When asked if he had thought about his legacy, Scott Morrison replied a fast ‘no’ during his comprehensive interview with Nine papers on the weekend.
Journalist Deborah Snow said despite not being entirely surprised by this response given Morrison’s own take on being “very mission, task focussed”, she was taken aback by the speed of him rejecting the very idea of legacy.
“It’s just not how I think about things,” Morrison further responded. “When prime ministers think about their legacies, they stop thinking about today and what they have to do now.”
This idea of Morrison seeing himself as a “Doer” might sound palpable if he’d actually been doing things.
But from the bungled vaccine rollout to failing to prepare for the current stage of the pandemic, going MIA during the bushfire crisis, fumbling into a half-baked climate commitment, and failing to even mention the idea of women’s safety and economic security until he had no other choice politically but to do so, there hasn’t been a huge amount of action from the Morrison office.
Perhaps, Morrison’s emphatic no to the idea of thinking about legacy explains the past three years of inaction perfectly. His job is to stay in the job, rather than use the job to achieve change that will outlast his tenure.
To give no thought to your legacy in a high-profile leadership position is not only a missed opportunity but also a concern for those your leadership decisions impact.
Indeed, many would argue that those with far fewer responsibilities consider their legacy: what they will leave behind once their time in the position has ended and, more broadly, the long-lasting impact of their work.
We’ve seen numerous politicians, especially women, openly discuss and achieve a legacy. For former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, this legacy is centred around education, an area she had a deep passion for prior to entering politics. For former Independent Cathy McGowan and her successor Dr Helen Haines, it’s integrity. For Julie Bishop it’s diplomacy.
The Prime Minister’s dismissal of thinking about legacy in favour of “getting on with it” is conceding he’s a man without a personal plan or vision beyond seizing a longer-term in power.
There is no personal goal to leave office having changed Australia for the better. Not even on area — say education, healthcare, disability care services, aged care, foreign affairs — where he hopes to look back later in life and think “I did that”.
This is despite Morrison serving in the top job through some of the most challenging events of our time. He’s seen and witnessed the aftermath of these crises firsthand, touring the country at times to meet with those most impacted. He’s met with bushfire victims. He’s met with survivors of violence and assault. He’s met with older Australians in perpetual states of lockdown. He’s met with small business owners who’ve shared their struggles.
If all these one on one encounters don’t change or fire up your ambitions for being part of something bigger than your own personal ambition, then what actually can?
One wants to at believe these have been more than just photo opportunities, learning opportunities at least. But to come away with nothing — no personal mission to look back on having delivered some form of significant change — says everything we need to know about the PM’s aspirations for the next three years.
Instead, Morrison is pushing a safe, general platform for winning a second election. He’s promoting the idea of a”strong” economy and ‘togetherness’, but not much substance for addressing some of the bigger concerns many Australians feel are actually connected to such broad brush statements: real action on climate change, significant women’s safety funding that actually responds and reflects what those working in these spaces actually propose, and a much stronger and present response to the COVID-19 pandemic that does a better job metaphorically and physically of uniting Australians across borders.
Morrison’s had numerous opportunities to cement a legacy. On aged care reform. On stepping up to reset the climate debate. On the vaccine rollout and pandemic response. On women’s safety and economic well-being — especially after his comments on all the ‘listening’ he’d been doing last year.
If Morrison can’t determine and work towards a legacy, one will be provided for him. Right now, it looks like a legacy of lies. He has told many in office. Possibly cementing into Australian political culture a strong acceptance of alternative facts.
Indeed, he lied in saying he doesn’t think about legacy — unless his views have changed since ordering himself a trophy of a boat with the words “I stopped these.”