Slipperiness is Scott Morrison’s defining trait. And it was never more exhibited than this week, when he sold “the Australian Way” on climate to a skeptical audience in Glasgow, while being blatantly branded a liar by France over submarines.
Take the girl with Emmanuel Macron. When the French president was asked if Morrison had lied to him about dumping the $ 90 billion attack-class submarine contract, the French president said, “I do not think I know.”
Morrison denied it before immediately switching to an unfounded claim about the journalists.
“You got selfies with him.”
No, we were not, said an indignant hacker.
“I must have been misinformed,” Morrison replied.
All ridiculously trivial, but not entirely innocent. When the Australian Prime Minister comes into a corner, he smashes the glass and reaches out for distraction.
Remember in March, when he was under pressure over the culture in the House of Parliament, suddenly turned on Sky News and warned of “glass houses”.
“Right now you would be aware that in your own organization there is a person who had been charged with harassment by a woman on a woman’s toilet,” Morrison thundered.
Not true, Sky’s owners at News Corp. said. The Prime Minister issued a withdrawal late at night. “The feelings of the moment are no excuse,” he said.
Morrison’s next reactions to Macron were also interesting.
“I have great respect for your country,” Macron said, making it clear that he accused Morrison specifically of what he claims was a lie. “Much respect and friendship for your people.”
Morrison’s response was to defend Australia’s honor by referring to his own “broad shoulders”.
“I’m not going to sled in Australia. I’m not going to deal with it on behalf of Australians.”
Then, in an extraordinary breach of normal protocols, a personal text message from the French president was selectively leaked to the press.
We now know that two days before the Aukus announcement, Macron texted Morrison to ask, “Should I expect good or bad news for our common submarine ambitions?”
This is being presented as proof that Macron knew the contract was being torn up.
But Morrison’s fuller explanation undermines that reading.
In mid-June, Morrison says he flew to Paris for dinner with Macron to say “sincerely … that a conventional diesel-powered submarine would not meet Australia’s strategic requirements”.
But whatever he now says, he said what the French clearly heard, was simply that there were problems with costs and delays.
At Morrison’s own expense, “the French defense system came into full action,” sending an admiral to Australia to answer “the questions I had raised at our dinner.”
At the time, Morrison publicly thanked the French president for “taking a very active role” in resolving the submarine issues.
Morrison’s own account shows French actions in accordance with a partner trying to solve problems, rather than one who had been told that its services were no longer needed.
In essence, Morrison now says “they knew it”. Macron says “he lied”. It seems the French knew less than they thought about Australia’s intentions until the virtual night before the Aukus announcement.
“I think it’s clear from President Macron’s statements yesterday that the level of misconduct is still very high,” Morrison admitted in a moment of clarity in Glasgow.
So Morrison slipped and slipped through the French submarine contract until he was ready to announce his nuclear partnership with the United States and Britain. When he slipped and slipped to the post of prime minister in 2018, he activated a tight plan to get through the herd.
He gave Bill Shorten the energy to claim victory in 2019, in part by convincing retirees that Labor’s franking credit reforms would put them at a disadvantage.
The man who brought coal into parliament now has a net-zero pamphlet that he believes can win back voters worried about a warming planet. The electric vehicles he claimed would ruin the Aussie weekend are now built into his emissions reduction targets.
The man who said reducing emissions would ruin the economy is now arguing the opposite. As emissions have fallen by 20% since 2005, our economy has grown by 45%, he says, “proving that economic growth does not contradict emission reduction”.
And we now have a new moral reason to export coal. We are helping the poor of the world, he said in Rome.
“Do not force the cost up,” he begged. “It’s only going to hurt the people who can least afford it.”
If smoothness defines him, it is also his primary political skill.
Franklin D Roosevelt’s cinematographer Kenneth Davis says the former US president had very little time for politicians, “who pursued their goals in uncompromising straight lines, men who despise (nesting) cajolery and concealment and deception”.
As Turnbull, Dutton and now Macron can attest, those who have underestimated Morrison have been left in the open. Smaller chameleon than oil seal, he has already slipped past them.