To pinch a phrase from the Oils, the nation under Scott Morrison has become something of a “redneck wonderland”, as evidenced by a truckload of antivaxxers protesting against his government in Canberra last weekend, based on a political ideology that looks strangely similar to his.
The whole cast and crew sprawled out before the seat of government were there for the same reason that Morrison chose to make his first speech as prime minister down in Albury where Menzies started the Liberals: they all want to reclaim that whitebread facade that is Australia.
To his credit, Morrison has been most earnest in pushing for religious freedom laws that would reinstate the conservatism of early to mid-last century, which entailed a White Australia policy, links to the monarchy and marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.
The PM has been attempting to reinforce the power of the old order – heterosexual Christian Anglo men – via the overriding of all antidiscrimination laws in the name of religion. And somewhat curiously, professed atheist and One Nation leader Mark Latham has been doing the same in NSW.
The ideological links between the ongoing Freedom rallies and the conservatives inside federal parliament have been apparent by the attendance of Liberal Nationals MP George Christensen, ex-Liberal MP Craig Kelly and long-suffering racist One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson.
Winding back protections
The Morrison government’s prioritised Religious Discrimination Bill (RD Bill) was shelved last week as Independent MP Rebekha Sharkie introduced an amendment to remove a law in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) that currently permits religious schools to expel LGBTQ students.
Sharkie’s amendment was supported by the opposition, crossbenchers and five Liberals, who crossed the floor. Yet, it didn’t go the next step to remove a similar law permitting such schools to sack LGBTQ teachers, because Labor doesn’t support that.
The Sharkie amendment further failed to accommodate a compromise that attorney general Michaela Cash came to the party with, which entailed revoking the power to expel kids on the basis of sexual orientation, but maintaining it when it came to gender identity.
The specific singling out trans youth for ongoing discrimination shocked many. But it’s a strategy that was flagged at the Church and State Summit 2021 in Brisbane. This conference, a coming together of conservative Christians to discuss their influence on politics, was attended by MP Christensen.
The religious right pushback against the LGBTIQ movement’s gains via the targeting of trans people was outlined by Martyn Iles, head of the Australian Christian Lobby. This organisation eventually pushed for the dropping of the RD Bill rather than revoke pre-existing powers to discriminate.
The proper place
Section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act contains the laws permitting religious schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and it further extends this to the grounds of sex, marital or relationship status, as well as pregnancy.
These last attributes allow religious schools to discriminate against women, for the most part. Of course, the Church has traditionally relegated women to a submissive position to men. And the last year of politics has certainly highlighted the Morrison government’s adherence to this dictate.
While no one has been prioritising the revoking of the ability of religious schools to sack pregnant women out of wedlock, there has certainly been a rise in the women’s movement over the last 12 months, in terms of calls to halt sexual violence, harassment and discrimination.
A quick recap of the last year involves sexual assault survivor Grace Tame being named as Australian of the Year, which inspired Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins to speak out about her rape in Parliament House and its subsequent coverup, as well as historic allegations about the then attorney general.
The prime minister’s handling of the two latter affairs was piss-poor, as he had to ask his wife how to feel about Ms Higgins being sexually assaulted in a minister’s office, whilst he refused to inquire into historic rape claims about Christian Porter and rather allowed him to continue in a ministerial role.
Indeed, misogynistic attitudes coming from on high tend incite more, as can be seen with the onslaught of criticism thrown at Grace Tame due to her refusal to smile politely at the PM, who’d spent the last year trying to negate any progress on women’s rights and their freedom from abuse.
And these attitudes will only be compounded by stab-a-sister-in-the-back Jenny Morrison’s performance on 60 minutes this week.
Freedom’s just another word…
As for the Freedom Convoy down in Canberra last weekend, there were thousands of Australians gathered out the front of Parliament House calling on the governor general to sack the Morrison government and appoint a new executive council to ensure a free and fair 2022 federal election.
The crowd were invoking section 44(1) of the Australian Constitution, as a means of dissolving parliament, as it stipulates a person “under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power” is incapable of sitting as a member of either house.
These powers don’t appear in the Constitution but stem from the authority of Queen Elizabeth II.
Whilst the Freedom Convoy that recently descended upon the capital was ostensibly about vaccine mandates and COVID restrictions, its links to far-right Australian white nationalist groups have been well established over the last six months.
An association with conservative Christians can be noted too, with the Lord’s Prayer often cited over the microphones at rallies. And the Canberra action was inspired by the Canadian Freedom convoy, which, it’s been revealed, was part funded by an $8.7 million Christian crowdfunding campaign.
Members of the Freedom movement point to the multicultural makeup of its rallies when seeking to throw off its association with the nation’s far-right. However, if the use of the Australian red ensign flag isn’t enough to signal nationalism, the likes of Hanson and Kelly on board should be.
The freedom vote
When 100,000 people turned up out the front of Parliament House in March last year for the women’s March for Justice rally, Morrison remarked that they were lucky because in other countries they would be “met with bullets”.
Last weekend, as tens of thousands demonstrated in the same area specifically calling for his sacking, Morrison said, “Australia is a free country, and they have a right to protest. I would ask them to do that in a peaceful and respectful way.”
This is hardly a surprise as his government plummets towards the May election, as it’s keenly aware that it needs the far-right/freedom vote more than ever. Although even without the slump in the polls it’s experiencing, the Liberals Nationals would still be keen to maintain it.
The PM’s implicit support for the burgeoning movement was evidenced from its inception last July as nationwide Freedom rallies took place, and he downplayed the support Christensen and Kelly had publicly displayed by attending protests in Queensland.
“There is such a thing as free speech, and I’m not about to be imposing those sorts of restrictions on people’s free speech,” Morrison said, after fellow Coalition MP Christensen had been out on the streets suggesting “civil disobedience” would be necessary to oppose public health measures.