You have to flip a long way back in the history books to find political situations comparable to Scott Morrison’s 12 months since the election.
But it will be his next steps that will set the tone for his legacy as prime minister.
Political strategist Bruce Hawker says you have to look back to wartime leaders such as Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies for similar challenges to the coronavirus pandemic.
Menzies was leader during the outbreak of WWII, had a slim majority in parliament like Morrison but lost control of the House of Representatives.
“Poor management in wartime leads to a strong and negative response. Poor management during an economic crisis leads to a very negative response,” Hawker told AAP.
“And even though there aren’t any real precedents, in recent time anyway, for a virus of this nature, Morrison has to make sure that he gets his economic and fiscal responses well worked out.
“Because if he doesn’t, what we do know from history is that the public will be hard in their reaction.”
The Great Depression of 1929 to 1939 also posed similar challenges for prime ministers and saw some drop like flies because of their failures to deal with the down turn, Hawker added.
Morrison’s surprise election win on May 18 last year shows you can only implement an extensive reform agenda from government, Australian National University’s Ian McAllister says.
Morrison hit the campaign trail with a promise to bring the budget back into surplus and introduce tax cuts, and left his remaining airtime to criticise Labor’s broad policies.
“If it comes to the end of this crisis and people think the government has done well, there probably is an opportunity there to do something reasonably radical,” McAllister told AAP.
He points to Liberal Prime Minister John Howard’s campaign for a GST during the 1998 election.
Economist Saul Eslake expects Morrison’s post-virus agenda to move from getting the budget back into surplus to pursuing reforms that will help the economy’s ability to recover.
Eslake says the prime minister has enormous authority in the party and cabinet as a result of his unexpected victory last year.
He’s in a stronger position than Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott were, Eslake adds.
Griffith University’s Anne Tiernan says one thing going for Morrison is he has no former Liberal leaders sniping at him from the back benches.
He also largely dodged political damage from Turnbull’s recent memoir because it was released amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hawker says Morrison represents a middle ground for the Liberals, between conservative Abbott and socially progressive Turnbull.
“It’s a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – this one tastes just right,” he said.
“I don’t know if that is going to last. Some of Morrison’s political instincts aren’t well thought through, that was demonstrated clearly by the mismanagement of the bushfires just a few months ago.
“COVID has given him a pass on that but he needs to be very, very careful where he goes in the coming 12 months.”