From boardshorts in Hawaii during bushfires to selling out older Australian’s saving for retirement, our PM just doesn’t read the room, says Steve Price.
From boardshorts in Hawaii during bushfires to selling out older Australian’s saving for retirement, our PM just doesn’t read the room, says Steve Price.

'Why Scott Morrison’s new nickname is Tin Ear'

OPINION

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is known to loath his nickname "Scotty from marketing".

And I'm not sure he will be all that happy with my new tag for the PM … Old Tin Ear.

Just short of the one-year anniversary of his ill-fated summer holiday in Hawaii - taken in the middle of a bushfire disaster with Eastern Australia from East Gippsland to the mid coast of NSW destroyed - Old Tin Ear is at it again.

No-one begrudges a hardworking PM a family holiday but who gets his driver to ferry the family to the airport on a day when Australians were dying as their houses burned down and think its OK to strap on the seatbelt and take off?

TIN EAR.

This time around the PM was, until an outraged nation woke him up, supportive of Defence Chief Angus Houston's ham-fisted decree that every special forces soldier who served in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2013 on a special operations taskforce lose their group meritorious unit citation.

 

It took the father of a casualty of that war to suggest Campbell and his Prime Minister could visit his son's grave and pick it up themselves it they wanted it back. It took that emotional middle finger to shake some sense into TIN EAR.

News that since the release of the Brereton report nine veterans suffering PTSD had taken their lives might also have woken a few people in the PM's office.

After the Brereton report came out PM TIN EAR was quick to talk about compensation for the Afghan families of the alleged war crimes committed. Meanwhile, the soldiers his Government and previous Labor Governments sent there are taking their own lives in disturbing numbers.

Feeling the pulse of the nation you lead takes empathy, courage of your convictions and a genuine understanding of the Australian people.

I don't see any of those qualities in our current PM.

Take Australian leaders past and their ability to tap into the mood of our country.

Rating Australia's modern day Prime Ministers is a challenge that clearly opens you up to accusations of political bias and playing favourites. But let's have a go.

Having interviewed every Prime Minister after Malcolm Fraser, one thing that is becoming crystal clear for me is that the current bloke, Scott Morrison, is the clubhouse leader when it comes to having a TIN EAR.

Strangely for a bloke who once worked as a marketing executive flogging travel, Morrison - when he lets his guard down - has no idea how his actions will play out in suburban Australia.

Looking at the modern list of PMs - which includes in order Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Rudd again, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and now Morrison - it's not that hard to rate them on the question of being in touch with the mood of Australia and getting it right.

I'd have Hawke and Howard in a tie at the top followed by Abbott, Gillard and Keating, in that order.

Former Prime Minister John Howard was in touch with the mood of the Australian people. Picture: Toby Zerna
Former Prime Minister John Howard was in touch with the mood of the Australian people. Picture: Toby Zerna

Take Hawke and then Howard and you need only think about Hawke's America's Cup winning "don't sack anyone today" jibe, and Howard's brave crack down on automatic and semiautomatic weapons after the Port Arthur massacre, to have them in the lead.

On the out-of-touch scale, you have Rudd assembling a bunch of celebrities in Canberra to draw on butcher paper ideas for a modern Australia after he won in 2007.

Pictures of PM Rudd sitting on the floor as people like Cate Blanchett lectured the nation on our way forward didn't really play all that well in the suburbs.

As for Malcolm Turnbull, his decision to stay living in his multi-million- dollar harbourside mansion at Point Piper, taking his kayak out for a paddle past super yachts, said it all.

No-one begrudged Malcolm being rich but flaunting it, whether by accident or not, confirmed for average Aussies that Turnbull didn't get them.

Julia Gillard and her work in the mental health space with Beyond Blue post her time in the Lodge meant our first female PM did actually understand the electorate, certainly when compared to Rudd.

Tony Abbott connected with real Australians by action rather than words. Fighting bushfires as a rural fire service volunteer and doing time patrolling a surf beach as a life saver tends to do that for your understanding of real people.

His annual pollie pedal through rural Australia and quiet visits to remote indigenous communities meant Abbott probably got closer to actual Australians that any of the others.

Then we come to Scotty from the Shire - the Shire refers to the Sutherland Shire south of Sydney where he lived before becoming PM - and his baseball cap wearing connection to the broader Australian people.

Put bluntly, aside from an apparent devotion to the Cronulla Sharks rugby league team, our current PM seems strangely disconnected to the pulse of the nation he leads.

Morrison won the 2019 Federal Election against the odds but he only had to beat Bill Shorten, who outside of inner Melbourne is largely disliked and led a party who thought they could win Queensland seats by shutting down coal mines.

Before Morrison became PM, knocking over Turnbull on the way to the Lodge, he was Australia's Treasurer. On one Budget night in Parliament House in Canberra I was waiting to go on air from our studio there, when Treasurer Morrison walked in to be interviewed by my colleague Ross Greenwood.

The Australian people want to know Morrison is in it with them. Picture: NCA NewsWire
The Australian people want to know Morrison is in it with them. Picture: NCA NewsWire

In that Budget the Treasurer had decided it was a good idea to attack the superannuation accounts of older Australians by changing the tax status.

It outraged self-funded retirees who had for years been told to pump as much into super as they could afford - me included.

TIN EAR changed the rules retrospectively.

As he walked up and offered his hand that night with a big grin on his face, I said thanks for wrecking my retirement and his reply was to laugh and say no worries.

I wasn't the last person, just the first, to give TIN EAR the hint this wasn't going to play well for him, especially with his older voting base - but he didn't get it.

From boardshorts in Hawaii in the middle of a national bushfire emergency to outraging brave soldiers his Government sent to war, or older Australian's saving for retirement, Morrison just doesn't read the room.

It will cost him one day. The problem for him is he doesn't seem to hear it with that TIN EAR of his.

Not all is lost though. So some advice for Morrison.

Like the rest of us, you've had one of the toughest years of your life and your handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been outstanding.

Marketing people like you by default rely on catchy one- liners - who could ever forget Lara Bingle and the Where the Bloody Hell Are You campaign you were involved in - and research groups.

To borrow from a political time long past Scott, "It's Time" for you to do a little research of your own. Perhaps like I did this week, take a road trip around this great country.

Ditch the BMW you normally get ferried around in and hire a four-door ute and a caravan.

Head bush and talk to some of the fruit producers who can't find people to pick their crops, talk to a couple of blokes on headers stripping canola, talk to a publican like the one I chatted to at the Australian Hotel in Young.

Maybe even spend a night at an army base like Kapooka outside Wagga Wagga. I went past it the other day on the Olympic Highway going south, it's where the recruits train.

Maybe spend time in a caravan park in Victoria talking to Melburnians about what it was like being locked up for months.

Re-visit those bushfire ravaged communities that turned their backs on you last year.

Australians are a forgiving people and to use another marketing line "we are all in this together" - we just to need to know you are in it with us.

 

Originally published as Why Scott Morrison's new nickname is Tin Ear

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard actually understood the electorate. Picture: Justin Lloyd
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard actually understood the electorate. Picture: Justin Lloyd

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