Morrison’s Divisive Leadership Is Corroding the Nation

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Morrison's crusade

Under three years of Scott Morrison’s leadership, Australia has fractured. The Liberal leader’s prioritisation of the needs of corporations over the people and his persistent avoidance of key issues – whether in presence or in rhetoric – has far broadened the already rising discredit of government.

The PM’s tap dancing around the issue of a federal integrity commission amounts to political vaudeville. His late 2018 promise to deliver one was swept to the side until independents forced his hand, which saw nothing-to-see-here then attorney general Porter proposing a toothless watchdog.

Since the divine bestowed Morrison with a fresh term in office in May 2019, the pork barrelling scandals that have rocked his government – sporting projects, commuter carparks, bushfire relief funds – have all clearly revealed why federal integrity avoidance is a chief priority.

Following the NSW ICAC commencing its corruption inquiry into NSW premier Gladys Berejikilian, the PM suggested that the investigative body had abused its powers to persecute her over her “boyfriend”, and he then asked the disgraced former pollie to run for federal parliament.

Protecting federal MPs from scrutiny over potential illegal behaviour is far from the only corrosive politicking Morrison has partaken in over his time in the top job.

Indeed, to set the bar to its current low level takes a chorus of buffoonery, which trails all the way back to when he first entered the Canberra bubble.

By cover of COVID

COVID-19 tends to exacerbate everything it touches, and the credibility of the prime minister – with his constant erosion of democratic principles – is no exception.

Constant backflipping doth not the leader make, and the microscopic parasite has certainly reminded us of this.

Morrison entered the pandemic era appearing to support lockdowns and the closing of borders, focusing on quarantining, launching funds to cover the out-of-work, and setting up a commission to steer the nation out of any resulting economic downturn. And then he slowly reneged on most of it.

In its final iteration, the National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board was comprised of corporate business leaders and key Morrison government insiders, who recommended the only way out for the nation – which had just experienced a climate-related bushfire crisis – was a gas-fired recovery.

Following the cutting off of the JobKeeper pandemic subsidy – designed to assist employers to pay employees during lockdown – it came to light that large businessesChristian churches, and even high-end golf courses had cleaned up whilst receiving it, with no requirement to pay it back.

While his greatest COVID backtracking achievement has been his tacit support for the anti-lockdown movement, which has seen him condemning border closures and vaccine mandates, of which he instigated, as well as empathising with those who’d threatened the lives of Victorian politicians.

A religious crusader of old

The Pentecostal PM entered federal parliament in 2008, stating, in his maiden speech, that his faith was “personal” not “political”. Then he further proclaimed before the chamber that “Australia is not a secular country – it is a free country”.

And since this time, he’s been exercising this “freedom” in an attempt to re-Christianise the multicultural and multifaith polity.

Morrison swings his Christian religion about like a sword to attack beliefs and systems that don’t align with his own, rather than as a doctrine of faith that purports to protect and uphold the meek.

The current Liberal leader launched his religious freedoms crusade in December 2017, claiming the religious, especially Christians, need more protection in law.

This was just two weeks after the legalisation of marriage equality, and what he meant was that faith institutions want more exemptions from antidiscrimination laws.

The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 is currently before parliamentary review. Watered down from its earlier iterations, it’s still highly divisive legislation, which seeks to establish laws that would allow religious institutions to sack LGBTIQ employees, even with state laws that prevent this.

The other key issue with the bill – which has been spruiked as merely protecting the religious – is it establishes the right to make “statements of belief” that are discriminatory and, therefore, currently illegal comments, if one does so in line with their faith doctrine.

In doing this, the proposed law specifically overrides all antidiscrimination laws at any level nationwide enacted since the 1970s.

Condemning the planet

The length and intensity of the Black Summer bushfires were on a scale never seen before. So, for the PM to take off for an Hawaiian family holiday during the height of the crisis sparked outrage, especially because he slipped out of the country without announcing it, hoping nobody noticed.

“I don’t hold a hose, mate, and I don’t sit in the control room,” Morrison told a 2GB announcer, after he swanned back into town, in an attempt to excuse his mid-emergency departure.

But complacency over climate is something the nation has come to expect from the prime minister.

Morrison announced the proposed opening up of five new gas fields nationwide, with accompanying pipeline infrastructure, just half a year after the last flames of the fires were put out.

While this year saw the PM telling the US press he couldn’t commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 without a plan, he then returned to release a document committing the nation to net-zero that contained no plan, and he subsequently attended the COP26 in Glasgow to promote a gas company.

Leadership in decline

Drawing analogies between the corrosive presidency of Donald Trump and the prime ministership of Scott Morrison is easy.

The symbolism involved in the recent burning of the entrance to Old Parliament House, and the defacing of the current federal parliament building in August, are akin to the political decay expressed in the storming of Washington’s Capitol Hill last January.

Without any prior notice, the prime minister last year committed the nation to going nuclear via the AUKUS pact, which further placed Australia at the pivot of the US push to war on China.

During his time at the helm, Morrison has overseen the enhancement of our barbaric refugee policy to incorporate indefinite detention of the stateless, as well as the mass deportation of long-term residents. And as immigration minister, Morrison was the chief architect of both these regimes.

In terms of the plight of the First Nations people of this continent, the prime minister has been utterly negligent. Whilst issues such as treaty, conciliation, police brutality, suicide and poverty need prioritisation, our leader acts as if the doctrine of terra nullius continues to hold.

Despite ruling over the entire pandemic response – which saw most Australians complying – the PM still had the gall to sympathise with protesters that were sporting a makeshift gallows and threatening violence against parliamentarians and their families over public health measures.

“I have sympathy for Australians who have had a gutful of governments telling them what to do over the last two years,” said Morrison in relation to the anti-lockdown demonstrators.

In making these comments, we see the leader of Australia prioritising the rights of the individual over that of the common good, the idea that governments shouldn’t be ensuring the welfare of their constituents and the aim of having a small government simply passing laws to prop up corporations.

So, with the federal election looming for early next year, the question that has to be asked is, what kind of society do Australians want to live in?

As it’s certain that another term of government with Morrison at the lead will see a further dissolution of any semblance of democracy and a greater slide towards authoritarianism.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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