontbencher in 2010 on the TV show QandA was scathing in his criticism of then Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon going to a slap up dinner after receiving a briefing on the Black Saturday fire catastrophe.

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

‘She's clearly made a bad judgement call that happens to people from time to time. But this was a very serious issue and I think there are very serious concerns in the community about it exercising judgment. And it's incumbent…’

PAUL:

He cut her no slack at all as a public official. He said she showed bad judgment. And, we should remember, she wasn't even the Premier or the fire commissioner.

ELIZABETH:

And I mean, you know, it's hard to say the scale of the catastrophe we're seeing right now but we’re right in the middle of it, it doesn't look like the end is in sight.

PAUL:

Well, precisely. You know, unfortunately, and this is creating national anxiety, this is basically the beginning of summer and usually we get these disasters towards the end of summer. So no wonder the whole nation is on tenterhooks.

ELIZABETH:

And that was still the big story of this week, bushfires and the government's muted reaction to them, their unwillingness to link them to climate change.

PAUL:

Yeah, to downplay it. That's true. This week we had the specter of 29 former emergency service leaders from around the country, ex fire chiefs and so on, top people expressing very public disappointment that Morrison has downplayed the current fire disaster raging on both sides of the continent.

Archival tape — Greg Mullins:

‘We’re here because of the continuing bushfire crisis and also because of the leadership vacuum in Canberra…’

PAUL:

One of the former fire chiefs is Greg Mullins. He said Morrison reluctantly admitting that climate change was, quote “one of many contributing factors to the current fire season” is wrong. Mullins says all those factors are related to climate change. The consensus among these emergency chiefs is that we need less reliance on fossil fuels and this is urgent and we need a more determined effort to get there. On Tuesday, the group said they'll go it alone and call a summit on the crisis after the current bushfire season.

Archival tape — Greg Mullins:

<< GREG MULLINS: Extreme weather is driven by climate change. Climate change is driven by the burning of coal, oil and gas. We have to stop. We have to look after future generations.’

PAUL:

And Elizabeth, so far, the prime minister has refused to meet with them or to concede even that such a summit is needed.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

And, Paul, to what degree is Scott Morrison acknowledging this calamity?

PAUL:

Elizabeth, there's no national fire disaster. The prime minister at a news conference last week says that calling that a disaster is something the states do. So we have state based disasters, but we don't seem to have a national one.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

Paul, we're talking about the bushfires and Scott Morrison's response to them when we spoke last week. Angus Taylor was in Madrid for the U.N. climate talks. How did that go?

PAUL:

Well, it depends if you mean from the government's perspective or from the planet’s. Angus Taylor joined Brazil and a handful of other recalcitrant countries to keep carry over credits and other emissions accounting fiddles on the table ahead of the next climate meeting in Glasgow at the end of next year. Australia also failed to back Europe and smaller states, particularly in the Pacific, pushing for countries to have more ambitious targets than their Paris commitments - targets that would make it easier or more credible to achieve the Paris 2050 target of net zero emissions.

[Music starts]

PAUL:

In an interview with Network 10 on Monday, Taylor said he didn't hear any criticism of Australia while he was in Madrid.

Archival tape — Angus Taylor:

‘Well I didn’t see that. I mean the truth was the focus of this conference was on international carbon markets and making those work. We continue to be strongly supportive of the Paris agreement, we continue to…’

PAUL:

And he's insisted that our 26 to 28 per cent reductions by 2030 were serious and would be reached. Although, as we know, they can't be reached without the fiddle he's arguing to be allowed to keep.

ELIZABETH:

Hmm.

PAUL:

But John Connor, a longtime activist, an expert in this area, he's now the chief executive of the Carbon Markets Institute. And he was an observer at the climate talks. He told RN Breakfast it's a real cancer on Australia's climate credibility as we move forward.

Archival tape — John Connor:

‘It’s very significant that we saw in Madrid such significant countries make a clear position about the credibility of this issue that Australia tried to perhaps have underneath the carpet…’

PAUL:

And Connor told me that Australia is in for a horror summer of fires, which may, he hopes, convince the government to give more weight to its current policy reviews in this area.

[Music ends]

ELIZABETH:

Paul, we've talked about this on the show many times before, but what does it do? This kind of position that was being presented at the U.N. climate talks. What does it do for Australia in terms of our standing internationally, but especially with our neighbors in the Pacific?

