After a visit to the United States, Scott Morrison sounds like a Strine version of the President.
Scott Morrison and the US leader are both conservatives who against the odds won elections – triumphs that momentarily left them both startled and blinking under their baseball caps.
The Australian Prime Minister’s late-September visit to Washington oozed a waxy agreeableness. Trump incorporated a poem in his state-dinner toast penned by Morrison’s great-great-aunt Dame Mary Gilmore, whose face adorns Australia’s $10 note. Trumpeters belted out Waltzing Matilda from the White House roof. Morrison’s eyes obligingly watered up at his rose garden table, decorated with flowers in Australia’s green and gold colours.
A day or so later, at an Ohio box-factory opening, Trump – Morrison again at his side – told the gathered workers: “He recently won the election in Australia, some of you know. It was supposed to be close and he blew them away. Because he believes a lot of the same things I believe. That helps! He blew them away. He’s a great gentleman. They love him in Australia, and they now love him in the United States of America, too.”
From West Virginia to Wyoming, coal country overwhelmingly voted for Trump in November 2016. In Australia’s May election, legions of voters in the coalfields of Queensland and New South Wales abandoned the Labor Party for Liberal Morrison, and the populist One Nation party, helping to ensure a Liberal-National coalition victory.
Of course, it would be implausible to suggest likenesses between Trump and Morrison where none exist. Trump – with five children from three marriages, and who as a young man was handed US$60 million by his father to kick-start his vast property empire – is a very different character from Morrison, the son of a Sydney cop, raised in modest circumstances.
Whereas Trump, 73, is an admitted groper of women, Morrison, 51, is an evangelical Christian, still married to the mother of his children, who lived in a suburban Sydney bungalow before becoming Prime Minister. Unlike Trump, Morrison does not send his supporters into paroxysms of delight.
Yet it is apparent that in the 20 or so weeks since the election, Morrison has adopted Trumpist characteristics.
While in the US, Morrison copied the US President’s language, hailing their joint efforts to “make jobs great again” – a clumsy recasting of Trump’s election slogan. He has also begun reworking another Trump tactic, which is to dismiss stories that conflict with his Government’s narrative, especially the effectiveness of Australia’s climate policies. Morrison might hate to be reminded, but Australia’s emissions are still rising, not falling.
It might have been Trump himself speaking when, in late September, Morrison told reporters he was mystified by foreign misunderstanding of Australia’s climate-change policies.
“Now, where do they get their information from?” he wondered aloud. “Who knows, maybe they read it.” He may as well have gone full Trump and declared it fake news.
On his return home, Morrison addressed Sydney’s Lowy Institute, where he borrowed another Trump idea. A week after the US President delivered a fiery speech in which he declared the future belonged to patriots, not globalists, Morrison echoed the nativist tone, berating what he called global organisations – read the United Nations – for telling Australia what to do, a practice Morrison defined as “negative globalism”.
The trouble is that Trump’s negativity doesn’t succeed globally – especially from a fake Trump.
This article was first published in the October 19, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.