Style, Substance… and then there’s Scott


This article was written as an assessment for Politics Communicated at RMIT.

On August 2, Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote an opinion piece, ostensibly about new public policy and the pandemic.

It got same-day syndication by the NewsCorp metro dailies, analysed by the national broadsheets and major online news hubs, dissected on Twitter and exhorted on Sky News.

It has also begged the question “was the Prime Minister talking politically or talking about politics?”

Modern academia has of course tied this to the stake of the same philosophies which might have capably analysed the Gorton administration.

Working under the fusty understanding democracy is alive and well in the OECD, separated from the church of the marketplace and the disarray of the state, maybe this question can exist outside the rhetorical.

The practical answer lies in an Old El Paso commercial: of course, the PM was doing both.

The practical question is: could he have done otherwise?

Brilliant minds will spill enough pixel ink this year alone to stretch as far as Proxima Centauri on the sacred cows of “modern politics” and “political communication”.

They will do so in an academic echo chamber, allowing detachment from the reality this obtusely purple dialogue has gone on for decades and adjusted exactly nothing.

Arguably, the absence of accessible or relevant academic discussion has done more damage than the endless woolly essays, books and thought pieces might ever have managed.

The eminent Roman historian Tacitus once wrote there was no shortage of great minds to critique the reign of Augustus Caesar.

Ongoing sycophancy drove them into the political and academic undergrowth.

So it is with the jarring, mutant forms of “democracy” and politics the occidental world suddenly finds oozing up to its nipples.

The fact that Mr Morrison’s opinion piece was syndicated across NewsCorp is by itself an act of “talking politically”.

The Murdoch news machines political love affair with the coalition government is well documented, even as that government arms itself with security laws to outflank and even censor the other.

But is this also an act of NewsCorp editors “talking about politics” to a known audience?

A statement of public policy is in the eye of the beholder.

Who better to absorb a statement of revisionist history from the Prime Minister than the readers of Andrew Bolt and Peta Credlin?

But the credulity that comes with “talking about politics” and the suspension of disbelief involved in “talking politically” can’t imply a division in a post Trump world.

What expert advice hath wrought in public policy, let no arch proselytization tear asunder.

This image of the post-election Morrison cabinet in 2019 is a stark reminder of how much has changed in this electoral term. But has the change been mostly “political”? Difficult to ennact a party platform when your ministry is busy clutching pearls and spilling tea.

The speech writer behind this PM’s op-ed earned their daily bread.

The Olympics had done well in the ratings, fodder for an anecdote to paint the PM an ordinary Aussie dad at home on the couch with Jenny cheering Emma McKeown on.

A stroke of this man’s pen can sentence you to life on Manus Island, but that’s bad optics in a world where words like “pub test” still leave the mouths of serious people about #auspol.

So having painted the fantastical picture of Mr Morrison as the pater familias expected when “talking politically” to the community, the dialogue shifts into “talking about politics”.

Not the smoothest of transitions but it’s no raw onion at Charlton Farm; enough to pass muster when backflipping on vital public policy given Australia’s current federal talent pool.

Or at least enough to get above the fold in the Daily Tele.

What follows is the hybrid double speak of the canny politician.

A self-righteous passion that comes with knowing you are completely empowered by the facts, bolstered by total indifference to a history of completely ignoring them on the issue before this press release hit the wire.

Of course the Prime Minister is talking politically.

Even as one speech writer hastily googled the names of Olympic gold medallists, no doubt another was cobbling up the framework of statements about coming together in the face of a crisis.

But the nature of delivery doesn’t stop the impact of the information delivered.

It’s a global pandemic after all.

The Prime Minister’s op-ed delivers vaccination targets as the means of finally (eventually) escaping lockdowns.

At the stroke of a pen, sixteen million locked down lives are changed.

The framework around it is the cloaking device needed by the months of failed policy that came before.

Beyond that, Australia is still a democratic nation… or democratic-ish… esque?

There is a way politicians are expected to address from on high and a form observed when sermonising to the faithful.

This is not just an opinion piece to express a political backflip by Mr Morrison, but a general invitation for his acolytes to hit the gym mats with him.

In this instance, it was unsuccessful as the next weeks Newspoll figures showed.

The aesthetic of the Morrison “smirk” gets a great deal of airtime for a good reason.

“Talking politically” to “talk about politics” as a way of life plays effectively to the balcony when you’re talking about car parks, gas, stopping the boats and negative gearing.

These are things only tiny audiences will ever find themselves tripping over on their way to work.

Branding your voice as the clarion cry of the silent majority becomes a victimless crime.

But when sixteen million people are experiencing the direct, daily affect of how you “talk about politics”, the effect of how you’re “talking politics” requires operators with sterner stuff.

It was so much easier to make laws and sausages before there was so much oversight.

Less academic discussion as well.

Or am I “talking politically”?