Prime Minister Scott Morrison is keen to cultivate an image of a man ready to roll up his sleeves and do what ordinary people do. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)
Scott Morrison spent three days this week in WA basking in an AFL grand final win and spruiking the Government’s plan to legislate a GST fix during his first visit to the state since taking over as Prime Minister.
But the trip west was much more than just a chance to pitch the planned GST reforms — it was also an opportunity for Mr Morrison to sell himself to West Australian voters.
His activities and events while in town exhibited an apparent keenness to show WA voters he is no Malcolm Turnbull, the man he recently replaced as PM.
The sales pitch was simple: he and his minders wanted to paint him as a man of the people, in stark contrast to the image of his predecessor.
The timing was perfect with Mr Morrison, a self-confessed NRL supporter who admits he doesn’t have much interest in AFL, nonetheless able to capitalise on the West Coast Eagles’ grand final win.
Mr Morrison was able to capitalise on the West Coast Eagles’ Grand Final victory. (ABC News: Jessica Strutt)
The Cronulla Sharks cap he often wears was nowhere to be seen when he visited Eagles players on mad Monday, where he was presented with a West Coast guernsey emblazoned with “ScoMo”.
“It’s a double win (for WA) — GST and the flag, there you go,” Mr Morrison declared on his way in.
The next day the jacket and tie were again thrown aside and the guernsey donned as he visited Clontarf Aboriginal College to kick a footy with some of the students.
Mr Morrison showed he knows how to kick a footy at Clontarf Aboriginal College. (ABC News: Jessica Strutt)
It took three goes but he did finally kick a goal — an approach that had ironic comparisons to his Government’s prolonged efforts to seal a GST deal.
Next up he headed straight for the barbecue where he helped to cook eggs before sitting down to smash a bacon and egg breakfast roll with the boys.
The visit appeared to confirm the Morrison team was keen to show WA voters just how different the new PM was to his predecessor — an approachable, average bloke who’s willing to roll his sleeves up and do the things ordinary Australians do.
Scott Morrison tucks in to lunch with students from Clontarf Aboriginal College. (ABC News: Jessica Strutt)
The ‘man of the people’ largely avoided the people
Interestingly though, the “man of the people” didn’t actually do much interacting with ordinary people on this visit.
His carefully managed appearances were mostly confined to official events, rather than meet-and-greet shopping centre walk-throughs or other unscripted encounters with regular people.
Prior to the knifing of Mr Turnbull by his party, many Liberals commented that while the former PM’s statesman-like qualities were an asset in some ways, his message delivery often left voters with the impression he was lecturing them.
The personal wealth Mr Turnbull accumulated before he entered politics was seized on by Mr Shorten to create a class war debate during the former PM’s time in the top job.
Mr Shorten dubbed Mr Turnbull “Mr Harbourside Mansion” and relentlessly sought to paint him as out of touch with the average Australian.
Malcolm Turnbull’s Point Piper residence earned him the sobriquet “Mr Harbourside Mansion” from Labor. (AAP: David Moir)
The rise of Mr Morrison to the role has not only blunted that Labor attack line, but the new PM also appears keen to ensure he’s not seen as part of any political elite.
The change in federal Liberal leaders has been welcomed by most senior Liberals in WA, who have said they believed Mr Morrison would give them a better chance at next year’s federal election.
Many said he was much better than the man he replaced at connecting directly with the voting public.
Labor’s GST confusion delivers PM a free kick
Mr Morrison’s bid to win over the west was helped enormously this week by a free GST kick offered up by federal Labor.
As the PM toured Perth talking up his plans to legislate a permanent GST fix, federal Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen and Mr Shorten were on the east coast raising concerns about why the legislation did not include an enshrined guarantee that no state would be worse off.
It was an interesting development given Mr Shorten had been the first leader to promise WA a legislated GST fix within 100 days if he wins the next election and had also claimed to be on a “unity ticket” with the federal Coalition on the issue.
Mr Morrison is keen not to be seen as a member of a political elite. (ABC News: Jessica Strutt)
The comments even appeared to take WA Premier Mark McGowan by surprise, and he was quick to declare he would be calling his federal colleagues and urging them to get on board.
Just as he jumped on the Eagles bandwagon while in Perth, Mr Morrison didn’t waste a minute pouncing on federal Labor’s GST ambiguity as he made a play to the local WA audience.
“Mark McGowan and I are on a unity ticket when it comes to the GST changes but it seems the Labor Party is not on a unity ticket when it comes to this issue,” Mr Morrison said.
“(Mr Shorten) said he was and now when I’ve sent him the legislation … the crab walk seems to be starting from him when it comes to the fairer deal on the GST that WA deserves.”
In his first press conference upon taking over the Liberal leadership, Mr Morrison told the Australian public, who had grown tired and frustrated by the Canberra leadership shenanigans, “we’re on your side.”
Federal Labor’s commentary this week on the GST handed Mr Morrison a golden chance to ram home the message that he’s on WA’s side when it comes to the GST.
“I want it passed now because West Australians have waited long enough,” Mr Morrison said.
If the legislation isn’t passed, WA voters who are well and truly weary of the GST debate had better prepare for a federal election campaign which could effectively become a referendum on the issue.
That scenario probably doesn’t worry most WA Liberals, who expect a campaign dominated by the GST could help their political fortunes.
Their bigger concern will be whether the leadership turmoil of August will unleash the wrath of voters, or whether Mr Morrison has got enough time before the poll to convince the public he really is a man of the people and the right person to lead the country.