Scott Morrison 2024 an aftermath

‘I wasn’t interested in a defensive legacy piece or a historical piece” says Morrison of his memoir, Plans for Your Good. Picture: James Horan

See the golf game at the end

A round with ScoMo: candid interview on life after The Lodge
Scott Morrison - how religion guided him on issues including Covid, the AUKUS nuclear submarine pact and the threat posed by China — all as his mental health deteriorated.
The Weekend Australian Magazine
April 26, 2024

Scott Morrison is in his happy place on a deck overlooking the ninth hole of the Cronulla Golf Club in his beloved “Shire”. It’s not The Lodge, but the friendly waves from his fellow golfers suggest the former prime minister remains the uncrowned king of this little slice of suburban Australia southeast of Sydney. “It’s the kind of place you never want to leave, we love it here,” he says. But the truth is that lately the Shire has also doubled as a safe harbour for the country’s 30th prime minister.

He feels he is finally emerging from what he dubs “the pile on” – a campaign by his political opponents, enthusiastically backed by many of those who did not vote for him, to “humiliate, discredit and cancel” him. In Morrison’s words, this “cycle of hate” was “graceless, brutal and it hurt”. All defeated prime ministers go through it to some degree, but few have experienced a post-election backlash as sharp and as prolonged as Morrison did.

It has been a tempest which has prompted much self-reflection from the 55 year old, who says he is determined to overcome the familiar cycle of personal bitterness and recrimination which have so afflicted many of his fellow-­deposed prime ministers. “Politics is an incredibly brutal place,” he says as he sips a flat white, dressed in a golf jumper with a St Andrews logo on it. “But I could never understand how people would then dedicate their entire political careers, or even their lives after, to settling scores. “Revenge is a dish served cold but it leaves you cold when you serve it and I just found that is not a good way to live.”

Morrison’s introspection about how he wants to live his post-prime ministerial life has given him fertile ground to intersect further with his own Christianity, given its focus on values, morality and repentance.

Combine the two and the result is arguably the most unusual book ever written by a prime minister after leaving office. Plans for Your Good: A Prime Minister’s Testimony of God’s Faithfulness, is not a traditional political memoir, but rather it is a recounting of his “spiritual journey” as it intersected with his time as prime minister. This includes the role his faith played during crises like the Covid pandemic, during major decisions such as the AUKUS nuclear submarine pact and amid political challenges like his accession to the prime ministership at the expense of Malcolm Turnbull. “Most politicians write books about what they’ve done, this story is about what I believe God has done for me,” says Morrison.

As such, the book, which ends with the word “Amen”, is a unique blend of the prayer and scriptures that influenced him as prime minister as well as the retelling of selective key moments of his four years as the country’s leader from 2018 to 2022. “I had no real intention of writing a memoir, that’s not how I’m wired,” says Morrison, who insists there will be no traditional political autobiography in the future.

He was inspired to write this book after he reviewed numerous messages he had exchanged during his prime ministership in a WhatsApp chat group of ex-pastor friends and realised there was a spiritual story to be told. “That was quite a spiritual journey and that was the story I was more interested in. I wasn’t interested in a defensive legacy piece or a historical piece,” he says.

So who is the book for, Christians or political junkies, given that the two rarely intersect?

“Primarily, it’s for people who share my faith,” says Morrison, who has been a practising Christian since he was 12. “But it’s not exclusively for people of faith, it’s hopefully to share with those who may have a different faith or none. This is what faith has meant to me as a person who was in a position of leadership and politics.”

He admits the book is evangelistic to some degree, in that he laments the decline of Christian principles in Australia and says he hopes the book will “encourage people to think about things of faith.” “My prayer is that He [God] will give you eyes to see that His plans are good for you too,” he writes. As such, Morrison only dwells on those political events which he says are relevant to his broader discussion of his faith. This means the book – conveniently or otherwise – does not discuss some of the most controversial aspects of his leadership, nor does it contain revelations behind his surprise election victory in 2019 or his big loss in 2022.

For example he does not touch on his decisions during the pandemic to appoint himself to multiple ministerial positions, or the furore over his “I don’t hold a hose” decision to holiday in Hawaii during the 2018-19 bushfires.

Morrison also barely mentions Anthony Albanese, the man who toppled him from power and rarely mentions his parliamentary colleagues on either side of the aisle. “It wasn’t that sort of book, that’s why I didn’t go to those places,” says Morrison. But he looks back on his time as prime minister as the most demanding period for any Australian leader since Labor’s John Curtin during World War II.

