Scott Morrison‘s most senior advisers have admitted in a bombshell new book that his ill-fated secret trip to Hawaii was his biggest mistake that destroyed his political fortunes.
Veteran political journalist Niki Savva writes in her new book, Bulldozed, that Mr Morrison “effectively destroyed his prime ministership on 15 December 2019”.
That was the day when he boarded a flight in Sydney with his wife, Jenny, and their daughters, Abbey and Lily, bound for a Hawaiian holiday.
In an exclusive extract provided to news.com.au, she reveals Mr Morrison‘s communications director Andrew Carswell concedes that he regrets that he did not try to talk his boss out of going to Hawaii, and wishes he had not lied to journalists about where he had gone.
“With the benefit of hindsight, Morrison’s chief of staff, John Kunkel, says of course it was a bad decision for Morrison to go to Hawaii, but failing to advise him not to go is not at the top of his list of regrets,” she writes.
Mr Carswell was one of Mr Morrison’s most trusted advisers.
“He had worked as a journalist for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph before beginning as a speechwriter with then treasurer Morrison two weeks before the budget in April 2017,” she writes.
“He became press secretary soon after. A mutual acquaintance, Ben Fordham, had put Carswell in touch with Morrison.
“Carswell was not a political writer, but obviously knew of Morrison through his public and private persona. Carswell admired him, and they shared something important: their faith. Carswell was also Pentecostal.
“He now concedes that while Morrison was able to rebuild during Covid, the Hawaiian holiday damaged him. He agreed it was a seminal moment in Morrison’s prime ministership that resonated till the end.
“That was a mistake,” Mr Carswell told Savva. ”He admits that openly, and we should have stepped in, yes.
“It was one of my mistakes as well, not having the courage to stop him and prevent him from going.”
Mr Carswell tells Savva that all the senior staff knew about the trip, and as far as he was aware no one counselled Mr Morrison against it.
“You are paid to give advice,” he said. “I didn’t realise the consequences. All the senior staff would say that was something that should have happened.”
In the book, he also admits he was wrong to lie to journalists about the former prime minister’s whereabouts.
“I made the wrong decision. I tried to be too clever by half,” he said. “I made many mistakes at that time. You don’t get every call right. Sadly, this was a major miscalculation.”
During that period the Prime Minister’s office told journalists it was “wrong” to say he was in Hawaii.
Savva writes the office denied it to other journalists, then cited “national security” as a reason for not divulging his whereabouts.
Two days later, it was reported that had boarded a Jetstar flight with the family bound for Honolulu.
Former deputy prime minister Michael McCormack tells Savva it was around 10 days before he went that he told him, but these were “private conversations”.
“However, he admitted he had expressed his reservations, suggesting that Morrison think carefully about it, asking him: ‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’,” Savva writes.
“Morrison told him what he had told everybody else: he had promised Jenny and the girls a holiday, it had been booked, and they were going.”
Mr McCormack tells Savva that he thinks on the day after Mr Morrison left — that he told his office he would be doing media and was bound to be asked by journalists where the prime minister was.
“They were not keen for him to advertise the fact that he was acting in the job. McCormack says they did not ask him to lie, but it is clear from the conversation they had, which was the political equivalent of tooth extraction, that the office did not want him to draw attention to the prime minister’s absence,” Savva writes.
“McCormack told Morrison’s staff — he says he can’t remember who was on the call — that he would not avoid answering by telling journalists they should direct their questions to the prime minister’s office.
“He told them if he was asked, he would say the prime minister was overseas. If pressed further, he would say Morrison was in America, and if pressed further still, he would say Morrison was in Hawaii.
“He told them he would not lie, because he would be held to account for it later. He was not prepared to say the prime minister was somewhere he wasn’t.
“‘I don’t lie, I have never lied,’ he told me later. Even though he thinks much of the criticism was unfair, McCormack concedes the damage was done. ‘If only he had gone to the south coast,’ he says now.”
Former frontbencher Karen Andrews also told the author that when she asked her three daughters — aged 18, 22, and 26 — why people “hated Mr Morrison so much”, they told her it was because he went to Hawaii during the fires.
“He should have been back here,’” Ms Andrews said. “The optics were awful.”
In the book, Savva argues that “everything that flowed from that fateful decision — the secrecy, the lies surrounding his whereabouts, his protest that it wasn’t his job to hold a hose.”
She argues it was a moment that “provided piercing insights into his character and his judgement that reverberated all the way through his term as prime minister, right up until election day, 21 May 2022, when posters of him wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a frangipani headdress were plastered around polling booths in targeted electorates by his opponents.”