Scott Morrison has acknowledged his style has alienated people, describing himself as “a bit of a bulldozer” and suggesting Australians would see a change of “gears” if he is re-elected.
The admission – though he qualified it by defending his approach in the circumstances he has faced – reflects the extent to which the prime minister’s character has damaged the government’s brand.
In “teal” seats especially, Liberal incumbents have been reporting voters saying they don’t have anything against the local MP but they don’t like Morrison. But the anti-Morrison sentiment has been coming through much more widely and his colleagues see him as a drag on the Coalition vote.
Morrison was asked at a news conference in Melbourne whether part of his problem was that he kept telling people what they should know rather than listening.
He insisted he had listened but went on: “Over the last three years, and particularly the last two, what Australians have needed from me going through this pandemic has been strength and resilience.
"Now, I admit that hasn’t enabled Australians to see a lot of other gears in the way I work.
"And I know Australians know that I can be a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to issues.
"But over the last few years that’s been pretty important, to ensure we’ve been able to get through some of the most important things that we’ve had to do and land some really big security agreements.”
But, he said, after the election “I know there are things that are going to have to change with the way I do things.”
He said this was “because we are moving into a different time.
"We are moving into a time of opportunity. And working from the strong platform of strength that we’ve built and saved in our economy in the last three years, we can now take advantage of those opportunities in the future.”
Anthony Albanese had a blunt comment on Morrison’s bulldozer self-description. “A bulldozer wrecks things. A bulldozer knocks things over. I’m a builder. If I’m elected prime minister, I will build things in this country.”
Albanese said the PM was saying “if you vote for Scott Morrison, I’ll change.”
“Well, if you want change, change the government,” the opposition leader said.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra