Scott Morrison is good, but is he great?

WHO is Australia's greatest Prime Minister? Ben Chifley, Sir Robert Menzies, John Curtin, Alfred Deakin, Bob Hawke and John Howard are names that dominate that elite club. It seems they possessed the qualities we desire in a good leader - political courage, longevity and vision.

My favourite PM was Paul Keating, for a whole range of reasons, not least of which was his rare intellect, swagger and acid tongue, but that doesn't necessarily make him a great Prime Minister.

Former prime minister Paul Keating. Picture: Supplied
Former prime minister Paul Keating. Picture: Supplied

Last week, we saw Scott Morrison achieve a net popularity rating that was the highest of any Prime Minister since Newspoll began.

Morrison is a good Prime Minister. His pandemic performance has been exemplary and he showed during the 2019 election that he is a terrific campaigner.

But will he be a great Prime Minister? If he's smart and strategic - which he most certainly is - Morrison may well be mentioned in the same breath as the Big Six.

And here you go ScoMo, for the price of your Sunday paper, the blueprint for success requires just one simple ingredient - good old fashioned Aussie ticker.

Morrison is not regarded as a reformer or a change agent. He's more of a manager of business, steady as she goes, sort of chap.

That model is perfect when the waters are glassy and there are few headwinds around. But during a pandemic and when our biggest trading partner, China, starts throwing its toys out of the cot, you need a man not a mouse pulling the levers.

Australia’s second prime minister Alfred Deakin.
Australia’s second prime minister Alfred Deakin.

Morrison must use the adversity and desperation of a soul-sapping pandemic to lift Australia's flagging spirits and make our economy the envy of the western world.

That means developing an economy that diversifies away from China. They have shown their disdain for Australia.

We must stare them down and cut the umbilical chord. The visa concessions to Hong Kong citizens is a good start.

Secondly, and most importantly, we must change our economic system, acknowledging that the current fundamentals and dynamics do not protect us from global headwinds. Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe said last week:

"While some economic indicators have picked up the outlook remains uncertain and the recovery is expected to be bumpy and will depend upon containment of the coronavirus.''

Former prime minister John Curtain.
Former prime minister John Curtain.

It is clear the Victorian second wave will hurt. It puts the country's second biggest state economy back to square one and the impact on the national fiscal narrative will be significant.

Every sector - from tourism, property, small business … the list goes on - will be affected and as the economic renaissance takes shape in coming months, the first real test for the PM will be taxation reform. He needs to fast track the PAYG tax cuts for high earners - earmarked for 2024 - and start them in 2022.

One of the reasons the Hawke-Keating era is so universally lauded was its trailblazing policy reform around superannuation, floating the dollar and deregulating the financial system.

These were true reforms and achievable because Hawke had absolute power within cabinet. Howard introduced the GST at the zenith of his power and popularity. It nearly cost him the Prime Ministership but he knew it was right for the country.

Morrison now has a taxation reform template to work with, which means moving away from income, company, payroll taxes and stamp duty, to consumption taxes. Fast forwarding proposed income tax cuts would be the first step.

Sir Robert Menzies in 1950. Picture: National Library of Australia
Sir Robert Menzies in 1950. Picture: National Library of Australia

Increasing the GST is another measure that must be considered. Lowering the company tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent is a no-brainer.

After a miracle 2019 election win, Morrison enjoys tremendous decision-making power within cabinet.

Australians, mostly, trust him. The fact that Labor is a rabble means Morrison will surely win the next election.

Former Australian prime minister Ben Chifley. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian
Former Australian prime minister Ben Chifley. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian

That gives him the certainty and longevity to get major fiscal reforms through. Morrison must not squander the long term economic reform opportunities that are essential to Australia's post COVID-19 recovery.

If Morrison squibs it, he will always be known as a good PM, not a great one.

Originally published as Scott Morrison is good, but is he great?