ScoMo, Mo More

May 30, 2022 08:12
Incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison, leader of the Australian Liberal Party, concedes defeat in the country's general election. Photo: Reuters

Woke up last weekend (or the weekend before, really) to the fantastic news that Scott Morrison had been booted. With a sweeping Labour victory came the end to the shambolic Liberal-National coalition that had run (or ruined) Australia throughout vast swathes of the past decade or so – I suppose one could say, ScoMo, Mo More!

When reviewing ScoMo’s Premiership record, it would be fundamentally a dereliction of duty to neglect the times that we’re in. Indeed, Scott Morrison presided over Australia in what was by no means an easy era in world history. From the raging pandemic to increasing balkanization and polarisation in relation to great power politics, from the devastating challenges of climate change to the struggles of keeping the Australian economy afloat amidst increasingly bellicose (albeit partially self-inflicted) geopolitical altercations with the behemoth in the region. So, one may reasonably conclude, it behoves us to cut him some slack.

Yet slack-cutting has its limits. As someone with the designated role of overseeing a significant, 26-million-strong population in one of the world’s most expansive-by-area countries, Morrison had the distinctively tough… task of not running the country to the ground (sarcasm intended). And indeed, to some extent Australia’s early, zero-tolerance approach to COVID, and his administration’s no-nonsense take on law and order, have certainly proven to be redeeming features of his time in office – though, as some critics have suggested, much of Morrison’s success on both fronts seems to have had more to do with state-based policies, as opposed to being the product of his industrious work ethic and acumen. Indeed, even on the subject of policies aimed at containing the pandemic, the Morrison government’s later reticence and ineptitude in securing vaccines saw the stagnating in Australia’s vaccine uptake, and provided fertile ground for anti-vaxxers and anti-science conspiracists to propagate nonsensical lies about vaccines.

More substantively, however, his tenure had been disastrous. First up, there’s China – Morrison opted to align himself expressly against a country he construed as the alleged Public Enemy No. 1 to the ‘libera’ democratic order’, castigating what had once been Australia’s primary trade and economic partner, in favour of closer ties with Washington. The intention had been to assimilate Australia into global security and political networks that would in turn ‘protect’ it from a threat that had been highly hyperbolised and blown out of proportions. The result? A provoked and precipitously trenchant China that has taken to reprobating Australia with a level of ferocity that honestly spelled ominous disaster for the remainder of Morrison’s term. Morrison’s predecessors – both Turnbull and Rudd – had been vastly more prudent and pragmatic in relation to China. Neither was bushy-eyed and naïve about Chinese ambitions, but both took to constraining and engaging with China in equal volumes, without portraying the latter as an inimical threat to Australian values (hint: it isn’t!).

Morrison’s haphazard foreign policies had equally detrimental effects on domestic politics. Under his ‘leadership’, the cabal of closet racists in the Liberal Party took to a McCarthyist campaign (especially evident during the recent elections) that took swipes at those who were ethnic Chinese – or, as the campaign later evolved and events unfolded, individuals who didn’t “look white at large”. The notorious conflating of opponent Sally Sitou with another Asian-Australian politician Tu Le by Liberal Party politician Fiona Martin was but the tip of the iceberg when it came to rampant, subconscious racism within the previous ruling party. The combination of the pandemic and Cold War-esque rhetoric concerning China contributed to persisting scaremongering efforts that framed any and all Chinese-speaking migrant as an ostensible threat to national security. Indeed, with the trajectory of events in Australia, one would be excused for thinking that Trump’s wing of the Republican Party had opted to set up shop down under! For a country that had always prized itself for a country of immigrants, Morrison managed to undo its very roots – the kind of multiculturalist openness that Fraser had initiated many years back, only to unwind at a time when internationalism had arguably never been as important.

Tony Abbott wasn’t great, but ScoMo certainly takes the crown. This was a government that fundamentally engaged in elaborate feet-dragging on issues concerning emissions reduction and shifting away from coal and polluting trade – all the more ironic given the concurrent finger-pointing at China and India for being ‘significant polluters’. This was also an administration that undertook maneuvers to sabotage its own markets’ openness and access to Chinese firms and consumers – again, decisions made amidst populism-fuelled rage, only to hurt the worst-off and poorest amongst them all.

On behalf of the Australian populace, I suppose I could safely say, Good Riddance, ScoMo – I hope this is the last we’ll see the back of you in office (though you are, of course, more than welcome to pontificate from the sidelines, as many others who had been in your shoes have done, or are doing).

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Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Political Review