Politics Editorial

Scott’s religious devotion sacrifices sex abuse survivors…plus all non-god botherers

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Religious Discrimination Bill comes at great cost, writes managing editor Michelle Pini.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape and suicide

SINCE ROLLING Malcolm Turnbull to take over as PM, Scott Morrison has been beholden to only one overriding agenda.

He told us as much in his maiden speech to Parliament back in 2008.

So, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Morrison has indicated a personal preoccupation with this personal agenda by his superficial response and often outright indifference to every other issue, problem or national emergency during his prime ministership.

So, we can’t say there weren’t numerous signs.

And he has demonstrated his personal fixation with this “cause” at every opportunity, making rambling speeches, heralding its impending introduction and selling it with the ardour of a religious zealot — which, of course, he is.

So, it’s not as though it came as a shock.

And, now that we are finally witnessing the fruits of Morrison’s obsession in the Religious Discrimination Bill – an aptly named piece of proposed legislation since it aims only to discriminate – it could hardly have been more obvious if it was displayed in neon lights, like a slogan at a fast-food restaurant.

Scott’s mission has been laid out clearly, in all its happy-clappy glory for all who wished to see, as glaringly simple and as two dimensional as the man himself. It consists of promoting himself to attain and retain power – in line with the prosperity doctrine on which his faith is based – and then propelling into prominence the extreme views of his Pentecostal religion on a hapless populace.

The introduction of the Religious Discrimination Bill is now before Parliament (again) representing the culmination of all that Scott has worked so hard to attain.

And this Bill doesn’t just mean the achievement of Morrison's long-held mission, it comes at the expense of all the other issues of significance that this Government, under his leadership, has failed to act upon, such as:

  • the criminal neglect of the aged;
  • the climate emergency;
  • management of the pandemic;
  • rights of Indigenous Australians;
  • the plight of refugees held indefinitely against international law;
  • the establishment of a federal anti-corruption body;
  • the ever-increasing equality divide; and
  • the nation-wide sexual abuse and domestic violence epidemic.

Yesterday (9 February), sex abuse survivors and advocates Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame addressed the National Press Club. And they did not hold back.

Brittany Higgins revealed that following her rape allegation, the release of the Deputy PM's text message implied that the Prime Minister was aware of the alleged crime, despite claiming ignorance.

Describing Morrison's language in relation to her rape allegations, as "shocking" and "at times a bit offensive", Ms Higgins said:

"I didn't want his sympathy as a father. I wanted him to use his power as Prime Minister."

Grace Tame told the Press Club that just five months after she was was made Australian of the Year, a senior member of an organisation funded by the Government had made a "threatening" phone call suggesting she not say anything damning about Morrison with an election looming. She described this move as "a transparent intimidation tactic"

Ms Tame said that she was prepared to stand up to effect real change because all we have seen from the Government are endless "delay tactics" in the form of:

"...empty announcements, placatory platitudes and carefully staged photo opps."  

But back to Morrison's bill.

This Religious Discrimination Bill seeks to legislate to permit the bullying and abuse of Australia’s most vulnerable population – those identifying as LGBTQ+ – of which 'a disproportionate number experience poorer mental health outcomes and have higher risk of suicidal behaviours than their peers'.

It allows this group and others to be legally discriminated against, cast aside, expelled from educational institutions and workplaces and generally treated as second class citizens. It legally condones bigotry, if your reasons for discriminating are loosely based on some obscure religious “faith”.

Morrison has gone to great lengths to assure us that there will be amendments to exclude the sacking of teachers on the basis of their sexuality or gender — though there is still no word on the expulsion of students. However, assuming this is accurate, the fundamental flaw with this logic is that we are talking about a special bill, which protects only the religious, giving them the right to discriminate at will, but then making amendments to this legally enshrined exclusive right, with a few placatory exclusions.

It's important to note that there is already legislation in place, via the Anti-Discrimination Act to prevent the discrimination of everyone, including but not limited to those who happen to be religious. This is not to say that it can't be fine-tuned, of course, but surely we don't need a special act to single out protections for religious bodies, only? Especially when this allows them to discriminate?

According to Liberal MP Angie Bell – who plugged Scotty’s Bill on national television this morning – the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill represents a "net gain for gay rights".

Attempting to drive another wedge for Labor (a seasoned election tactic) Ms Bell claimed it would fix the mistakes Labor made when it introduced the anti-discrimination legislation back in the '70s and the majority of Australians want it.

Really, Angie? Show us the figures. Because the majority of Australians seem to indicate that we are a secular nation. There appears to be no caveat attached, suggesting that those who identify as “religious” have felt especially discriminated against.

Indeed, while many Australians are rightly confused by the idiotic framing of the religion section of the Census – which lists atheism in “other" and then counts it as a religion(!) – our behaviour, such as the small number of us who attend religious institutions (17.4 per cent), pray regularly or actively follow a religion, demonstrates otherwise.  

And then there’s the inconvenient detail of the rule of law, which demands the separation between church and state. Not that the rule of law, state or international, has bothered Scotty in the past.

Apart from these reasons as to why a specific religious discrimination act is simply divisive and potentially dangerous, there’s the issue of what it doesn’t do.

While this Morrison Government has been busy pushing religion down our (largely) "heathen" throats, it has paid only lip service to so many other major concerns upon which we heathens and non-heathens alike want action.

In this past year, alone, a year where Brittany Higgins was raped under the noses of this Government – the one that failed to keep her safe – and where the most senior lawmaker of the land was accused of historical rape but faced no inquiry, there have been only platitudes in place of policies.

In a year when sexual harassment within Parliament House was exposed as rife, it was deemed too insignificant to warrant attention.

And in a year when Grace Tame, as Australian of the Year, lifted awareness on behalf of sex abuse survivors everywhere, making their voices heard, the Prime Minister refused to meet with them as they took their concerns to Parliament, pronouncing the women marching as lucky not to be "met with bullets".

But he found time to go to the cricket.

Morrison may have channelled his daughters to induce crocodile tears. He may have made an apology of sorts to Brittany on the eve of a Federal Election. He may have smiled at Grace for yet another staged photo opp, yet didn't bother to attend their National Press Club address because he was "too busy".

But he did find time to shampoo the hair of an unspecified young woman for the cameras.

Finally and most importantly, what Scotty didn’t do was lift a finger to effect any meaningful change.

No doubt the Prime Minister was far too busy fine-tuning this latest all-important assault against everyone who doesn’t share his fanatical Big-Church “values”.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732, chat online or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

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