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  1. Rise of the quiet achiever
  2. On the 75th anniversary of the Liberals, Scott Morrison reflects on his approach to leadership.
  5. From InquirerOctober 8, 2019
  7. Scott Morrison sees the direct link between Robert Menzies’ “forgotten people”, John Howard’s “battlers” and his own “quiet Australians” as the key to his government’s election victory, against the odds, in the 75th anniversary year of the Liberal Party.
  9. “Menzies spoke of people quietly going about their lives and working hard at raising their families and doing good things in their communities, and it has been that community that I’ve always been part of and keen to represent,” Morrison, 51, told The Australian in an exclusive interview.
  11. “The Liberal Party has been best when connected with those Australians, from the ‘forgotten people’ to Howard’s ‘battlers’, and I’ve spoken of them as ‘quiet Australians’. It is the value set of that community that is at the heart of what the Liberal Party is all about and I think that is the reason why the party has had the consistent success that it has.”
  13. Morrison identifies his leadership approach as a blend of the Menzies-Howard tradition. He describes the Liberal Party as being for all Australians, bound to no vested interest and as a custodian of conservative and liberal philosophy, but, above all, as a “common sense” and “pragmatic” party.
  15. The Prime Minister steers a middle course on the party’s contested philosophy. In navigating policy differences, he tends to hew towards the practical and the sensible. He does not see himself as an advocate of a particular ideology. He is not an inwardly looking Liberal leader. Stability is his goal. The quiet Australians are his lodestar.
  17. “The job hasn’t changed from Menzies to Howard to me,” Morrison says. “When you lead a party that has such a broad appeal, and a broad base, it is necessary to … know where you stand and not to run off to the fringes, but to stay very much in the mainstream of the party, which means you’re ­accessible to the full broad reach of the party.”
  19. It is a revealing insight into how Morrison leads the Liberal Party. He is respectful towards his two immediate predecessors, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, and will not be drawn on their criticisms of each other, and the party, made in this series of interviews with Liberal prime ministers.
  21. “I was very pleased to work for both of them and serve in both of their cabinets, and play an important role in the achievements that both of their governments were able to deliver,” he says diplomatically.
  23. Morrison says he has learnt a lot from Howard, whom he got to know particularly well while serving as state director of the Liberal Party’s NSW division (2000-04). Running the Liberal Party in his home state followed a career in the property and tourism industries after his graduation from the University of NSW with a degree in science. “People know my very strong friendship with John Howard,” he says. “He was a defining feature in my political development, both as a younger person and through to this very day, where he has been a great ­mentor.”
  25. He also acknowledges Nick Greiner — the business-minded pragmatic former NSW premier (1988-92) who is now the party’s federal president — as being influential in his approach to leadership of the party and the government. “When he (Greiner) first became Liberal leader back prior to the 1984 state election, his very strong leadership style which brought NSW back and put it on to a stronger footing was quite foundational for me.”
  27. Morrison is reluctant to talk about his political journey. He prefers to focus on the future rather than the past. He is not into “retrospectives”. But he says the values of personal responsibility and public service, imparted by his parents, John and Marion Morrison, were especially influential. His Pentecostalism also ­informs his ­approach to public service.
  29. John Morrison was a policeman and served on Waverley Council in Sydney’s east. The Prime Minister notes that his community-minded father was an independent councillor and mayor (1986-87), as the Liberals did not field candidates for local government then. His grandfather Douglas thought there was no greater man than Menzies but did not join the Liberals. “He was just one of those many ‘forgotten people’ that Menzies spoke of,” he says.
  31. Politics and the Liberal Party were part of Morrison’s upbringing. So did the fires of ambition to be prime minister burn inside him from a young age? He responds that he is just eager to serve his country the best he can. But did he have a teenage dream of being prime minister one day, like many of his predecessors? “I don’t think politics really works like that and anyone who thinks it does is kidding themselves,” he responds.
  33. Former prime ministers John Howard, left, and Tony Abbott, right, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the official opening of the 46th Federal Parliament. Picture: Kym Smith
  34. Former prime ministers John Howard, left, and Tony Abbott, right, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the official opening of the 46th Federal Parliament. Picture: Kym Smith
  35. He explains that when he was elected to parliament as the member for Cook, in Sydney’s south, in November 2007, “the opportunity, potentially, to serve as leader of the party” came a step closer, as it does for all MPs, but it was not something he fixed his mind on.
  37. “I’ve appreciated every day of service that I’ve had, whether it’s been a member of parliament, a minister or indeed now Prime Minister,” he says. “These are all very satisfying things to do as part of your public service. To have the honour and privilege to do what I do now is extraordinary and I’m very grateful for it and I’m very humbled by it.”
  39. Morrison recalls some advice Howard gave him years ago. “My jobs and promotions in politics have tended to find me, rather than the other way round,” he says. “Do a good job and the next one will take care of itself, is the advice John Howard gave me almost 20 years ago.”