Morrison pictured in August 2021 as the government battled the global Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Adam Taylor

“We endured drought, floods, bushfires, cyclones, the global Covid-19 pandemic, a global and domestic recession and even a plague of mice,” he says. “On top of this we contended with an aggressive Chinese communist regime trying to bully Australia, our region and the world”, and the start of the Ukraine invasion. “Despite the historical challenges we faced during my time as prime minister, Australia came through it all exceptionally well,” he says, adding that “a day rarely passes where someone doesn’t come up to me and shares a quiet ‘thank you’”. But he also speaks of the mistakes, the “disappointments I have to let go of, where I have to pay the price and forgive. There is also repentance I must come to terms with – things I have said, things I could have said better, people I have taken for granted or disappointed and some policy decisions I regret.

“[But] we should not wallow in guilt or public flagellation … [we should] be able to move forward to the next season.”

Labor had not yet won the required seats to form government, but as he sat in his study in Kirribilli House watching the updates pour in on election night, May 21, 2022, Morrison knew he was about to lose. “There were practical things I needed to arrange,” he says, so he cleared his study – the same room where he had watched what he calls the “miracle victory” of 2019 – of all but his most senior staff and told them it was over. “I had trusted God and put everything I had into the job. It was over. It was a hard loss.” He then spoke with his wife Jen, and went upstairs to tell his daughters Abbey and Lily.

“They were sitting together on Abbey’s bed. I sat down at the other end and just looked at them for a moment. These were my miracle girls. God’s greatest gift to me and Jen. I was looking into the face of God’s goodness. Life’s most bitter disappointments don’t stand a chance when you’re confronted with the truth of God’s blessing in your life. It was just what I needed. I told them, ‘Girls, Dad has lost the election and I won’t be prime minister anymore … we’re going home’. They both cried, not because we lost but because they loved their dad and didn’t want to see me disappointed.”

Morrison says that despite the loss he also felt a “strange calm” on that night. He says he looks back now and realises he was exhausted “physically and emotionally” from a job that he admits had taken a toll on his mental health. He says the so-called “pile-on” which came after he left office caught him by surprise. “I had expected the political caravan to move on and that my family and I would be able to catch our breath and also move on, with dignity and respect. That didn’t happen,” he says. “There seemed to be quite an enthusiasm to do the whole dead, buried and cremated thing, to really grind us into the dust, and that went on for some time and it was very difficult.” He believes that he was judged more harshly than his predecessors because his opponents had never forgiven him for his underdog victory against Labor’s Bill Shorten in 2019.

“2019, in many people’s view, was not supposed to happen and they never wanted to see it happen again,” he says. “So I suppose they wanted to really make sure they were finished with me, I don’t think they wanted Lazarus after 2022.”

Morrison says he chose to remain silent in the face of the pile-on, citing as his inspiration the “class” that former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard has shown in refusing to take a swipe at others in her post-leadership life. But at the same time, he personally struggled with it and said he had “heated” conversations with God about why. “Why are you letting my enemies get the better of me … why have you raised me up only to see me now crushed and humiliated,” he asked God.

Morrison says that he “sensed God’s response” as being that it’s not as bad as being nailed to a cross. “Scott, I get it, I’ve been there and worse, and you know what I did it all for you,” God told him. “I’ve walked this path, Scott. I can show you how to move forward from here. Just follow me.” Morrison says that since then he has been “working through my repentance and forgiveness lists” to try to eradicate any feelings of bitterness or rancour towards those he feels have wronged him, although he quips that “I think the list of those who need to forgive me is probably longer”.

He says his quest to forgive his political opponents, including those who “embarked on a quite calculated campaign of character assassination”, is a “constant process”. “You’ve just got to resolve it and let it go,” he says. “I decided I would be someone who would just move on with my life and there were many other things in my life [because] my life wasn’t completely consumed by politics or the role. I never saw the role [of prime minister] as defining who I was as a human being or an individual.”

But in the book Morrison reveals the enormous toll which being prime minister took on his own mental health. He says he tried swimming and cooking to help him cope with the pressures of the office. But eventually he came to suffer from anxiety, which became so acute that he sought help from his doctor who prescribed him medication. “Without this help, serious depression likely would have manifested,” he says. “What impacted me was the combination of pure physical exhaustion with the unrelenting and callous brutality of politics and media attacks. As a politician I know this goes with the territory. That’s not a complaint or even an accusation. It’s just reality. Politicians are not made of stone, yet they’re often treated as though they are, including by each other.”

