Hewson's View: How deep a hole will Morrison dig?

Photo: David Gray/Getty Images

Photo: David Gray/Getty Images

On at least 20 occasions since the outbreak of the coronavirus (as of July 21, according to the Washington Post) Trump has said that the virus will "disappear".

He has used every possible argument, denial, misrepresentation, personal attack, attempt to blame etc, rather than face the reality of the medical, economic, and social challenges posed by the virus.

His arrogance, negligence and intransigence have cost the US dearly in deaths and in the severity of the economic collapse and social disruption.

It is only in the last couple of days, faced with his collapsing chance of winning a second term, that he has apparently begun to recognise reality, at least he has finally admitted that the virus will probably "get worse before it gets better".

He dug a hole for himself and his presidency, but rather than stop digging, he kept digging in the facile belief in some sort of political infallibility, to only be so deep now that it is him that risks disappearing.

Unfortunately, delusion has become a defining feature of modern day political leaders and their governments.

Rather than listen to the science, or heed significant expert advice and warnings, or accept a factual consensus as to the nature of a challenge, and of what needs to be done, they operate as if they can ignore, and can continue to ignore, these realities.

Moreover, they will go to almost any length, no matter in reality how indefensible that may actually be, in order to defend their positions.

Annoyingly, they seem able to get away with such a game for quite awhile. But, in the end, they will lose, as reality bites through. Unfortunately, it is then usually left to the next leader/government to clean up their mess.

It is something of an irony, but our political leaders don't seem to want to learn from such experiences. What has the Morrison government learnt from our recent drought and bushfires? What has he done to accept the reality of the next ones?

For Morrison, this is the early stage in his hole digging!

Our hot and dry climate is only going to get hotter and drier with climate change. While Morrison has, begrudgingly, acknowledged this, he has done little to prepare for future droughts and fires which the science warns us will occur with greater frequency and intensity.

Indeed, he has quickly slipped back into his "denialism", aided by the COVID-19 pandemic that has allowed him to "move on", even though it was immediately clear that he wasn't prepared for the pandemic either, ignoring that there had already been five pandemics this century.

Although Morrison has, so far at least, been credited with having handled this pandemic better than he did the drought and fires, he has already tried delusion with the early suggestion that we could hope to "bounce" or "snap" back to where we were pre-COVID, and that the economic "support/cushioning" was "temporary, targeted and proportionate".

Morrison is now claiming that it won't be as bad an economic collapse as first thought, largely to distract from just how significant a collapse, and just how much social disruption especially around job security, there has actually been, and just how long it may take to return to a sustainable growth path.

As much as Morrison may hope, it will not be possible to talk or "spin" his way out of where we are. To begin with, he can't create the impression that we should get back to where we were pre-COVID, because that wasn't actually so good, with record household debts, poor business and consumer confidence, flat wages, rising job insecurity, and a majority struggling to meet the costs of living. To mislead on this is just more dirt out of his hole.

As much as Morrison may hope, it will not be possible to talk or "spin" his way out of where we are.

Equally, he shouldn't remain intransigent to the opportunity to recover from COVID by genuine broad-based reform, including a reset of our industrial base, our tax system, and embark on an effective transition to a low carbon society by mid-century.

Unfortunately, Morrison lacks the imagination to create a new Australia out of this pandemic, just wanting to repeat the same old thinking once again, but expecting better results, which Einstein warned was a fair definition of "Insanity".

To squander this opportunity will certainly see Morrison dig his hole deeper.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

This story How deep a hole will Scott Morrison dig? first appeared on The Canberra Times.