Never in the history of Australian politics has a ministerial appointment been so wrong. So egregiously wrong. So hideously, wickedly, grotesquely wrong. Who in his right mind would choose Scott Morrison for Social Services?
To choose Scott Morrison is to choose calculated cruelty and indifference to suffering. Ask those on Manus Island or any other detention centre.
To choose this politician is to condone a merciless, rampaging, bureaucratic inhumanity. Ask those who have been placed in indefinite detention with inadequate facilities, food or medical supplies.
To choose Morrison rewards secrecy, promotes a disturbingly fanatical and obsessive devotion. Ask all those suffering souls who have been intercepted, stripped of their possessions and incarcerated in the off shore gulag of Australia’s border protection system.
To choose ‘mad dog’ Morrison is to promote oafish intransigence and hide-bound obduracy. Gillian Triggs will vouch for that, and so will all who winced at his behaviour in the televised segments of the hearings. Australian Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs’ role was to investigate the Abbott government’s detention of children.
Morrison’s sneering attack on her understanding of the difference between a prison and a detention centre to name one of his excesses was cruelly, contemptuously out of order. He did not disclose then his intention of using these children as hostages to the passage his new law which enhanced his powers and effectively put the Minister and his department above international law.
Above all to choose Morrison is to reward Orwellian deception and double-speak: this propagandist knows how to use language to alter perception and to evade accountability. His record is alarming.
Morrison re-named refugees ‘illegal maritime arrivals’; he changed his department’s name from Immigration to include Border Protection and he concocted ‘Operation Sovereign Borders.’
At each stage, he inserted a lie. Refugees are not illegal. Our borders do not need protection from refugees. Sovereign borders was a military cloak for secrecy. By fending off all explanation and accountability he put the lie to the code of ministerial responsibility. His actions were above Westminster parliamentary convention and allowed the running of camps and the treatment of refugees in ways that put him and his department beyond the law. In ways that caused suffering, torment, privation and death in order to achieve a narrow political aim: stop the boats.
Morrison is a narcissistic megalomaniac who revised Australian migration law to defy the UN Convention on Refugees. He is, moreover, the Machiavellian mastermind whose emotional blackmail of cross-bench senators included giving phones to children in detention on Christmas Island so they could plead personally with senators such as Ricky Muir, a shameful act straight out of any terrorist’s hostage taking rule-book.
Morrison has conducted himself with a total lack of decorum in national and international contexts. Employing all the diplomatic finesse of a swaggering, vainglorious lout, he has trashed Australia’s reputation for global citizenship. In the eyes of the world and in the eyes of the electorate he is the one Abbott government politician above all others who in the space of one year has done the most to destroy Australia’s reputation for fairness, decency and humanity.
In brief, Morrison is the worst man for Social Services in the entire LNP government. Could this be why he’s been chosen? Perhaps there’s some dark comedy here? Perhaps he’s been shafted sideways. Who can tell? It is true, nevertheless that Social Services is not the portfolio of choice for the ambitious political climber. And it will doubtless check his ambitions.
A rival for Abbott and in some quarters a potential prime minister, Morrison will be kept busy in a portfolio with many challenges, a ministry which offers far fewer creative opportunities than Immigration afforded. Yet his first comments are alarming. From the first day he is trying it on. From his first comments, Australians should be very worried.
“I will now turn my attention to our welfare system and working to ensure the integrity, dignity and sustainability of our safety net,” he said in a statement, sounding like a stage magician announcing his next death-defying stunt.
“But the best social service we can afford any Australian to help them deal with costs of living, is a job.” The pernicious myth of a job for everyone waiting for all those who can be prepared to look hard enough is being revived by this word-weasel. He has also chosen to state his perspective. Again it is about things, processes, jargon -not, as may be hoped in this portfolio, about people. And it enshrines a lie about our nation’s climbing unemployment rate. There are no jobs.
‘Safety net.’ Morrison’s focus is revealing, as revealing as Tony Abbott’s re-classification of Social Services, his new portfolio, as ‘an economic portfolio.’ Typically, Abbott and Morrison haven’t wasted any time on consultation or anything rashly democratic. He’s just imposed his own shiny new definition of Social Services.