His anxiety, he says, was “debilitating and agonising” —“it can shut you down mentally and physically. It robs you of your joy and can damage relationships. I know this from personal experience. The anxiety I’m talking about is not momentary. It lasts much longer and feels inescapable … you can’t deal with it by telling yourself to, as we say in Australia, “take a teaspoon of cement and harden up.”

At 7am on the day that Morrison would ­become prime minister, he sent a text to his group of pastor friends saying: “Staff is up, I am walking towards the sea.” It was, says Morrison, a statement that “I was taking action, stepping forward, and trusting God with whatever happened next.”

Morrison’s retelling in the book of how he became prime minister rebuffs Turnbull’s version of events in that leadership drama. Turnbull has accused Morrison of playing a “duplicitous double game” during the first of two leadership spills in August 2018. He says Morrison arranged for some of his supporters to vote for Turnbull’s rival Peter Dutton in the first ballot, to increase the pressure on Turnbull by reducing Turnbull’s eventual winning margin over Dutton. Morrison did not contest that first ballot. Several days later in a second leadership spill which Turnbull did not contest, Morrison threw his hat in the ring and defeated Dutton. Morrison denies point blank that he played a double game against Turnbull and says he only chose to run for the leadership once Turnbull had decided he would not contest the second leadership spill.

Morrison with Malcolm Turnbull in 2018. Picture: Lukas Coch

“[Turnbull’s account] is just not true, I mean it’s not possible to be true because we didn’t know he [Turnbull] was going to spill the leadership that morning [against Dutton] … because he didn’t tell me,” Morrison says. He says that Turnbull has simply constructed a false narrative which “suits” him and that he feels no bitterness about Turnbull’s claims. “I know my own conduct in the matter and am completely comfortable about it,” he says.

Morrison says that during the tumultuous week when Turnbull fell, he was forced to “confront the real measure” of his faith. “I had been praying about the situation all week, I had been seeking the counsel and fellowship of Christian friends and mentors. I was talking to Jen. I was reading God’s Word.”

Once Turnbull had stepped aside from the second ballot, he says he “decided that the path of obedience was to step up. So I raised my staff and walked towards the sea”.

Morrison writes that once he became prime minister, God became a central force of guidance, especially during the biggest political challenges of his leadership. For example, he says there was “plenty” of prayer during the early days of the Covid pandemic where there was no guidebook and no precedent to steer his government’s response.

“In existential situations like this, politics and ideology do not matter, I wasn’t dealing with a political conspiracy, I was dealing with a biological pathogen,” he says. “The virus had shut down the world’s economy, planes were grounded, borders closed, businesses shut, supply chains collapsed and students sent home. If you had asked me a year before if I could have conceived that we would live through such a time, I would have told you it was science fiction. We were all staring into the abyss [and] once again I would go to my knees in prayer.”

Morrison is adamant that his government’s management of the pandemic was a clear success, saying it saved both lives and livelihoods. He makes no mention of the “it’s not a race” attitude of the government’s initial refusal to push hard to secure adequate supplies of Covid vaccines – a failure which exacerbated the subsequent long state-government ordered lockdowns in Victoria and NSW.

Instead he focuses on the big picture of the lower death rates in Australia compared with other nations. “Our health plan worked. Compared to the death rates from Covid in other developed countries with comparable health systems, we saved 30,000 lives [and] when I left office, Australia had the third lowest death rate from Covid in the developed world,” he says.

The creation of the AUKUS nuclear submarine pact with the US and the UK was another occasion where Morrison credits God for giving him the courage to lead.

Mike Pence shakes hands with Morrison as President Trump looks on. Picture: Alamy Live News

Morrison says he sent a text to his pastor group two days after he stood alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce the three-nation pact. It said: “The events of these past few days and those ahead go beyond our domestic politics, they go to nations, peace and security. I just pray He [God] will walk with me. That I will be humble to His whisper. Please pray; there is so much at stake.”

Morrison makes it clear that he believes AUKUS is his government’s signature achievement and the most significant defence agreement for Australia in the past 70 years. He believes his own political courage with AUKUS lay as much in conceiving such a radical idea as it was in bringing the pact to fruition. “Frankly the bravest part of it was ‘we are going to have a crack at this’.”

