As I have said ad nauseam in this series, someone online asked me and others to explain why we could not vote for the Morrison government (not that I ever would), I replied:
“The constant lies, misogyny, racism, idiocy, petulance, corruption, pork barrelling, religious nutjobbery, hatred of expertise, shirking of responsibility, shifting of blame to the blameless, the stealing of credit from the creditable. #WhyIWantChange”1
This is the sixth instalment and deals with their shirking of responsibility and the shifting of blame. The first instalment dealt with the government’s constant lying and their misogyny1; the second with their racism, and their use of it, as well as the extraordinarily idiotic things members of the government say2; the third with their petulance and corruption3; the fourth with the government’s pork barrelling4; the fifth with their religious nutjobbery5; and the sixth dealt with the hatred of those with expertise6. The shirking of responsibility and blame-shifting is something at which Morrison is very adept.
Shirking of responsibility
Perhaps the most appallingly crass things Scott Morrison has ever said when he returned, only a day early, from his holiday in Hawaii during the catastrophic 2019-2020 bushfires, was “I don’t hold a hose, mate”7. Even worse, he told his office to lie about his absence. This epitomises Morrison’s attitude to his job. When he is queried about any aspect of Australian life in the last few years, whether it be about his lack of action with regard to the Christian Porter allegations, Covid-19 lockdowns, making people take money out of their superannuation accounts, inflicting increased university debts on people, and sundry other topics, his common refrain is ‘it’s not my job’, even when he has been the architect of the debacle which has prompted the question7.
Morrison deflected responsibility for the Aged Care Sector, which falls under Federal jurisdiction, onto Victoria. He asserts “We regulate aged care, but when there is a public health pandemic… then they are things that are managed from Victoria.” At the time, Aged and Residential Care facilities in Victoria had recorded some 1,486 cases of COVID-19, with 232 deaths8.
Residents in flood-affected areas of northern New South Wales were angry at the lack of support they received when their towns were flooded. Some had to wait on their roofs for days before being rescued, or rely on their fellow private citizens for help. Morrison belatedly declared the floods a national emergency and eventually announced support for those affected. However, when called out on his slow reaction and his late call to get Defence Force personnel involved, he attempted to deflect any responsibility by suggesting that people criticising him were in fact criticising the Defence Force9.
After the debacle of the French submarine deal collapse, when French President Emanuel Macron was asked if he thought Scott Morrison had lied to him, he replied, very directly: “I don’t think, I know”. What did Morrison do? He tried to avoid personal responsibility. While attending the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Morrison said, “I must say that the statements that were made, questioning Australia’s integrity and the slurs that have been placed on Australia … I’m not going to cop sledging of Australia. “I’m not going to cop that on behalf of other Australians.” It was Morrison who lied to Macron, not Australia, and Macron’s accusation was directed at Morrison, not Australia10.
This attitude is appalling when it is from a person whose responsibility is to be the leader of the nation. Accepting responsibility is a sign of emotional maturity, something that Morrison clearly lacks. It is ironic that late last year he admonished people to take personal responsibility for their health rather than relying on mask mandates and lockdowns, while personal responsibility is something he refuses to take himself11.
Shifting of blame
Scott Morrison blamed the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisations (ATAGI), for slow rollout of Covid-19 vaccines12. Morrison had previously lied that Australia was first in the queue for vaccines, when we were months behind many countries13. Morrison said that “very cautious” decisions by ATAGI had slowed the rollout “considerably” and “put us behind”. ATAGI’s co-chair, Professor Allen Cheng, pushed back by noting that ATAGI’s role is to provide advice, but the federal government remains responsible for making decisions and the vaccination rollout. While experts agree that changing advice reflecting the emerging blood clot risk made it harder to vaccinate young people, they pointed out that the federal government’s failure to diversify its vaccine portfolio was the cause of the failed rollout12.
In the midst of the Omicron wave of Covid-19 there was a shortage of Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits. Barnaby Joyce lied when he tried to blame people for hoarding them. Anne Ruston lied when she said that there was a world-wide shortage of RAT kits. Morrison lied when he said that only two countries provide free RAT kits to their populace. While Morrison failed to order enough vaccines in time, he made the same mistake with RAT kits, almost all of which are imported. Despite this, Morrison argued that provision of RAT kits was mostly up to the states and territories. He also blamed the states for setting rules that required employers to use rapid antigen tests every day, using up supplies. However, business leaders were telling the government to make RAT kits widely available in August 2021. Some RAT kit makers urged the government to place orders for the manufacture of the kits in Australia, but they were ignored14.
Now this blame-shifting has reached ludicrous heights, even by Morrison’s standards. Before the 2019 election, Morrison promised to legislate for a federal integrity commission. However, the government’s proposed model, which was released in draft form, was widely condemned as weak, ineffective and a “protection racket” for politicians. It had no ability to conduct public hearings into government corruption, despite allowing such hearings for law enforcement matters, and sets a nearly impossibly high bar for investigations to commence. Professor Anne Twomey, from the University of Sydney, described it as a “shamefully inadequate system, which appears designed to protect the corrupt from investigation”. Morrison and the extraordinarily limited Andrew Bragg have blamed the Labor Party for not supporting this grotesquely inadequate model. The chair of the Centre for Public Integrity, Anthony Whealy said: “The true reason for this massive policy failure is that, with a litany of scandalous rorts identified in audit reports, this government wishes to avoid proper scrutiny and being held publicly accountable”15.
With the avoidance of responsibility and the shifting of blame to others, Morrison demonstrates his inability to admit error, or to apologise for his failures; i.e. that he was not in control. What he wants more than anything is to have the appearance, if not the reality, of being in control. And if you blame someone else for a problem or a failure then, in your eyes, it is not your failing. Both shirking of responsibility and the shifting of blame are hallmarks of a narcissistic personality.