Capturing and accurately articulating the oafish, offhand, casual brutality of the current Australian Federal Government is virtually impossible.
The brutish callousness is so continuous, so routinely renewed, so extensive and ever-expanding that it’s almost impossible to catch up, because any attempts to cover all aspects of the malaise are immediately out of date.
Last week’s exemplary manifestation of this was their attempt to ram through Parliament the well-named Religious Discrimination Bill, designed to give the green light to discriminate against children on the basis of who they are.
The fact that all but five Coalition MHRs supported such an abominable piece of legislation is conclusive evidence of their lack of moral fibre, their inhumanity and wretchedly unprincipled values.
Senator Jacqui Lambie described the proposed legislation as “disgusting” and Morrison as “selfish” in pursuing it, but that is an understatement. The legislation fits a recognisable frame which ignominiously is probably the most defining characteristic of the Morrison Government.
The relentless harassment of the Murugappan family in their attempts to seek asylum in Australia fits the frame. The life-destroying detention of refugees under unjust laws in defiance of international agreements about the human rights of children, let alone adults, has fitted the frame for years.
Australia has established a proud record, unmatched in the West, of incarcerating people in gulags at the whim of despotic abuse of power. Some have been held for three times the length of the Second World War. To the shame of us all, Mehdi Ali has been held in hell-holes since he was 15, for eight years.
The casual disregard for people perceived to be hidden from the public view, locked away and ignored, extends to the shocking mismanagement of aged care facilities under federal control. This has been demonstrated again and again so clearly during the last two years, but no amount of exposure of derelict inaction by the Federal Government stirs a scintilla of interest within their ranks.
There are several strands to the Morrison Government’s “brutopia”. Wherever it perceives the chance of political advantage in discriminating against individuals or groups of people it labels as “other” within society, it abandons its mantra of “getting out of people’s lives” and sets about deliberately demonising them.
Conterminously, it also ignores people it considers as dispensable and voiceless, but also exploitable within the neoliberal market, such as the aged and the staff in private sector facilities, and casual workers of all kinds.
It is one of the few areas where the Morrison Government seeks to actively “govern”, or actively “avoid governing” because for the main part they have abrogated their responsibilities, shaken off accountability for their massive incompetence and comprehensively failed to address the major issues confronting Australia.
It is a form of governance that sees “government” solely in terms of perceived partisan and personal interest and nothing more. Whatever serves the partisan and the personal is always the focus, not what serves the broader public interest or the so-called “national interest”.
It makes a mockery of Morrison’s rhetoric about “liberal democratic values”, for it is absolutely the opposite. In fact, it gives more substance to the conclusion that Morrison’s “Australian way” is the way of a bedrock political narrative of prejudice, inequality, division and contempt for inclusivity.
While writing this, two other examples of Morrison’s casual contempt and gross hypocrisy occurred. The first was the absurd puff piece of Morrison as “ukulele man”, a splendid offering, on one hand, of the glorification of mediocrity above substance, a Morrison specialty.
On the other hand, the use of his wife, presented as his “secret weapon” to attack Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, one for her “manners” not being up to scratch and the other for spilling the beans on Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce’s texts about Scott being a liar, at one with French President Emmanuel Macron’s opinion as well as Malcolm Turnbull’s.
Morrison sat smiling smugly while his wife spoke on his behalf, politically. It was carefully manicured to be political. The problem with this is that Morrison has stated clearly that his family is outside the political arena. That is certainly no longer true, if it ever was. On a superbly ironic note, this sits perfectly, Janus-like, with Morrison’s automatic reflex to shift responsibility and accountability for problems, issues and failures onto anyone else.
Then, amazingly, on the anniversary of the 2008 Rudd apology to the Indigenous stolen generations, Morrison inserted his own little homily about the importance of forgiveness, as if that was for him to say, as if he was in some religious pulpit and it was time for a pastoral sermon about such things. Inappropriate? How about a complete absence of emotional intelligence?
If Morrison somehow got confused with his own sense of personal magnanimity in “forgiving” Barnaby for calling him a ‘hypocrite and a liar’ and conflating that with the issues pertaining to the stolen generations, that is quite appalling and surely not the mindset suitable for holding an important political office. Not to mention that in less than a week, Morrison inserted his wife into politics and then religion, disproving completely his stated position that his family and his religion were off-limits in his role as Prime Minister.
Within this context, it is significant that Morrison shelved the Religious Discrimination Bill when the protective clauses preventing religious schools from discriminating against children were included. Rachel Withers noted this aspect of Morrison’s backdown in The Monthly on 10 February, saying that ‘discrimination was the point’ of the legislation and that the Bill always ‘seemed much more focused on the freedom to discriminate than on freedom from discrimination’.
It is telling, as she says, that the Australian Christian Lobby called for the Government to withdraw the Bill because ‘taking away protections for Christian schools’ (also known as protecting the rights of trans students) ‘is a price too high to pay’.
It needs to be stressed as well that the attempt to pass legislation that deliberately enables the direct persecution of children by institutions came hard on the heels of the hugely courageous and powerful speeches by Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins at the National Press Club.
If anything gives the lie to Morrison’s ritualised parliamentary apology to Brittany Higgins earlier in the week, and to him having any interest in what Higgins and Tame had to say, it was his clear demonstration for the rest of the week that he and the majority of his Coalition colleagues have no interest in preventing discrimination against vulnerable people, whoever they are, including children, if it serves their quest for political advantage.
Apologies for Morrison have no meaning beyond ritual performance, whether to Brittany Higgins or the stolen generations.
But none of this is new, is it? And nor is discrimination. These things are so thoroughly normalised as to be robotic mantras. When Morrison says that “politics is a brutal business” in relation to his own colleagues calling him a fraud, a hypocrite and a liar, he is projecting a personal pride in claiming membership of the brutal business. But doesn’t that also translate as Morrison believing that the whole purpose of political power is being a victor in an arena of thugs, where Machiavellianism applies to everything, including children?
Peter Henning is a Tasmanian historian and author.
- Scott Morrison can't even cut and run
- CARTOONS: Scomo addresses his sceptics
- Morrison's misogyny continues despite apology
- Morrison's misinformation campaign is his greatest weapon
- 'It's not a race': Morrison palms COVID responsibility to the states
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.