Why the criticism of Scott Morrison's 'love all Australians' message misses the point
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Why the criticism of Scott Morrison's 'love all Australians' message misses the point

Scott Morrison has a message for Australians about faith, belief and trust. He is open about his Christian faith, declares his belief in Liberal values and assures voters they can trust his government.

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Morrison used his first major speech as Prime Minister to abandon the lectern, speak from the floor and adopt an almost evangelical style. His “love all Australians” message drew derision in some quarters but the criticism missed the point. Morrison was branding himself as an optimist, a believer.

This sense of belief is essential to Morrison’s fate. The Liberal Party has just gone through a collective nervous collapse – a crisis of belief during a leadership spill that was all about personal grudges rather than high purpose.

How can the Liberals ask voters to trust them when they cannot trust themselves? Morrison has to prove he has something in which to believe.

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In his interview with Fairfax Media, the Prime Minister argued that Australians understood the “what” of the government – its policies – but needed to know more about the “why” – its reason for being.

Yet he cannot answer one key question about the “why” of recent weeks. Why replace Malcolm Turnbull?

Asked whether the government needed a new direction, Morrison was so cautious he could offer nothing concrete about where he would take the government.

“What we needed was to reassure, particularly those who voted Liberal all their lives, about the connection and the grounding that we have and the values and the beliefs that I spoke about,” he said.

Like others who have come to power in government in a leadership spill, he could not talk easily about exactly how he rose to the top.

Asked whether he spoke to Turnbull in those final days to tell him he was running for the leadership, he answered a different question.

“Malcolm always knew that I would never be standing against him. Just like Tony Abbott knew I was never going to be standing against him as the prime minister. That’s exactly what happened,” he said.

Asked if he ever went to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to tell him he was wrong to contest the leadership, he invoked Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies.

“I’m just not going to get into what happened more than two weeks ago because the curtain’s down on that,” he said.

“Just like Menzies told everybody to leave their old parties at the door when they joined the Liberal Party, everybody can leave those events of two weeks ago at the door as they enter into a new government.”

Perhaps the only way to have faith in the future is to forget the recent past.

David Crowe is the chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.