Scott Morrison has faced his most vigorous and sustained questioning of the election campaign to date over a promise to establish a federal integrity commission which he failed to deliver in his first term as PM.
Once again demonstrating the chutzpah and audaciousness that has come to frame his style when under pressure, Morrison denied that he had broken a promise and blamed Labor for its lack of delivery.
Yes, the opposition. Yes, I know they are not in power, but he said it’s their fault we don’t have one because they would not vote for the government’s model.
This is despite the fact that a range of experts criticized the government’s model as lacking teeth and it was never put to a vote.
It was an extraordinary press conference where we saw the Prime Minister in full-throttle campaign mode — deflecting responsibility and warning, as he has done before, that Labor’s ICAC model would deliver a “kangaroo court” that destroys careers.
But wait, there was a twist
Morrison did all this while standing next to the MP inside his government who has been the most critical of the government’s lack of action on a national integrity body, Bridget Archer.
It was Archer who crossed the floor to support bringing on parliamentary debate about the integrity commission last year. And as the incumbent holding the most marginal Coalition-held seat in the country, she danced around questions over whether her own boss — standing right next to her — had failed to deliver a promise, all while maintaining her own integrity on the actual integrity bill .
Not an easy ask. But she did it. If she manages to hold her seat at the coming election, this press conference performance is the only evidence needed to make the case for her elevation.
She didn’t take the bait when invited to rebuke the PM, but did note that until the politics were taken out of the debate, an integrity body would not be delivered.
Of course, Morrison wasn’t in Bass to talk about integrity commissions, he was in Tassie to announce $106 million in funding to support existing forestry hubs and a timber innovation institute.
“Under our government, we will not support any shutdowns of native forestry,” the PM said, reminding voters that in the 2004 election campaign — which John Howard went on to win — it was Labor who sided with greenies on forests.
Things got a bit more complicated for Morrison when Education Minister Alan Tudge’s ex-lover Rachelle Miller put out a statement releasing the Prime Minister of any confidentiality over her legal claim.
It comes after it was revealed this week that the Commonwealth was paying her more than $500,000 for a workplace settlement.
The statement means that any decision to keep the workplace payout secret is a decision by the government. This makes the confidentiality claims by the government—its main defense—weaker.
Confusion over boats
Anthony Albanese appeared to have some of his mojo back at his press conference after a bruising first week on the hustings, campaigning in Cessnock on the final day before the Easter long weekend.
But while he withstood the questions on the unemployment rate without incident, things got a bit more confusing when it came to boat turnbacks.
At his press conference, Albanese was asked a question that lead him to say that Labor would “turn boats back, turning boats back means that you don’t need offshore detention”.
It caused a bit of a stir and allowed Morrison to zero in like a bird that has spotted its prey to go in hard on one of his preferred topics.
The Coalition seized on the comment to suggest a Labor government would end offshore detention if it wins the election.
Labor has since clarified that it 100 per cent supports offshore processing and there’s been no reversal in its policy — dangerous territory for the opposition, who have been stung by this issue at countless elections before.
You rarely see the Prime Minister more animated than when he gets to talk about border protection.
Morrison, who served as immigration minister in the Abbott government in 2013 and 2014, accused Albanese of having had “every position on border protection”.
“People know me. Some people disagree with me, some people agree with me. Some people don’t like how I say some things and other people do. You know who I am. When it comes to border protection, the people smugglers know who I am,” he said.
This is the PM’s formula: you don’t have to like him but you know him and he wants to give you jobs (repeat the word five times).
It’s the quintessential “better the devil you know” equation and he will repeat it day in, day out until you are hiding under five doonas praying for May 22 to arrive.
Bridget Archer, who managed to hold onto her own integrity while still signaling that she will argue for the things she believes in if she’s returned as the member for Bass — not an easy thing to pull off.
The day was derailed by a car accident involving the Prime Minister’s security detail.
Morrison canceled his campaign events after the car carrying two Federal Police and two Tasmanian Police officers that was following the Prime Minister rolled near Elizabeth Town in northern Tasmania.
In a statement, the Prime Minister’s office said the four officers had been taken to hospital for further assessment.
The Prime Minister was not injured, and our thoughts are with the police and their families.
What to watch out for tomorrow
With the Easter break about to start, expect a quieter day tomorrow and the campaign to pick back up as the weekend goes on. We’ll be a bit quieter too, with the afternoon wrap back on Monday.
Catch up on today’s stories