PAUL:

Well, with our neighbors in the Pacific, it frustrates them and it angers them. You might remember the prime minister of Tonga admitted to tears of anguish at Morrison's performance during the Pacific Islands Forum a couple of months back.

The Pacific Island Forum, the next one is in Vanuatu in September and John Connor says this will be a really big test. It says it'll be Australia's chance to show that it is serious. I don't think it'll come to what the islands forum wants, and that is no new coal mines in Australia. But clearly, Morrison’s going to have to turn up with more in his bag than what's there already.

ELIZABETH:

And Paul, the other news this week was the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook. The government wants us to know that if you look really closely, the surplus is still there.

PAUL:

Ah Elizabeth, the marketing genius that was the April budget, which Liberal research found was the turning point in the government's electoral fortunes; well, it's not living up to the hype. The revised surplus is a sickly child, indeed. Just five billion dollars in a 500 billion dollar budget, which has predominantly been achieved by iron ore and commodity prices being much higher than the Treasurer forecast in his April budget.

MYEFA as it's called was a series of downward revisions on practically everything. Josh Frydenberg did his best to blame the global economic trends and our major trading partners. He also mentioned the drought and agriculture, although economists say that at this point of time they're not yet a major contributor to the sluggish economic performance.

And that surplus, which is interesting to note, is almost the same size as the $4.6 billion dollars the government has failed to spend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And that, of course, enables it to bank these funds as a saving.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

So, Paul, this is the last episode of 7am for the year, the last one that you and I will have; I will very much miss you. And we talk every week about politics. For you, as you look back on 2019, what's your overwhelming impression of Morrison and of his government as we come to the end of the year?

PAUL:

Well, look Elizabeth coming back to where we started this conversation, that furtive overseas trip and the indignation that anyone has a right to know what the elected prime minister and his government are up to, in my view, is a strong metaphor for the arrogance and indeed the contempt Morrison and his ministers have for the people of Australia and their elected parliament since the May election triumph. In many ways, it's a Morrison trademark. Remember “on water matters?” that was when Morrison was immigration minister and he refused to give any information on what our Navy and Customs were doing on Operation Sovereign Borders. And as we know and believe and hope is true, transparency and accountability are the hallmarks of a healthy, functioning democracy. It looks to me that this government prefers to ride roughshod over those values in the exercise of power.

ELIZABETH:

Paul, thank you so much. Not just for today, but for the whole year, it's been so lovely to speak to you every week. And I really will miss our conversations.

PAUL:

Thank you so much, Elizabeth, and I wish you well in all your new endeavors. As Paul Keating says, the caravan moves on, but the dogs keep barking.

ELIZABETH:

Where do I fit into that metaphor?

PAUL:

I don't know. You'll have to work it out.

ELIZABETH:

Paul, thank you so much. Have a great Christmas break.

PAUL:

OK. Same to you, Elizabeth. And to all our many and merry, I hope, podcasters.

ELIZABETH:

All right. Thanks so much. Bye.

PAUL:

Bye.

ELIZABETH:

Today marks my last episode hosting 7am, as I move on to new audio projects in 2020. Thank you so much for all your support and feedback this year as we built the show, we so appreciate it.

Please stay in touch, you can find me on Twitter @ElizabethKulas.

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[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

On Thursday morning, the US House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump. This is only the third such case in American history. Following a debate that stretched over eight hours, the House voted on two articles of impeachment: the first charging the President with abusing his power by asking Ukrainian officials to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden. And the second charging him with obstructing Congress by preventing witnesses from providing evidence in the impeachment inquiry.

The next step in the process is to move the matter to a trial in the Senate, though Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not immediately commit to a timeline, expressing concern about an unfair trial. So far Democrats have declined to identify impeachment managers, who would act as the party’s representatives during Senate trial proceedings, and have only said they will do so at a later date.

Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and twenty senators would need to vote against the President to meet the super majority of two thirds required to see him removed from office.

7am is produced by Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem.

Our field and features producer is Elle Marsh in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Erik Jensen is our editor.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

If you've got a moment over the holidays please leave 7am a review on your podcast app of choice.

7am will be taking a break from today, returning with a new host, Ruby Jones, on January 27th.

In the meantime, from all of us here, please have a safe and enjoyable holiday break.

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas.

As fires continue on both sides of the continent, and the government succeeds in putting off commitments at the UN climate talks, Scott Morrison has gone on holidays. Paul Bongiorno on what the year looks like from this end of the calendar.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

PM travels as country burns in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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147: A very Morrison Christmas