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Scott Morrison is one of the most rancorous and divisive politicians in our history, yet is now decrying the standard of Australian political debate — so what's going on? John Maycock says it all about shutting down dissenters.

IN A recent article, I discussed Scott Morrison’s notion of the “combative space”, where Morrison had declared that he had:

…no need or interest or desire to take this policy area into a combative space.

The article showed it was the “space” of public opinion Morrison was referring to, pointing out the hypocrisy in his position and noting that he and the mainstream media (MSM) were responsible for the:

‘…stereotyping vilification of people on welfare; driving division in the community via the “combative space” of public opinion.’

However, when researching various news articles quoting Morrison, it was difficult to discern which words were Morrison’s and which words were “journalistic licence” (this is particularly so with the Murdoch press, especially in headlines and summaries).

Therefore, as Morrison and others use these types of articles to get their message “out there”, and almost never object to the labelling language and skewing in the articles, therefore the articles are the politicians’ message; they “own” the articles, the words and the message, and therefore they own much of the discord and division spread by their narrative throughout the community.

Having said that, in a recent Fairfax article, we see the following headline:

'Time to upgrade the Australian political debate as well as the welfare system: Scott Morrison'.

However, though

Morrison has made a plea to "upgrade" the quality of political debate in Australia’,

when he ties it to the

…argu[ment] that unless it is improved, reform in his portfolio will not be possible’,

it starts to look like he is not making a plea for a clean-up of the greater political debate, just the discourse around his particular portfolio.

Which becomes clear, once we consider he believes that

…debates around Australia's… welfare system… should not simply be about "whether we are better or worse off as a result of any individual measure”.

What Morrison sees as the problematic debate is:

…"apathy”… [and] …no appetite for… change… [in the] … the community, Parliament, opposition and crossbench.

However, it now seems obvious he is talking about “what people think” about what he is doing, not the debate around what he is doing. In effect, he is asking for people to stop opposing him and thence stop the debate.

Now, when Morrison refers to “political debate” he implies that he is referring to debate in the political arena and not that “combative space” of public opinion; however by introducing “community” into his list above and declaring:

"That's the kitchen table conversation that I want to influence."

He later uses the term:

"politically combative space".

Yet Morrison has himself introduced that “combative space” of much of the public conversation and, as pointed out previously, the debate he typically injects is just the stereotypical vilification of people on welfare that drives such division in the community — represented by common terms such as "bludgers", "lifters and leaners", "deserving and undeserving" and "rorters".

Indeed, according to the article, Morrison:

…did not respond when asked how the Coalition had contributed to the current climate of debate.

In a Daily Telegraph article, Morrison discusses the Foreign Fighters Act, entitled:

'Jihadist snouts still in public trough’.

The article begins:

NOT a single welfare payment has been cancelled for terrorist recruits leaving Australia for the Middle East… since new laws were enacted…

And goes goes on to say that these new laws:

… allow for the welfare payments to be stopped to those who leave to fight abroad…

It also says that

…Morrison confirm[s] his department had not yet been asked [under these laws] to stop any welfare payments…

However on the Australian Parliament House website, in an article discussing the DSP and the “portability” of welfare payments, we find that DSP recipients are allowed four weeks outside the country before their payments are stopped whereas Newstart and other payments are cancelled if the recipient leaves the country (except under “special circumstances”).

In other words, it would seem that new laws are not required to stop the payments — the Social Security Laws already do this. But, if so, then how did the article arrive at the notion that those abroad are still on welfare?

It is in the selective questions that probably went something like this:

Q: How many foreign fighters were recipients of some form of social security payment before they went abroad?

A: X number were receiving assistance.

Q: How many of those were you asked to cut payments for under the Foreign Fighters Act?

A: None.

Article Conclusion: Foreign fighters are all still receiving benefits.

A simple lie by omission. More than likely they don’t have to use the new laws because the old laws are working fine.

If this is correct, Morrison has allowed misinformation to spread under his name in that “combative space” he now suggests is an unproductive place of debate.

However, there is something more important going on here and it is in this statement:

…the Foreign Fighters Act allow[s] for the welfare payments to be stopped to those who leave to fight abroad but also more generally to people deemed a national security threat.

The laws apply 'more generally to people deemed a national security threat'?

It seems these laws were never about foreign fighters; in fact, they are about stripping rights from citizens deemed subversives.

Perhaps they haven’t been able to declare anyone subversive enough yet?

Which brings us to Tony Abbott where, after linking welfare with terror in his infamous “benefit of the doubt” speech, he discusses stripping privileges from Australian nationals and suggests new “speech” laws to:

 ‘…"clamp down" on groups inciting religious or racial hatred…to target "hate preachers"…and individuals blatantly spreading discord and division…

The last one, 'blatantly spreading discord and division' is the key point — the discourse being injected into the "combative space" of public debate. That is, if they plan to tighten the “speech” laws, they surely do not plan to shut down the likes of themselves, Bolt and Pickering, the Murdoch chorus line or, indeed, any rightwing commentator — so just who do they intend to shut down?

Indeed, Morrison may be giving it away in his call to upgrade the quality of debate.

As has been shown, Morrison believes the “discordant and divisive” discourse in the debate is that which calls for justice – the voice that opposes the Government’s actions – yet he has absolutely no problem with the blatant spreading of discord division and lies through the MSM under his name.

So then, who will they shut down? If today, opposing Government plans is subverting quality of debate, tomorrow opposing those plans may be subversive of national interests and thereby deemed a national security threat.

In other words, if you oppose the Government’s welfare stand, and you are on welfare, you may have that benefit removed. The same would be so for Indigenous, anti-war and environmental causes. The Abbott Government already has a highly effective template to work from — that of the Howard Government, as explained in great detail by Professor Clive Hamilton.

Perhaps we should consider that next they may come for the advocates, and the media that give voice to the opposing causes — and then there will be no one left to “debate” them, and they can get on with doing whatever they like.

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