The Morrison government sought advice from one of Australia’s foremost marketing experts on how to better sell its policies, including those on climate change.
About two weeks before Christmas, and a week before Scott Morrison jetted to Hawaii for his controversial family holiday, all staff in the Prime Minister’s office attended a workshop hosted by Russel Howcroft.
Mr Howcroft, a regular panellist on the ABC’s Gruen program, is currently a partner and chief creative officer at PwC Australia.
It is understood Mr Morrison did not attend the session but the rest of his office, including the policy and communications units, did.
People familiar with events said better marketing of the government’s much-criticised approach to climate change was discussed but was not a significant part of the session which sought to develop sales strategies for the new year.
Mr Morrison’s office confirmed the session with Mr Howcroft but declined to comment.
Mr Morrison has spent the summer being accused by critics of prioritising spin over substance after his initial mishandling of the bushfire crisis which saw him underestimate both its size and severity, and initially hold back on taking action.
Subsequently, he called out 3000 Australian Defence Force Reserves to help but that initiative was initially sullied when the government released a social media ad to promote it, while failing to inform the NSW Rural Fire Service, all on January 4, the worst day of the fire season so far.
Mr Morrison has also committed $2 billion for bushfire recovery projects over the next two calendar years and is no longer committed to delivering a surplus budget this year this financial year.
A dive in his popularity has entrenched on social media the pejorative nickname, “Scotty from Marketing”, a term first coined by satirical news publication The Betoota Advocate.
Mr Morrison has rejected the nickname as a Labor smear and said anyone using it was doing Labor’s bidding.
“That’s what the Labor Party is saying and if others want to repeat those slogans, well, they’re basically just running a Labor Party campaign,” he said last week.
This week he will attempt to reset the tone with a speech at the National Press Club outlining his agenda for the year ahead.
The government is under internal and external pressure to step up on climate change but thus far Mr Morrison has showed no sign of budging from the current approach, other than to commit to dumping the use of Kyoto carryover credits to help Australia reach its 2030 emissions reductions targets.
Critics say this is hardly a concession given Australia is almost alone among nations in believing the use of such credits is legitimate.
In a speech on integrity and accountability to be delivered Tuesday, shadow attorney-general Mark Drefyus will say the government was “so captured by its own lies and marketing spin about climate change” that it refused to believe fire seasons were becoming progressively longer and more severe.
In a interview with Sky News, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons repeated an earlier criticism of Mr Morrison’s lack of consultation over deploying the ADF on January 4 but said he had since moved on.
“I was disappointed that there was a decision taken and language chosen which I don’t think was very helpful on one of our very worst of days that we have experienced this season.” he said.
“What I’ve also said is that I’ve certainly moved beyond that.”