Scott Morrison today gave a master class in the critical skill he has absorbed over the past five weeks of non-stop, energy sapping campaigning.
How not to answer questions. Because responding to them fully might betray a possibility of change, the great sin the Liberals argue should be pinned on the ALP and one Labor warmly accepts.
Non-answers might be excusably routine for some politicians, but the Liberal leader began his address to the National Press Club by congratulating himself on being accountable 48 hours out from polling day. Except he wasn’t accountable.
It was an address and subsequent question-and-answer period without a salute to his Liberal Party — the organisation that put him in Parliament and The Lodge — and with no list of achievements, and no specific promise of them.
And few coherent answers. Mr Morrison has learned it is safer to answer the question he wants asked, not the one actually tossed at him by reporters.
So today he was asked about Malcolm Turnbull and spoke at length about Greg Hunt; he was asked about wage growth and gave a mini lecture on Labor’s housing policy; he responded to an inquiry about pensions with an attack on Labor’s policy on the dole; he deflected two questions about how Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton allowing accused murderers in as refugees by simply not offering any direct answer and praising intelligence agencies.
The no-go areas of the prime minister’s final national television appeal weren’t the most extraordinary aspect of Mr Morrison’s appearance. That title goes to his convoluted rationalisation that he was not offering anything fresh to the voters, and that this was good.
The contrast with Bill Shorten’s Blacktown hall speech an hour and a half later was obvious.
“The nation’s door to the future stands ajar and we ask the men and women of Australia to vote for change on May 18. We ask you to vote for new ideas, new equality of opportunity,” said the Labor leader in the venue where in 1972 Gough Whitlam launched the party’s successful bid for government on a raft of pre-prepared policies.
Mr Shorten appeared to rub it in Mr Morrison’s face, repeatedly saying: “Vote for change.”
And he was surrounded by ALP colour and movement, the razzle-dazzle and team effort that used to be fashionable in the Liberal Party but has now been replaced by a theme centred on the prime candidate — Scott Morrison.
It was a detailed and unabashed exploitation of party history.
Apart from ignoring his own party, Mr Morrison dressed up his lack of boldness with a curly argument that he would let voters do all the heavy lifting because he was one of them.
Essentially he was saying things are going swimmingly and change is not just unnecessary but dangerous. And it was ordinary Australians who had the power.
It was a line obviously workshopped internally as Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said separately today: “This election is not about us.”
And thus we got this from Mr Morrison at the National Press Club: “You know, I think Australia is made stronger by Australians.
“It’s Australians that are the source of our strength. It is them pursuing their own aspirations that makes our country strong.”
No sure who else was claiming the role.
It was part of Mr Morrison’s appeal to voters as a knockabout suburban bloke whose only exceptionalism might be that he has more baseball caps than most. He was riding the anti-politician sentiment.
Bill Shorten later would encase politics as the means to get good works done.
Mr Morrison had an argument against change, a blemish he identified with Labor. Mr Morrison couldn’t say there was no need for change and then promise a lot of it, so evoking vision would not be seen as an asset.
Instead, he accused Labor of wanting to increase taxes, a claim the ALP rejects, without saying how the money might be spent.
And he promoted the rule of everyday Australians — those John Howard used to affectionately call “the mob” — with lines such as this.
“I believe Australians are the answer to securing our future prosperity and the opportunities that are there in front of us,” the PM said.
“I believe they are. Our government believes that Australians are the source of a stronger economy and a stronger society and a safer nation.
“We choose — our government, your aspirations.”