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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Bursting the ‘Canberra bubble’

Prime ministers are in a unique position to insert new phrases into the Australian vernacular. You had Paul Keating’s “I am going to do you slowly” when he refused to take then opposition leader John Hewson’s bait to call an early election. Though he has been in the job for just seven months, Scott Morrison has made a couple of ear-catching contributions. Neither of them serve his purpose very well.

The first was saying his own Liberal Party was a” Muppet Show” to explain why it had spontaneously combusted to destroy Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. That has haunted him ever since with his opponents deriding him as the “Prime Muppet” and his government more like a circus. But the second is more offensive to the burghers of this fair city. It is his dismissal of the “Canberra bubble” whenever he is confronted with the losing side of an argument.

The “Canberra bubble” is where people who obsess about climate change, stability of government, the banks and the fate of refugees live. For Morrison, it is particularly members of the parliamentary press gallery who irk him by asking him questions related to these subjects that he can’t or won’t answer.

The retiring Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann in her valedictory speech to parliament spoke eloquently in defence of the national capital, her home. Quoting the words of one of the federation’s founding fathers (there were no mothers) Sir Henry Parkes, she said “without Canberra there would be no Australia: The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all and those threads are drawn together in this city.”

Brodtmann said the prime minister likes to talk about the “Canberra bubble” but “I want to tell you what that bubble actually looks like. There in that bubble are public servants who protect our national interests, who make sure our cities and towns are safe, who make sure our food is clean, who help the sick, who help the aged, who help the disadvantaged and who help the disabled.”

“Hear, hear” to all of that, but of course political leaders believe there are votes to be had bashing Canberra. Kevin Rudd did it and Scott Morrison is doing it now, although with a slightly different purpose. Morrison is trying to shield behind the myth that Canberra, particularly its journalists, inhabits another planet. That way, he hopes criticisms of him and the government will be discounted.

It’s not working. As a shield, it is proving to be a very transparent bubble. The latest indication of that was Monday’s Newspoll which showed for the third successive survey his government is trailing Labor by six points – enough for a wipe-out. A weekend ReachTel poll had similar results.

So, after a fortnight of relentless attacks on Labor for “ending border protection” by voting with the independents and Greens to bring sick refugees to Australia for treatment, the approval meter didn’t budge.

Morrison’s bubble looks like it’s about to burst.

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