Now that he has left office, Morrison no longer pulls any punches in calling out China’s threatening behaviour as the key reason why he pushed so hard for a pact to allow Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. “We could not continue to indulge in passive appeasement of China’s assertiveness, we could not give in to fear,” he says bluntly. Nuclear submarines were “key to our plan to resist Chinese coercion”.

He speaks of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s dark journey from a leader with “a positive agenda” who admired our koalas and our friendliness to one who adopted a “neo-Marxist mission [to] rewrite the rules of the global order in China’s favour”. “I refused to allow China to intimidate us and have our nation live in fear.”

Morrison also uses the book to take a swing at French President’s Emmanuel Macron’s claim that Morrison lied to him by giving him no warning during the secret AUKUS negotiations that Australia was about to cancel the contract to build French submarines.

Both leaders appear to have different versions of a dinner at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris in which Morrison insists that he dropped numerous hints that Australia was about to walk away from the French submarine contract. But because the AUKUS pact had not yet been finalised, he couldn’t kill the French deal at that point. “Even though AUKUS had not yet landed, I could not leave that dinner without making it clear we were reconsidering our position on Australia’s submarine contract with France,” says Morrison. “I was very clear, I said to Macron, ‘look these subs don’t do the job for us and we need to look at other options’.

“He had not been misled, as was later claimed.” Morrison accuses Macron of calling him a liar in order to cover up the French leader’s own failure to interpret his words properly during that dinner. “I suppose admitting that the French government had failed to take what we were saying seriously, or that there had been a complete failure of their intelligence services, would have been more embarrassing,” says Morrison. “I wasn’t reckless in the decisions I took to stand against China’s bullying or to cancel the French submarine contract. God’s assurance enabled me to step out of a mindset of fear and do what I believed was in the best interest of my country. God was the source of my strength and courage.”

But he reserves the religious description of a “miracle” mostly for his own struggle with wife Jen to have children. He speaks of their pain over 14 years and ten cycles of IVF, before Jen fell pregnant naturally one year, just before Christmas. They decided to tell the family by sneaking pictures of the ultrasound – with a photoshopped picture of a little red Santa hat on the baby’s head – into the bon bons on the Christmas table. Morrison says there “were shrieks of joy and disbelief” from those around the table, except from his father who was so overwhelmed by the news that he just sobbed.

The birth of Abbey in 2007 was followed in 2009 by their second “miracle” girl Lily “I have kept that pregnancy test to this day. How good is God,” he says, repeating his election victory quip of 2019.

Throughout the book, Morrison often views his time on the world stage through the lens of a “daggy dad” from the Shire. When he and Jen visited Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 2019, Morrison described it as the “most nervous I had ever been”. “Here we were, Jen and Scott from the suburbs of Sydney, having tea with Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace. Someone pinch me.”

Not surprisingly given his faith, Morrison laments the decline of religion in Australia. He quotes the 2021 census showing that almost 40 per cent of Australians now identify as having no religion, while 44 per cent identify as Christian, and a further 10 per cent identify with other religions. “Australia is no longer nominally a Christian nation,” he says and points to a new type of “energised secular morality” which he believes is displacing traditional religion. “The passion we have seen for many political causes on the left and right speaks to an energised secular morality where political activism is replacing traditional religion as the source of meaning and purpose. Climate action, social justice, gender and race politics, cancel culture and the denunciation of capitalism are now fuelling the passions and moral purpose of younger citizens in Western democracies,” he says, noting that this is not just confined to the political left. In this new style of “secular political faith” morality is “conveniently externalised and focused on the sins of others rather than dealing with their own. True Christianity could not be more different from this world view”.

In 2022 with wife Jenny and children Abbey and Lily, along with dog Buddy at Kirribilli House. Picture: Jason Edwards

He believes this “hyper-partisanship of modern politics has also affected the Fourth Estate where political activism, celebrity and partisanship are being redefined as journalism, including in the mainstream media”.

But Morrison believes that churches should not try to adapt to these new trends by becoming “a dull copy of progressive society in order to seek public acceptance”. “Many liberal churches have gone down this path for many years. They have become tepid and conformed to the deep secularist values that dominate their communities, and they are dying as a result.” Instead, he believes that Christians need to respond to a world that is “increasingly offended by Jesus and rejecting God [by] holding firm to the confession of our faith and to hope without wavering”.

Morrison says that as prime minister he made close connections with other leaders who shared his faith including former US vice president Mike Pence, former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape. At the 2018 APEC leader’s summit in PNG, Morrison says he even asked for Pence’s aides to leave the room so that he could pray with the vice president about solutions to “the increasing assertiveness of China in our region”.

