Scott Morrison came into office unexpectedly in August 2018, threw together a staff, patched up the ministry, and cobbled together a minority government.
His makeshift team won, thanks to Morrison’s 150 not out. Frydenberg scored a quick 25, Melissa Price a golden duck and Turnbull’s attempt at ball-tampering failed.
But now the game changes.
It’s test match cricket from here. Morrison needs to pick a team that can win the long game over three years. He needs to get three key elements right – his ministry, his office and the Party.
The top order is locked. But there’s choices down the order. Melissa Price demonstrated she doesn’t have the ability to manage the complexities of climate change. But Angus Taylor has been ham-fisted in Energy too. The best talent available should go to this key portfolio – Simon Birmingham is wasted in Trade and should be elevated to a combined climate and energy portfolio (despite potential grumbling from the Right). He has the nuance to bridge the internal and external divides. Paul Fletcher is a fish out of water in social policy and should take Communications. The campaign’s unsung hero, Ben Morton, will get a roving commission.
2019 saw some very talented women elected – but they can’t go straight into the ministry, so it’s a narrower field, with Jane Hume the stand-out up-and-comer. Linda Reynolds will be an astute Defence Minister. Marise Payne needs to find her voice.
Morrison must pay attention to his office set-up. PMs’ offices will always have multiple voices jostling for influence. The PM needs to hear differing advice, filter it and resolve it. Abbott over-centralised power and it cost him dearly. Howard had a quadrumvirate of Nutt, Sinodinos, Conran and O’Leary – they had their fights, Howard listened, then they got it done together.
In Andrew Hirst, the Party has a fine young leader for many years to come. The dinosaurs in the State divisions are slowly evolving – did anyone notice the good old boys of the LNP pre-selected an openly-gay female in a safe seat? And it just wasn’t an issue. 2019 saw a swathe of quality candidates with broad life experiences elected. But party reform is still needed to ensure pre-selections are not dominated by factional heavyweights or narrow interests.
If Morrison can get these fundamentals right, he can avoid the traps of 1993 and 2004. A stunning come-from-behind victory can easily be squandered three years later.
Or to put the question another way, will Morrison be an Abbott or a Howard? Abbott was a superb campaigner but he couldn’t govern. Howard (as he proved again in 2019) was great at both – he understood test cricket.