'Why?': This simple query to the Coalition remains unanswered ... possibly because it is unanswerable

Questions in question time are rarely answered in a manner that most of us would describe as answers, but Bill Shorten’s succinct opening query to Australia’s latest Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, remains unanswered...possibly because it is unanswerable.

"Malcolm Turnbull is no longer prime minister. Why?" asked Shorten.

Morrison refrained from falling about giggling. Why, he was Prime Minister and Turnbull was holed up in his multimillion-dollar apartment in New York City. A fine arrangement all round, surely? At least for Morrison.

Scott Morrison during his first Question Time as Prime Minister.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Morrison, of course, could have parried with a question to Shorten about, say, why Kevin Rudd wasn’t prime minister after a long night in 2010, or why Julia Gillard wasn’t prime minister after another outing with the knives in 2013.

But Scott Morrison was Prime Minister, and this was his very first question time question in that exalted role.

A suitably prime ministerial response was required. And that always means quoting someone who once survived long enough to prove themselves handy in the business of dancing around the inexplicable.

Morrison - possibly lacking a handy quote from Robert Menzies - reached for John Howard, who’d fallen to plotters and plotted the fall of others for decades before taking the leadership himself and holding it for a decade.

"John Howard used to say something quite simple and that is, the privilege of serving as the leader of your parliamentary party is the decision of your parliamentary party," said Morrison, as if this explained everything about Turnbull’s sudden absence.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Scott Morrison shake hands at the start of Question Time.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Perhaps recognising it explained nothing at all, he called down the spirit of a warrior from the US military, General "Stormin’ Norman" Schwarzkopf, who never explained anything while disposing of an adversary, and who was once described as "the most theatrical American in uniform since Douglas MacArthur".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison with his frontbench.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"Many years ago I can recall, at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, where I was listening to a presentation from General Norman Schwarzkopf, and he said this: ‘When placed in command, take charge’," said Morrison.

"That's what I propose to do."

Oh. Could we expect a local version of the Gulf War? Not quite. Anything that summoned images involving messy violence were to be avoided at a time like this, clearly.

Glory be, the irascible old crocodile hunter from up north, Warren Enstch, had actually said approvingly on radio that Morrison was the first new leader for ages to get the job without covering his hands in blood - though others, less charitably, thought he was just smart enough to have done the job in disposable gloves.

Morrison retreated to the safety of blather.

He promised he would "take charge to ensure that we continue the stable government that has delivered the strong economy that has seen a million people come into work since we were elected in 2013, that has seen bulk billing rates rise to record highs under Medicare, to ensure that we're delivering record funding for schools and for hospitals, to ensure we're putting young people in jobs…"

Quite. Except all that seems to have been achieved under prime ministers who were not, actually, Scott Morrison.

Bill Shorten tried again.

"I asked not how the prime minister was replaced but why," Shorten insisted.

Morrison did not break stride.

"The party chooses the person they want to lead...to ensure that we can put the best foot forward at the next election to ensure we are connecting with Australians all around the country."

It wasn’t quite General Schwarzkopf, or even John Howard.

It was Scott Morrison, not answering the question in his own way.

Welcome to the third Liberal administration in three years, a circumstance which has no suitable explanation.

At all.

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