If the Australian public was to give the Morrison government a report card for the year, the scores would – most likely – come in well below average on a number of pressing social issues.
Sadly for many, our ‘lucky country’ has been trending in the wrong direction in several areas, as:
- The economy is in tatters, with national debt eclipsing the levels it reached during the purported ‘debt and deficit crisis’;
- There continues to be an alarming erosion of individual freedoms and a concerted campaign to crush trade unions, and to silence protesters and those who are critical of government;
- The government refuses to raise social security payments, despite recipients being barely able to afford housing and food;
- Homelessness continues to rise and homeless people continue to be criminalised;
- Domestic violence is at all-time highs;
- Robodebt – which the Federal Court recently found to be ‘unlawful’ – has caused anxiety in many Australians and led to a number of suicides;
- Indigenous people continue to die in custody at unacceptable rates;
- Banks have been caught behaving unlawfully, despite our leader having repeatedly voted against a Banking Royal Commission; and
- Climate change has been met with inaction, as our nation slips dramatically in the Climate Change Performance Index.
Hundreds of small businesses around the nation are bearing the cost of supporting the nation through these times, while big multi-national corporations get away with paying minimal or no tax.
Many farmers can’t feed their stock, some have given up. Fruit and vegetable producers are going bankrupt.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. And, undoubtedly, these can be incredibly complex and difficult issues to solve – which call for seeds to be sewn to achieve long-term success.
Many have criticised our man at the helm for taking an overseas vacation while fires raged across our nation, for holding up a piece of coal in Parliament as if it were the Holy Grail and for his dogged determination to ensure people of faith are allowed to express their beliefs, no matter how divisive and destructive they may be, and to discriminate against non-believers.
So, what has Mr Morrison achieved in 2019?
Money for Churches
In the final weeks of 2019, the Government has awarded more than $100,000 of taxpayer dollars to Scott Morrison’s own Horizon Church in Sydney, through a Department of Home Affairs initiative known as the Safer Communities Fund.
The money is expected to pay for the installation of 18 fixed security cameras, 13 security lights, video intercoms to 3 designated areas, 2 security and alarm systems and the employment of a security guard at the church.
The grant, it has been explained, is intended to “protect children who are at risk of attack, harassment or violence stemming from racial or religious intolerance.”
The grants were announced earlier in the year, when the government allocated $55 million to upgrade security at places of worship around Australia, shortly after the New Zealand Mosque shootings in Christchurch, which killed 51 people.
Other grant recipients included synagogues, other Christian churches, an Islamic school in Sydney, and non-religious organisations including a social justice theatre company in Adelaide (where it will be used on a program aimed at reducing racial intolerance).
The right to discriminate
Scott Morrison has also worked relentlessly this year to introduce the controversial Religious Discrimination Act, which culminated in the final weeks of Parliament in a decision to delay the legislation until next year
The original draft was slammed by religious groups for not doing enough to protect religious freedoms, but others, including former high court justice, Michael Kirby, Human rights and LGBTI groups, employer bodies and state anti-discrimination commissions opposed the bill, concerned that it was unbalanced and actually eroded some existing freedoms.
The PM makes no secret of the fact that his religious beliefs are important to him, and, as such, they have, over the course of this year, certainly been front and centre of his leadership, made clear in the sanctioned and widely aired video footage of him at Easter worship shortly after his election victory and footage of him addressing the Hillsong Church Conference in July. He is the first Australian prime minister to address this conference.
Let’s be clear: No one denies him his faith. In fact, many would agree that cultivating a strong sense of spirituality enriches life. A vast majority of people too, concur that religious freedom is paramount – even though the number of Australians declaring to have ‘no religion’ is on the rise. The last 2016 census decreed that 30% of Australians don’t identify with a particular faith.
The main source of consternation seems to be that this particular bill has taken up a lot of time and focus, at a time when there are so many other pressing problems to solve.
It also begs the question of whether the issue couldn’t be included in an Australian Bill of Rights, which would protect all of our democratic freedoms, not just our religious freedom. And would protect everyone, whether they are in a minority group or the majority.
A significant number of Australians are also confused by the fact the PM’s religious beliefs don’t appear to influence the government’s stance on less fortunate Australians – the homeless, for example, who are increasingly criminalised and marginalised.
In his maiden speech to Parliament in 2008, Scott Morrison said: “So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24: ‘I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord’.”
This sentiment appears to be at odds with the government’s hard line position on asylum seekers and refugees and the numerous reports that seemingly fall on deaf ears about poor and unsanitary conditions in offshore detention, exacerbated by the recent medevac repeal, which was spearheaded by the Morrison Government, angering many Australians who believe it is simply our humanitarian duty to help people in need.
And what about the ongoing plight of our indigenous population which consistently falls well below average on various social measures including basic standards of living? The many thousands of children living in poverty?
For many Australians, there are serious questions to be raised about this government’s priorities. Certainly, right now, many would say that it has a real opportunity to buck the status quo, to do things differently, and to bravely set out a vision and a plan that not only fixes all that ails this country, but repairs its reputation on the international stage too, and, most importantly, provides a sure footing to thrive in the years to come.
While such a strategy might well encompass religious freedom, it must also include addressing many very urgent issues, like protecting our families from violence, defending and upholding our basic democratic freedoms, like freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, as well as taking action on climate change, supporting our local food producers, reducing poverty, and safeguarding our natural resources, like our precious water reserves, just to name a few.
Many of these issues were in fact, also outlined in Morrison’s first Parliamentary speech more than a decade ago, long before he was elected leader, so isn’t it time they were turned from political rhetoric into meaningful policy?