Morrison’s book is aimed not just at Australian readers but also at Christians in the US. As such, it explains where Tasmania is located and what a nightwatchman is in cricket as well as giving reassurance that in the Shire “there are no hobbits or tiny houses carved into the Hillside, like in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings”.

Morrison insists he is adjusting to life after politics and that it suits him well. He claims to enjoy “irrelevance appreciation syndrome” rather than “relevance deprivation syndrome”. “You know life has seasons, and I found that season rewarding but also exhausting.” He says he has avoided making commentary on current political events and keeps his comments largely confined to his own time in power. “I’ve sought not to engage in the contemporary political debate because I’ve had my go and it’s up to others now. [Opposition Leader] Peter [Dutton] and his whole team, that’s their job now and I don’t want to get in the way of that.”

But he does dip his toe into that water on some contemporary issues. Despite the steady fall in the primary vote of the major parties, he doesn’t see Australia moving towards permanent minority governments. “I think it is possible, but not likely, because the third, fourth and fifth options aren’t really offering anything. I mean, at the end of the day, people want someone to run the show,” he says.

He also questions the longevity of the Teal movement of independents because he doesn’t see what they offer in the long-term. “It’s one thing for them to get elected because they convinced people to be angry at me, but that’s not a policy … I don’t see how that has a future.”

Morrison admits in the book that his own future “remains uncertain” and that he hopes those who are also going through a major transition in life will have faith that God will look after them. He is moving steadily into the world of corporate advisories, a favourite of former prime ministers as they seek to leverage their contacts and make some money. He has become a consultant at American Global Strategies, run by former Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Morrison now sits on a raft of advisory boards which include areas such as global infrastructure, space, defence, dual use technology, resources and finance. He is also connected to a range of think-tanks which give him the “intellectual engagement” on policy issues that he enjoys. He travels regularly to the US and on the week we met, he was preparing to fly to Japan, South Korea and the US on a three-week work trip.

While he hopes to build up his business interests, Morrison insists has no further political ambitions. “No, I’ve had my time in politics,” he says.

Plans for Your Good will be released on May 1.

Beyond his business commitments, Morrison has his eyes on a calmer life. “My family has sacrificed a lot willingly and wonderfully and this next season is my opportunity to invest a lot more back into my life.” Five years from now he says he wants to be “here on a Monday morning”, hitting golf balls down the fairways in Cronulla.

And of course, he also plans to stay involved in his church ministry – “Let’s see where God leads me on that.” God has already led Morrison to the good, the bad and the ugly in his life – 17 years in politics, four years in The Lodge, a “miracle” election victory, a crushing election loss, a pile-on, and a book about faith. It’s been a political tempest of biblical proportions. So after all that has happened, how is Morrison’s relationship with God?

“The best it’s ever been,” he says with a grin. “And I hope and pray that I can say the same thing tomorrow and the week after that and the year after that.”

Plans For Your Good: A Prime Minister’s Testimony of God’s Faithfulness by Scott Morrison (HarperCollins, $45) is out Wednesday (May 1st 2024).

How good is golf?
Playing a round of golf with is to watch a man in love with his newest hobby. After not picking up a club for at least 15 years, Morrison declared after losing the 2022 election that at least he could play more golf again.
So we agree to play nine holes together, and he arrives looking every bit the golf convert, wearing a sweater with a St Andrews logo on it and pulling a gleaming set of golf clubs.
On the first tee of his beloved Cronulla Golf club, the former prime minister takes a few big practice swings and then smashes the ball high enough to scare a Cessna pilot, straight as a die down the fairway. The man can play, as it turns out. Sadly, I can’t, and for the rest of the round am straggling behind, often searching for my ball in the bushes, and once in the lake.
Playing with Morrison in Cronulla is like playing with Tiger Woods at the Masters. The man is a celebrity and fellow golfers – his former constituents in The Shire – shout “Hey, Scott” and “G’day, mate” as we pass.
He also loves to talk, and in between shots we muse about everything from life in The Shire, to his time with Donald Trump, to former prime ministers, nuclear submarines and what iron we should use for our next shot.
Morrison is happy with his game and it all holds together until the last few holes, when he starts spraying everywhere – not unlike the last days of his government. His final shot is a wild miscue which appears to sail over the clubhouse. The only consolation is that my shot was worse. Yet we end our game with a smile and a laugh, and for this former prime minister and man of faith, a reawakened conviction in the goodness of golf.


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