Shock jock Ray Hadley and minister Scott Morrison enjoy a mutually useful, cosy relationship. Their regular on-air chats beam to a large audience; Morrison gets his message out via a sympathetic presenter.
But Friday was something else. A feral Hadley turned on Morrison – who kept calling him “mate” – accusing the minister of dirty dealing, lying and disloyalty to Tony Abbott, and challenging him to swear on a Bible to prove his denials.
Morrison, who was in a Canberra press gallery studio, emerged shellshocked after his long-distance encounter with the Sydney-based Hadley. At a press conference afterwards he said defiantly he wouldn’t be “bullied by anyone when it comes to my religion or my faith”, or stopping the boats, or anything else. “I am my own man,” he declared.
Hadley had set up Morrison. He told the Canberra radio staff to get hold of a Bible and put it in the studio, which they did. He demanded that Morrison, alone in the booth, locate the Bible, and swear on it.
Hadley asked: as a man of staunch religious beliefs, did Morrison understand “that I think you misled my listeners on Monday?”
Morrison protested his innocence, drawing on the people smugglers as character witnesses. “People know me, mate. I say what I mean, I mean what I say, I do what I say. The people smugglers know that and my colleagues know that.”
He was, reasonably enough, outraged at the proposition he should take an oath.
“I don’t see what my faith has got to do with it Ray.” Anyway, he couldn’t find the Bible. He fumbled on the shelf under the desk. “There is not one there mate … you have a copy of the budget from 2009-10. You have a Productivity Commission Report and you have got a few other things”, he reported, before coming back to his point. “I am not going to use my faith as a stunt, mate, for the program.”
Morrison was right about the principle, though wrong about the Bible, which was neatly placed at the other end of the small shelf.
Later in the interview, when Hadley returned to his call for an oath, Morrison switched his position. He still couldn’t see the Bible, and continued to berate Hadley for trying to “use my faith as some sort of debating point … It is a pretty offensive thing to do to use people’s faith and religion in an interview like this”. But he said “bring it in” and he would take the oath. “I will do it if that is what you require.”
Hadley, who had said he was sorry if Morrison was offended “but it is a way of making sure that I believe you”, then suddenly backed off. “I am certainly not going to insist on making anyone do anything they don’t wish to do.”
Asked later why he had changed his position on the oath, Morrison told reporters: “I didn’t believe he would insist on it.” Hadley had probably understood he’d overstepped the line, Morrison said.
The set-to was born out of their Monday discussion when Hadley suggested to Morrison that Turnbull was plotting. Morrison said: “Everybody knows where I stand supporting the prime minister. I have got no idea what others are up to and that’s up to them and I have no reason to think that anyone would be up to anything, Ray.” If anyone was plotting “they wouldn’t be talking to me”. As for Turnbull, “I haven’t seen him doing anything. He hasn’t said anything to me”.
After Abbott was brought down, Hadley had a big rant, including a spray about Morrison, referring to his comments. Morrison contacted him, asking to go on air to answer the attack.
On Friday Hadley demanded to know why Morrison had not “reached out” to Abbott after he was defeated and whether he was “embarrassed by the role you played in his demise”.
“Well mate, when bosses change … you turn up for work the next day and you get on with it,” Morrison told him. “I expressed my condolences to him and I said good luck and I shook his hand.”
He had had “no role in his demise. For the last five, six years I served Tony Abbott as a shadow minister, as a minister and I gave him everything I had … He got my vote on Monday night and he had my support.”
But why hadn’t Morrison influenced his factional allies – the several people who look to him in the party? “You must be confusing me with Bill Shorten. … In the Labor Party and in the unions people go around strong-arming people for their votes. Now I don’t do that, mate,” Morrison said.
Morrison revealed that on Friday of last week – when there was a Daily Telegraph story saying Abbott planned to axe a number of ministers – he had warned the Prime Minister’s Office “that I thought things were pretty febrile and they should be on high alert”.
Hadley wondered if Morrison found it a bit strange that he would be the only Abbott supporter elevated in the Turnbull Sunday reshuffle, in which Morrison is set to replace Joe Hockey as treasurer.
“Well I believe in promotion on merit,” Morrison said. The only person who had offered him the job of treasurer before Monday’s ballot had been Abbott, he said.
Hadley said that Abbott thought that Morrison “ran with the foxes and hunted with the hounds”. “Well he is wrong,” Morrison retorted.
When Abbott proposed he run for deputy leader and take the treasurer post, he could not “understand, Ray, why I was being offered that job when he had showed such strong support for Joe Hockey. He was asking me to throw Joe Hockey under a bus.”
“One of Tony Abbott’s great strengths is his loyalty and I didn’t understand why he wanted me to pick a fight with Joe Hockey and throw him under a bus and why he wanted me to pick a fight with [deputy leader] Julie Bishop who I had no grievance with.”
“I have never been offered the job of treasurer by Malcolm Turnbull.”
Finally, the Hadley onslaught ended with his telling Morrison “we will talk to you some time in the future”.
Morrison said later he was “very, very disappointed” with the attempted bullying on the basis of his faith. “Ray and I have been good mates.”
But after the “dust settles and the moods change” they’d be back on air. “I’m a forgiving sort of person, I know he is too … Stuff happens, we build a bridge and we get over it, don’t we?”
Within hours the bridge had been constructed. Hadley reported later in his show they’d exchanged texts. He had told Morrison half of his audience thought he had gone over the top; the other half “still love me”. Morrison had replied, “at least I got half back”. He said he would be in touch after Monday, when the ministers will be sworn in.
They are both going to sign the crash helmet Morrison had arrived with for the interview.
Morrison’s last text words were: “All good mate. Talk soon”.
And so it goes, in the theatre of political talkback.