Comment from Peter Saxon.
In some circles, Scott Morrison is known as “Scotty from Marketing.”
It’s not meant as a compliment. Rather, it suggests that the Prime Minister is all spin and no wash.
A good marketer knows how to connect with consumers. Great radio talent knows how to connect with their listeners. And great politicians know how to connect with voters.
Naturally, it’s way harder for a politician to connect with everyone above voting age in their electorate – and even harder for a Prime Minister to connect with all of Australia than a marketer or radio announcer targeting a specific audience. Nonetheless, given that every Australian, 18+, has a vote and all votes are equal, if you want to win an election, you’ve got to try to appeal to as many groups and sub-groups as you can. And that means you have to go on a lot of radio stations that target a lot of different demographics which is not the same as appearing on the same stations and simply covering most of the airshifts on those stations.
It’s a lesson that John Howard learned the hard way in 2007 when he lost to Kevin Rudd. Whatever you may think of Rudd since he became PM, his performance as a campaigner to become PM, was exemplary. While Howard stuck mainly to his comfort zone in conservative talk radio, Rudd hit all the FM stations, yucking it up with the Crews and Zoos. No on-air stunt was beneath him.
To the average under 40’s Australian voter, the message was simple. ‘Rudd speaks our language. Howard can’t be bothered even to turn up.’
Scott Morrison is far more nuanced than that. He, at least, knows to turn up. It’s a lesson he learnt while holidaying, incognito, in Hawaii. It was a well-earned holiday he’d long promised to his long-suffering family after a gruelling election year. His holiday had barely begun when the 2019/20 bushfires hit. As he hinted at the time, there was nothing he could have personally done to quell the fires that the experts in the fireys couldn’t have done better. But in the eyes of the voting public, he was AWOL when the country needed him as its leader and consoler-in-chief.
Just a month or so later, when it became apparent that the Novel Coronavirus had become a pandemic, with the potential to kill millions worldwide and perhaps tens of thousands in Australia, Morrison was offered a shot at redemption. He took that shot both hands. His approach to handling of the situation, his non-partisan manner, won him the trust of the Australian public and an astronomical 60+ approval rating.
As the saying goes: a week is a long time in politics.
With the pandemic all but vanquished in Australia, ‘Scotty, the COVID-19 slayer’ prematurely put his cue in the rack. He, like everyone else, never saw the Delta variation coming. Suddenly, all the good work Morrison and his government had done had come to nought in the court of public opinion – the only opinion that truley matters for a politician.
All of a sudden, there was a desperate need to have Australia vaccinated but there was not enough vaccine to go around – at least not in the hurry that the nation required. Actually, there was plenty of AstraZeneca but not much Pfizer.
Apart from the monumental problems with distribution, it became apparent that the federal, and to an extent some state governments, had totally botched the messaging surrounding vaccines. The advice concerning AstraZeneca changed on a daily basis. At first, it was only for people in high-risk categories, over 60. Then over 50’s should take it rather than risk Covid. It got to a point where everyone, regardless of age should be taking it. Perhaps the truest statement from one epidemiologist was, “the best vaccine is the one that’s available right now.”
But that’s not what the punters were hearing. They understood it as a competition between brands. One brand being far superior to the other – with the government pushing the other.
In an effort to deflect responsibility, government messaging became, “Ask you GP.” That turned out to be a disaster because GPs were totally divided as to which brand was the better, which only led to more confusion amongst the public.
The final nail in AstraZeneca’s coffin came from Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young who proclaimed, “I don’t want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got COVID, probably wouldn’t die.”
Way to go, Jeannette! Now the public is totally convinced that the plentiful AZ vaccine is a cheap Chinese built MG whereas the Pfizer is a desirable BMW.
For the record, I’ve been fully vaccinated with AstraZenecca. And although I experienced a mildish reaction at first, I’m still here to tell the tale and had a negative test 72 hours ago.
Anyway, if Mr Morrison hadn’t understood that there was a disconnect between what his government was saying and what the public was hearing, then Monday’s Newspoll published in The Australian (subscription) would have made his predicament crystal clear. Not only has his personal approval rating fallen from 61 to 51 since the start of the year, but if an election were held tomorrow, Labor would romp in.
So, yesterday, into this nightmare scenario, came “Scotty from Marketing” doing a round of radio interviews to sell his government’s achievements. But those achievements were last week’s news. This week it’s about a bungled vaccine rollout and the reasons for it. And radio was ready for him.
On his whistle stop tour (that included David Penberthy on Adelaide’s FIVEaa) to ScoMo’s credit, he ventured to go where his conservative predecessors feared to tread, Melbourne’s KIIS101.1 with Jase and PJ. If he was thinking that this would be a pushover, he was in for a rude shock.
Jase Hawkins, on behalf of his listeners wanted to hear an apology from the PM for the botched rollout of the vaccines. He firmly but politely asked the PM, “Can you honestly say to me that the government has taken accountability?
“I have never heard the word ‘sorry’ – ‘guys, you know what, sorry, we did screw it up, but we are getting it right now’.”
He kept trying to get anything resembling a mea culpa out of the PM, sayin g at one stage, “I would even take a ‘my bad’.
“You say sorry, you admit the problem and we move on. I’m not trying to have a go,” said Hawkins. “I think it is just frustration, we’re in lockdown. Can you just say ‘sorry Jase’? It will make me feel so much better and then I feel like I can move on”.
But Morrison wouldn’t have a bar of it. Apologising, by saying, “sorry” isn’t part of a politician’s code. In any case, the politician in him was determined to control the narrative. Hawkins was determined to serve his listeners. The PM should have followed Hawkins’ lead. In my opinion, he missed a huge opportunity to connect as a real person, to once more be the caring non-politician of a Prime Minister that brought the country together and governed for all people.
Later, in a TV presser, Morrison said that he takes “responsibility” for the government’s response to COVID, quickly adding that he also takes responsibility for all his positive achievements too such as the low death rates and the financial help his government has provided.
In the end, Scott Morrison suffers from the same disconnect that most politicians do. They don’t have near the depth of understanding that a radio presenter such as Jase Hawkins has of their audience. His listeners don’t want to hear what they perceive to be weasel words from a politician like “I take responsibility for my actions,” as a substitute for a simple, heartfelt, “I’m sorry.”