Scott Morrison is taking a major political risk. We’ll soon find out that it pays off

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At a joint meeting in the village hall this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told colleagues they were about to see him pour his energies into political debate in a way he never had before.

And, it seems, he really meant it.

Mr Morrison has told MPs they must let him lead the way and take the government over the finish line in the next election, a Liberal Party source said. The new daily.

Should Mr Morrison win such an unlikely victory, Health Minister Greg Hunt earlier in the fortnight told MPs the Prime Minister would claim a place in the Liberal Party pantheon – even, he said said, above John Howard.

Mr Morrison has certainly stuck to that script in a week in Parliament devoted to the uninterrupted deployment of campaign tactics and very little else.

And he certainly campaigned like he had one eye on the history books, borrowing mostly, it seems, from the top of Mount Olympus of the Liberal Party.

The government’s week reached its crescendo with a boldly ahistorical attempt to portray itself as fighting the threat of communism, a ploy reminiscent of the Menzies era.

Back to the future

But by the end of the week, Mr Morrison’s Cold War rhetoric was already over the top even before an election was called.

The sludge slung against Labor, previously framed in coded terms about having an “every way bet” on national security, soon turned into the most old-fashioned of negative campaigns.

In the middle of the week, Mr Morrison launched – and withdrew – the accusation that Labor MP Richard Marles was a “Manchurian candidate”. PLA leader Anthony Albanese has been ridiculed for being the Chinese government’s “preferred” candidate. And Peter Duton repeated a puzzling comparison between the Chinese government and Nazi Germany.

It didn’t take long for the nation’s national security establishment to correct the toll. In two extraordinary interventions, the country’s current spy boss, Mike Burgess, and one of Australia’s most respected civil servants, Dennis Richardson, both accused the government of seeking to politicize national security to the detriment of the national interest.

The result was a noticeable drop in tempo. The government continued its attempt to stoke fear of a Labor government on Thursday and Friday, but on more traditional and acceptable terms such as past funding for the defense force.

Mr Morrison used the Australian Prime Minister’s office to take a risk this week. His charged rhetoric about Australia’s biggest trading partner risks exposing him to a public perception of a leader willing to burn down the house for political advantage.

But did he pay, by the cynical standards of political tactics?

Being so chastised by authoritative voices for overstepping national security boundaries has not enhanced Mr Morrison’s image as Prime Minister.

In a very narrow sense, however, there are those who will see this week as a success. The government’s politicization of national security has permeated nearly every step it has taken this week.

Stimulate work

There have been attempts to split Labor over plans to unnecessarily strengthen deportation powers; listing the political wing of Hamas as a terrorist organization; and introduce tougher minimum penalties for firearms.

Despite the hot rhetoric accompanying each of them, and without pressing or convincing arguments to take any of these measures, the Labor Party resisted the obvious bait and did not oppose it.

The government may not have scored any blows to the body, but it has succeeded in redirecting the debate.

Mr Morrison started the fortnight with question marks over his leadership and the unity of government, following a series of disastrous leaks against him.

In this context, bringing issues other than coalition unity to the fore is positive for a government that is now approaching ten years in power and watching it very closely.

But Mr Morrison has not gone so far as to shine the spotlight on Labour, which he successfully did in the last election.

It’s far from clear that staking so much of his credibility on changing the national conversation was worth it.

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