Features Australia

Our right-wing bogeyman

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

Richard Nixon’s administration had Spiro Agnew, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s bovver boy was Norman Tebbit, President George W. Bush gave us Dick Cheney and I can’t tell you the number of times I turned a decorous dinner party into a Don’s Party redux by simply observing during a lull in conversation: ‘By the way, isn’t that Philip Ruddock doing a terrific job?’ I’ll leave the psychobabblers to explain why people of my leftish persuasion need a conservative bogeyman to execrate, but it is undeniably deep in our DNA.

The arrival of Tony Abbott’s coalition government has spurred the need to find a villain du jour. Step forward Scott Morrison, aka ‘The Brigadier’. He is not afraid of our demonology; the Minister for Immigration appears to thrive on it. Laying waste to moaning Minnies, tired Tims, bleeding hearts, legalistic pedants and hand wringers is his favourite sport and in return we loathe him. Gone are the days when the ultra-sensitive immigration portfolio was guided by benign Liberal grandees such as Harold Holt, Hubert Opperman, Sir Alexander Downer, Michael MacKellar and Ian Macphee.

Morrison has introduced a regime of despotic authority and unflinching moral certainty. He is the son of a Sydney policeman, the Presbyterian manse and the Boys’ Brigade, a 19th century Christian youth organisation founded in Glasgow to ‘advance Christ’s kingdom among boys and promote habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.’

Now 45, Morrison has evolved into a devout Pentecostal worshipping with other evangelicals at Shirelive in his southern Sydney electorate of Cook. It’s Chicago School Christianity with a triple-A rating. Because Morrison is so robust about his religious beliefs, his own ministerial decisions deserve to be tested against them.

In opposition he gleefully shouted about every boat that arrived off the northern coastline, but now they are hidden under claims of operational security. His weekly media briefings have been replaced by ‘needs only’ appearances. Nauru’s puppet administration has suddenly raised the price of a journalist’s visa application from $200 to a prohibitive, non-refundable $8,000. Each day brings more disturbing developments: Australian warships inadvertently breaching Indonesia’s territorial waters; allegations that asylum seekers were mistreated when steered back to Indonesia by Australian Navy personnel; some of the 1,000 children still in detention being abused; the camps on Nauru and Manus Islands rapidly becoming overcrowded hellholes of seething discontent; and the minister seeking to criminalise asylum seekers by giving them a new title — ‘illegals’.

Other charges should be taken into consideration, Your Worship, including these: the defendant Morrison has trashed the traditional independence of the armed forces by handpicking Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell to manage Coalition policy on immigration and border protection; vandalised decades of diplomatic, defence and intelligence relations between Canberra and Jakarta; damaged Australia’s standing in Asian and Pacific capitals by blowhard politics and bungled policies.

I was embedded in the NSW parliamentary press gallery in 2002 when I first met Morrison, then the Liberal party’s fledging NSW State Director. We lunched occasionally at the chic restaurant at Hyde Park Barracks, built in 1819 to incarcerate convict men and boys and re-educate them with the lash. The purpose of such lunches is to gather fat while giving away some lean. But truth to tell the roles were usually reversed with Morrison. He walked away with the majority of fat and I was left with a skerrick of lean. He was an unknown quantity in the Liberal party appearing from nowhere to head the NSW division by studying and adopting the ‘whatever-it-takes’ modus operandi of the ALP’s Sussex Street machine. Today there isn’t a senior member of the National Press Gallery who hasn’t dined at Manuka’s eating precinct with the Immigration Minister as he follows the media manipulation techniques perfected 20 years earlier by Richo, aka ‘Richelieu’.

During his term as the Liberal state director Morrison presented himself as non-factional, neither wet nor dry but appealingly moist. However, when he quit the job in 2004, the ‘Left’ was split and the Right, led by Upper House MP David Clarke, was on the ascendancy. At the 2007 federal election he replaced the monsoonally ‘wet’ Bruce Baird in a memorably vicious pre-selection battle fought through the media. Afterwards, the left celebrated ‘their’ candidate’s victory but so did the right. Morrison became noticed.

