After his Religious Discrimination Bill was defeated, Scott Morrison has taken a path of self-pity and finger-pointing, writes Michael Galvin.
PRIME MINISTER Scott Morrison seems to have as many personas as the Biblical Joseph had a coat of many colours. And one of them is the humble man of faith, with a marked tendency to speak in homilies, tendentious though they usually are.
And so it was this past Sunday, when our Prime Pentecostal Minister chose to attend a Maronite Christian service in Adelaide and chose to re-tell the story of Solomon for the edification of passers-by.
It was only natural that he would need a storyline to explain what had happened to his Religious Discrimination legislation in the previous week. After all, it had passed in Parliament. So most casual observers would assume that these “faith protections” would be legislated into law. But he had let the Bill lapse, not because of problems with that Bill, but because of changes he didn’t support being made to the Sex Discrimination Act.
The hypocrisy was breathtaking. Morrison needed a fig leaf of rationalisation, if only to be able to live with himself for such an ignominious and humiliating U-turn. And by the time he arrived in Adelaide, he had found one.
Which brings us to his homily about Solomon, the man of wisdom of Biblical proportions, and the story of the two mothers both claiming the same baby. Everyone knows how this story ends — with the “good” mother being assigned the baby and the “bad” mother being exposed because she was willing to let the baby be killed if need be.
Here are the relevant words from Morrison, as reported by Michelle Grattan:
“I felt very much like the woman before Solomon.
So, I would rather lay down our attempt to secure those additional protections, than see them compromised or undermined.”
This must be one of the most mind-bending, churlish insults ever uttered by a prime minister about his own Parliament and members of his own team.
Why? Because he is saying in black and white that the parliamentarians who did not support his proposed legislation are the equivalent of the “bad” mother in the Solomon story — so bad that they would prefer the baby killed if they didn’t get their own way. It is seemingly beyond him to accord the same respect to the motives of his opponents as he would assume he was entitled to himself.
(In passing, one might also notice the egregious self-pity in Morrison’s version of the story. You might think he would see himself in the role of Solomon the decider; he is PM, after all. But no, he is one of the women. Not his job to hold a hose, always someone else’s fault. The song remains the same.)
And so the whole religious protections thing has been kicked down the road. The Christian Lobby didn’t get what they wanted, which was the right to discriminate against others in the name of their religion, so they didn’t want any of it. The hypocrisy and self-interest is mind-boggling.
Of course, I see the whole “man of faith” schtick as just one of his Morrison’s many personas, no more deeply felt than any of the others. Forever the chancer, five years ago he saw that support for same-sex marriage was lower in many Labor seats in working-class suburbs and saw a marketing opportunity. Why not try and wedge Labor on standing up for religion and get these conservative Labor folk to vote for him?
The manoeuvre failed this time. But Morrison is desperate enough, unprincipled enough and manically energised enough to try just about anything in the approaching Election campaign. He is truly the “man without qualities”.
Michael Galvin is an adjunct fellow at Victoria University and a former media and communications academic at the University of South Australia.
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