  41. The essential contribution that the Liberal Party has made to Australia during the past 75 years has been “safety, stability (and) prosperity”, Morrison says. He argues the Menzies government gave Australia a period of steady pro­gress on economic and social reform and global engagement during the 1950s and 60s.
  43. He highlights how the Liberal Party was founded, at twin conferences in 1944, after the United Australia Party had all but collapsed. The new Liberal Party was not simply a rebadged UAP; as Menzies said, it was a new party with a different organisational model, philosophy and purpose.
  45. “The UAP failed because it was really more of a coalition of interests rather than a party which was based on a series of strongly held (and) widely adopted beliefs in the mainstream of the Australian public,” Morrison says. “The UAP was a creature of business interests; the Liberal Party is not that.”
  47. Morrison identifies the Liberal Party as for all Australians, not captive to any special interests, and federalist in its structure and approach to national government. “We have never seen the role of government as to go out of its way to extend its reach (but) to respect the Constitution,” he says.
  49. He identifies the dual strands of ideological thinking within the party. It is “conservative” in respecting “stability, enterprise, sovereignty” and also personal and public “responsibility”. The party also values “liberty”, which manifests as “freedom of choice and the availability of choice” in life.
  51. Morrison recalls his first major speech as Prime Minister, deliv­ered in Albury, where the second plenary conference to form the Liberal Party was held in December 1944. It is where he meshed his personal political values with the party’s enduring principles. All leaders have a duty to interpret the party’s tradition and reflect it in their own approach.
  53. “I outlined (the party’s philosophy) in my speech down in ­Albury not long after becoming Prime Minister as ‘have a go, get a go’, ‘make a contribution, don’t take one’ and ‘to do better, someone doesn’t have to do worse’, so they are an expression of the ­beliefs that were articulated by Menzies 75 years ago,” he says.
  55. Asked to name what he regards as the party’s most important achievements, Morrison identifies the ANZUS Treaty, which formalised the Australia-US alliance, and was negotiated and signed by the Menzies government in September 1951. He also notes the Holt government’s “proud record” in dismantling the White Australia policy, which began in mid-1966.
  57. Morrison became the third Liberal prime minister in three years when he claimed the Liberal leadership after Turnbull’s resignation in August last year. He leads a government in its seventh year, having won three elections, but with the image of a new administration and a fresh team. The Morrison government is values-driven but also methodical and pragmatic. It has a clear purpose and an agenda but one that is modest rather than overly ambitious. The Prime Minister says it reflects his election mantra: “strong, safe and together”. These are the watchwords of the Morrison government and it explains his policy priorities.
  59. Prime Minister Scott Morrison with John Howard and his wife Janette on election night. Picture: Adam Taylor
  60. Prime Minister Scott Morrison with John Howard and his wife Janette on election night. Picture: Adam Taylor
  61. “I think that is what the Liberal Party has always stood for,” he ­explains. “If you don’t have a strong economy and a strong budget, then you can’t pay for hospitals and schools. If you don’t have a strong economy and a strong budget, then you can’t pay for the ­defence forces and (the) intelligence and security and law ­enforcement that you need to keep Australians safe.”
  63. Morrison, according to his closest colleagues, was sure he would win the May election. This faith in the outcome was not shared by many of his Liberal colleagues or most within Labor, including Bill Shorten, who thought the election was in the bag. “I have always ­believed in miracles,” Morrison said on election night. But this downplays his acute political skills. He never doubted the result.
  65. “We knew what we were about, we knew what we believed, we communicated that plainly to the Australian people and left it to them to decide,” Morrison says. “There was modesty, I think, in what we put forward and an honesty in our approach.”
  67. It was not only policies that turned the election outcome but also principles, Morrison argues.
  69. “We were able to articulate and demonstrate a conviction around a set of core beliefs and values which the Australian people found resonated with them,” he says. “Our opponents presented an ­alternative set of beliefs and values that they found very troubling.”
  71. For the past 75 years, the Liberal Party, from Menzies to Morrison, has reflected the innate conservatism among Australians, reflecting their desire for stability and certainty, and valuing family, community and personal responsibility. It has also given voice to liberal instincts for freedom and choice, enterprise and opportunity, peace and prosperity.
  73. These are the touchstones of the Liberal Party that has governed nationally for 48 of its 75 years, and has been Australia’s most electorally successful political party in the postwar era.
  75. “The challenges were different in Menzies’ time,” Morrison ­reflects. “But if you are looking to draw a thread between our common interests, both mine and John’s, and of course Sir Robert’s, I think this is fundamentally what we are about: the home, the family, that is the building block for neighbourhood and community, it is all built up from the individual for us, and I think that is what Australians have always responded to.”
  79. Troy Bramston is a senior writer and columnist with The Australian and a contributor to Sky News. He is the author or editor of nine books, including Robert Menzies: The Art of Politics,
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