Australia is now at war. I know because I’ve been following frontline reports delivered from the situation room of Operation Sovereign Borders. (Who invented the title? Give that man an Australian Service Medal.) The war briefings are conducted amid martial atmospherics with ‘Brigadier’ Morrison flanked by Lieutenant-General Campbell wearing full military uniform and decorations. The Scott & Angus Show started as serious drama but has quickly descended into Hibernian vaudeville. Laurie Oakes, doyen of the National Press Gallery, has complained that ‘sometimes when he fronts the Fourth Estate, Scott Morrison’s arrogance can be little short of breathtaking. Abbott should have a word in his ear.’ But the only message he gave Morrison was to soldier on because polling is positive and the minister’s sheer bastardry is taking the heat off the PM.

Morrison’s chief tactic is to embarrass Bill Shorten by wedging Labor. He hasn’t grasped the essential fact that the Coalition is now in government and that its purpose has fundamentally altered from destroy to build and from divide to unite. He also appears to have forgotten the First Law of Holes propounded by the British politician Denis Healey: ‘If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.’

Meanwhile, the damage inflicted on the nation is incalculable. While Morrison is driven by God and the Holy Bible to inflict misery on desperate human beings to achieve a Greater Good, Australian society is inescapably brutalised by this process of institutional punishment. That’s why we don’t like him. Mind you, I took a similar view of Bob Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, John Howard and Tony Abbott and look what happened to them.

Alex Mitchell is former NSW state political editor of the Sun-Herald.

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Show comments
  • Sam Chafe

    My goodness, he doesn’t much like Scott Morrison, does he? I had no idea that Mr. Morrison was such a powerful person, that his influence was so broad, and that single-handed he has managed to make Australia the pariah of the world. Who would have thought? I understood that what he was trying to do was prevent asylum seekers from coming to Australia, an assignment in which he has been remarkably successful. Perhaps the glib condemnation by Alex Mitchell contains a trace of envy that nobody on his side of politics has been able to achieve a similar success.

    • Alan

      envy seemed more like disgust for the way he is doing it how do you know he is being successful in stopping the boats where is the evidence as mr morrison would say “thats a operational matter”

      • Sam Chafe

        Just have a look at the numbers …

        • eric hardcastle

          Why is “the numbers” repeated ad finitum as though it were an achievement ?

          We cannot isolate our participation in creating this problem. We went to Iraq and Afghanistan and participated in regime change, a crime under international law.
          And we ignore our international obligations to accept those who seek asylum lawfully for that is what they do.

          One fact should make us always query anything the Minister says : he continually refers to asylum seekers as “illegals” when they are not. They act legally.
          If a Minister of the Crown cannot understand the laws when he is lawmaker, why should we accept his claims as being genuine?

          • Sam Chafe

            the boats’ is an achievement, whether you like it or not. And, you may or may
            not accept the claims of the minister, as you may or may not accept his term
            ‘illegals’; and you may protest that Australia is not fulfilling its
            international obligations and, by implication, suggest that Australia does not
            have the right, to determine who can and who can’t come to this country.
            Australia is a sovereign nation and is responsible for governing its own
            affairs. The current government, democratically elected on a platform which
            included ‘stopping the boats’, is fulfilling its pledge. You may not agree with
            it, as is your right to do so, and you may protest the policy. But the majority
            of the population is behind the government on this matter, so you are in the
            minority. Minority opinion is respected in this country, but the majority rules.
            That’s democracy.

    • eric hardcastle

      I keep reading comments like yours all over the net that make this unprovable claim : that Morrison has “stopped the boats”.
      What is that makes people believe what they want to ?.

      Against all history they simply accept that the politician of their choosing who re-affirms their beliefs, is telling the truth.
      Yet the facts remain : by cutting off access to refugees and preventing reporters, opposition MPs and refugee advocates from visiting refugee centres or perhaps even accompanying naval excursions, we are being told sheer B/S.

      • Sam Chafe

        As I said to Alan, have a look at the numbers.

        • eric hardcastle

          How can I look at the numbers ?. I’m pretty aged and learned a long time ago to never accept Politician’s (from any party) statistics. The inbuilt desire to bolster their own claims is irresistible.

          That’s why we often have to rely on either the media, advocates (for refugees) and Opposition spokes persons. All have been refused access to asylum seekers. Why ?