Scott Morrison wants to be Australia’s Prime Marketer – but voters aren’t buying his woeful climate rebrand
The PM has sent the clear message there is no ‘us’ in Team Australia’s climate approach, only ‘me’
Australia’s Prime Marketer has returned from the international launch of this new The Australian Way brand and, much like his previous forays on to the world stage, it has been a polarising affair.
In a brazen reimagining of his “Cool Coal” range, the PM has raised the middle finger to a gathering meant to be about global cooperation by sending the clear message there is no “us” in Team Australia’s climate approach, only “me”.
The Australian Way recycles old commitments into a new shiny brochure of vendor-generated graphs and talking points while refusing to set 2030 climate reduction targets, undermining tougher restrictions on coal and efforts to reduce methane emissions.
The Australian Way is to do the bare minimum that one can get away with, take credit for the work of others and declare “she’ll be right”. It is to kick wicked problems down the road, because the next generation needs to have something to worry about too.
Early indications are that the Australian Way is struggling to cut through to its key segment, Coalition voters trapped between the denial of its rural outposts and the desire for even a modicum of meaningful action from its city base.
You can see how the rebrand was designed to shift the PM’s market position. From being caught in a binary of action/inaction, the Australian Way is positioned at the centre of a spectrum where the PM can attack opponents on the left as economy wreckers while placating those who want an end to inaction.
But a hill constructed on just 25% of the electorate is not one that is large enough to fight from, let alone die on; and when only just over a third of Coalition voters are on the team, with similar numbers wanting to see something more ambitious, it begins – exposed on all fronts.
But as we have seen over the past week, the Australian Way is about more than simply dodging accountability on climate action; it reflects a broader engagement strategy with the world.
The PM has shown how the Australian Way is to play friends off against each other, lurching into complex relationships like a drunk on a bender, upending tables and demanding someone buy you your next drink.
The Australian Way is to rat on your mates when you have a blue. It’s about deflecting blame when you get called out, using others as a human shield when the heat is really on rather than taking responsibility yourself.
The PM’s awkward performance at the global forums may have been jarring to global leaders but they are not his target audience. We are. Judging from the results in a separate question, we are less than inspired by his performance.
These are less than resounding reviews. Even a sizeable chunk of Coalition voters see the PM’s new work as undermining our international reputation, which in another question three quarters of us say is something we, as a middle-sized power, should value highly.
While these global missteps will not determine next year’s election, the sober reality is that the PM returns with his lowest approval ratings since the 2020 bushfires having burnt through any brand equity built up through the pandemic.
Australia’s uncomfortable engagement with the world has always vacillated between a cloying neediness (asking visiting celebrities “what do you think of Australia?” as they disembarked from the plane) to a bumptious exceptionalism (“the best Olympics ever!”).
This contradiction has become more pronounced over the pandemic. We have isolated for our own protection more successfully than most, while relying on global scientific cooperation to deliver the vaccine that will allow us to live with this ongoing threat.
But this is not the PM’s Way. For a start it leaves no one to blame if things go awry. Worse still it would require concrete action on our part as a member of that collective effort.
Rather his Australian Way is not to look too closely at these contradictions, or indeed anything at all; from “Boats” to “Death Taxes” to “ScoMo” it may not bear scrutiny but if it looks good out of the corner of a distracted eye then it will do.
As Sean Kelly writes in his excellent new book, The Game, this has been this PM’s modus operandi all the way back to his time with Tourism Australia: spending $180m for an advertising campaign that reduced the nation to series of compelling but disjointed visual cliches.
In a similar way Kelly argues the PM has constructed himself as a “flat character”, a two-dimensional figure who cooks curries on Sundays for Jen and the girls and loves the Sharks and is “authentic”, provided you don’t look too closely.
Now he is endeavouring to do the same thing with the nation he leads, giving the impression of movement on climate and embracing the promise of untested technologies while refusing to actually do anything different.
Ultimately that’s what the PM’s wants us all to do: embrace the slogans at face value so we can all feel good about ourselves without having to change anything, least of all our government.
After all, isn’t that the Australian Way? Aussie, Aussie, Aussie? Oi! Oi! Oi!