Politics Opinion

Scott Morrison is no supporter of great causes or freedom

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

With such a poor track record on human rights issues, Scott Morrison's talk of fighting for freedom is pure hypocrisy, writes Peter Henning.

SURELY PRIME MINISTER Scott Morrison has now descended so far into the depths of “anti-leadership” – to borrow Barry Jones’ recent description of Australian political leaders – that anything he has to say about “great causes” and “freedom” in relation to anything, let alone Afghanistan, are absurd and outrageous hypocrisy, utterly devoid of credibility. 

They can be described as complete “bullshit”, as Guardian columnist Paul Daley has said, but they also represent a complete failure of analysis, understanding and comprehension of the world outside his own narrow and blinkered experience.

Morrison and the members of his Government are classic philistines, with little or no capacity to walk in the shoes of others, whether they be non-Anglo Australians and disadvantaged/vulnerable sectors of Australian society, or whether they be people from other cultures, with different histories and different social, cultural, ethnic and religious traditions.   

I mean philistine in the sense of von Goethe’s meaning, as a person who:

‘...not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own, but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own.’

Morrison’s comment about Afghanistan that “Freedom’s always worth it, fighting for it, whatever the outcome” is an expression of complacent hubris, arrogance and ignorance. It is either an unforgivable, immature delusion, a willful disregard for the killing of thousands of civilians, a hideous gloss over alleged murderous activities of sections of Australian military forces or just a bare-faced lie. 

Australia was in Afghanistan and Iraq because John Howard was George Bush’s lackey, his willing little deputy sheriff, just obeying orders to slot Australian military units within the U.S. military machine.

Evidence from Morrison’s own political career and his progression through ministerial ranks since 2013 categorically demonstrates that he had no time at all for people seeking freedom from repression and persecution in places like Afghanistan.

How many Afghan, Iraqi and other refugees from wars involving Australian people and resources have been denied refugee status under Morrison’s draconian watch in “stopping the boats” and in the secretive Operation Sovereign Borders? How many have had their lives destroyed in Morrison’s grand gesture of “freedom” of denying them the fundamental right of habeas corpus and confining them for years in concentration camps? How many have been sent back to be imprisoned, tortured or killed? 

Morrison’s lack of interest in the fate of those who assisted Australians in war zones has been laid bare by his mindless disregard to the pleas of those on the ground, migrants and veterans over many months, to evacuate people in danger. His bleatings about having evacuated 400 Afghans since April are designed to obscure his own failures of leadership.

Perhaps the most emblematic example of Morrison’s disdain for those seeking freedom is his high-vis pride in spending millions to incarcerate the Murugappan family in isolation on Christmas Island, having had them highjacked from their home in Biloela in a predawn raid akin to the police action of a tinpot dictator.

The secret trials of people concerned with exposing criminal behaviour within Australian political institutions are reminiscent of the behaviour of England’s infamous monarch John, in the 13th Century, before his barons rebelled and forced his signature to Magna Carta, a document whose underlying principles in relation to the rule of law have been flouted repeatedly by the Morrison Government.

Morrison’s career amply demonstrates that his essential concerns about “freedom” are to do with freedom from responsibility, freedom from accountability, freedom to create inequality and freedom to kick the poor and the vulnerable. There's also freedom to pork-barrel on a grand scale, freedom to legislate unjust laws which actually diminish and trash the rule of law and freedom to do nothing about any of the great policy challenges facing Australia now and into the future. 

Morrison is no leader when it comes to supporting “great causes” or “freedoms” of any kind. On the contrary, he cannot even take a leadership role in the constitutionally-defined federal responsibility for quarantine in the midst of a pandemic. Due to his obdurate failure of leadership in combating climate change, Australia is rapidly becoming an industrial and technological laggard, heading into the dinosaur territory of a failed state.

Morrison has profoundly altered the federal political system, being the first Australian Prime Minister since Federation to eschew national unity and purpose at a time of crisis. In a very real sense, he has transformed the position of prime minister into that of a high-profile press secretary or media manager, making announcements full of rhetorical flourishes, promises and propaganda — like waving to the public from a balcony, all theatrics and nothing of substance. 

As the Morrison Government gears up for hairy-chested conflict of one type or another with China, it should be clear to a majority of Australians that the current Federal Government’s handle on basic political realities is akin to that of Tsar Nicholas of Russia in 1917, Charles I of England in the years just before the Civil War of the 1640s and Louis XVI of France just before the French Revolution of 1789. 

Morrison is no leader and nor is he a capable and humane manager or administrator, as his handling of all major issues confronting Australia has shown during the last three years. Just imagine if Morrison’s “anti-leadership” mindset and deep-seated Trumpist-type philistinism and hubris creates the same mistakes in relation to China as having been exhibited by Australia in Vietnam, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

For a prime minister who can’t build a decent quarantine barrier to COVID-19, just imagine the carnage if we go to war with China and if Morrison’s Pontius Pilate position on climate change, socioeconomic inequality and Easter Island blueprint for industrial stagnation continues.  

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a John Curtin on Australia’s political horizon.

Peter Henning is a Tasmanian historian and author.

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