Within a few weeks of taking the top job, Prime Minister Scott Morrison shared something that’s core to his view of Australia. “Remember,” he said. “My value is: we look after our mates.”
After seeing his intervention into the preselection of the right-wing, climate skeptic Craig Kelly, he appears to be a man of his word.
That’s how all this talk of “looking after our mates” can seem form an outsider’s perspective — like a special protection service for the “boys club”, as Crikey political editor Bernard Keane predicted would continue in the Coalition following the leadership spill.
And that’s the problem with the word “mate”. It implies friend or companion, someone known to you or with a specific relationship to you. The push to protect “mates” can only ever go so far — and is often only done if you know you can get something in return, or put a favour on hold for later.
But still Morrison keeps talking up mates. He said it again, this morning. Speaking about the work being done to fight bushfires across Australia, he told AAP it reminds “us of our Australian values of looking after our mates.”
Is it really an “Australian thing” to look after your friends? Do they not do that in New Zealand, in Indonesia, across Europe? Perhaps it’s a human thing. And in the case of fighting bushfires, it was more a case of looking after people. Mate or not.
As for some of Morrison’s other mates, well we know that he’s had, “Plenty of mates who have asked me if they can be my special envoy to sort the issue out with Pamela Anderson”.
Meanwhile, the Craig Kelly intervention makes the “mate” thing smell especially off.
Kelly looked set to lose preselection in his southern Sydney seat. He threatened to go to the crossbench if he lost the party endorsement. Morrison stepped in, urging the state executive of the party to guarantee his position.
Unfortunately, that same support didn’t appear to extend to Julia Banks, who spoke about bullying in the party and ended up quitting it for the crossbench. Nor did it extend to Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis, who announced she would be leaving Parliament due to bullying within the Liberal party.
And that same level of prime ministerial intervention (when Turnbull was in the top job) didn’t come for Jane Prentice, who lost her preselection in May this year. She never threatened a move to the crossbench during the process. At the time, then Treasurer Morrison said it’s the “rank and file” who get to make decisions about who represents them.
The rank and file. Unless, perhaps, your mates can step in.
Morrison described why he made the intervention this morning, declaring that “as leader, I made a call”. There was no talk of mates, this time.
“As the party leader, I made it pretty clear – I wanted them endorsed, and I wanted them on the ground, fighting the next election, and not getting distracted by anything else,” he said.
“That’s my main mission, that’s their mission, and as leader I made a call, I said I want them endorsed, and the party backed me and I appreciate the support.”
And back on Jane Prentice, I can’t help but recall a comment she shared during the madness that was the week of the leadership spill: “I think people should stop thinking about themselves and start thinking about the people of Australia.”
If only they could also stop thinking about their mates.