“The ministry for social services is essentially a ministry for economic participation and it is very important to have a minister of Scott’s drive and competence in this role” Abbott noted that Morrison was a “master of difficult policy” and claimed that his ministry was “essentially a ministry for economic participation” that would encourage people “to give a fair go”.
This was news to most of us who have come to expect a ministry practising compassion, empathy, protection and support in the sure knowledge that how we treat the marginalised is the measure of our humanity.
But the PM and his most powerful new minister have been quick to spell out the new perspective: Morrison’s priorities lie with the system not with any human being. Bugger wasting time on people now you are in social services, “tough guy’ Morrison, as the press terms him, chooses instead to talk about the safety net. It’s a net he’d like to personify.
The safety net has human attributes. It has integrity, dignity. Two attributes the new minister conspicuously lacks; two attributes he will never have. Lucky for us that net has them. Then he lurches off-key. Apparently the safety net also has something called sustainability.
Sustainability: the subtext worries me. Already I am hearing that it’s not going to last if we use it, that safety net. I am hearing that it will be a smaller net because we are Australians and although we have survived Labor’s debt and deficit disaster, OK and snuck under the radar somehow with the GFC, we are going to have to get used to small.
This is a right wing radical government of small. Already I have had a year of politicians prattling about living within our means, a means that it suits them to lie about; an economy they pretend is irreparably damaged, wrecked by Labor. Just one small problem or two. It’s not what they are saying overseas about our economy – and it’s not what the experts are saying. The budget crisis is a lie.
Safety net makes me feel unsafe. That safety net image reminds me of circus performers who fall off the highwire or who fail some other routine. Now it’s OK to associate politics with the circus but it hurts to hear yourself identified with failure. I wince as I hurtle towards the sawdust. The fall is OK compared with the realisation that Scott Morrison is the safety net; or holds the safety net.
It’s clear from the safety net image that I have failed. All those who need social services are really basket cases in his eyes of the newly promoted sideways Minister. Real people may need a help up not a hand out, he will say, parroting other Neo-cons who have failed social policy. What if his new portfolio were his safety net? Don’t count on any empathy. We can’t have generous pensions or even realistic pensions or unemployment benefits. We can’t afford them, he will say. Besides, (he loves this one) we have to take the sugar off the table.
The clearest thing Morrison says is that the best social service the government can provide any Australian is to afford them a job. Unless you are crippled, disabled, old or in other ways unable to work. Unless you happen to work in advocacy services.
Cutting funding to advocacy groups won’t hurt frontline services, Morrison wants to reassure radio listeners today. No? Advocates are the people who help people when the frontline services fail. They are the lobbyists. They take care of people who cannot advocate for themselves. But they are also the people who hold the government to account. They are the ones who read budgets and inspect policies and ask hard questions. Get them out the way and you are laughing.
If there were any personal rivalry, the public show was an Abbott love-fest. During Sunday’s press conference, Abbott voiced words of commendation for Mr Morrison, who he described as “splendid” and a “master” of difficult policies. Mr Abbott explained that the Minister called the “most powerful man” in Parliament by the Guardian, after his major changes to asylum seeker policy this year, is ideal for his role because there is “no finer advocate”, and:
“The ministry for social services is essentially a ministry for economic participation and it is very important to have a minister of Scott’s drive and competence in this role”
The first priority of the Coalition leader’s “star performer” is the development of an “holistic families package” that will be introduced in the first half of 2015.
Mr Abbott then emphasised twice the foundation of his government’s agenda in the phrase, “getting a fair go, and trying to get people to give a fair go”. According to the Prime Minister, this integral sentiment will form the core of the “fair dinkum” paid parental leave policy and childcare enhancements that are due to be contained in Mr Morrison’s holistic package.
What does all this add up to? What will be Morrison’s first big crafty move? Easy to spot one move already, Morrison will aim to cut welfare spending by using the NDIS as blackmail. Tonight, the night before Christmas, he is on the radio softening us up. To have something so world standard as an NDIS …Savings will need to be made …
Expect savage cuts across the board. Expect to be lectured on our limited funds. Expect to hear that we have to cut deeply into what we used to do in the way of helping the elderly, the unemployed, the young, in all the ways we exercised the last vestiges of a civilised compassion. Expect to hear lots more about the safety net. More about ‘savings’ and the bottom line. Don’t count on hearing about people and their increased personal suffering as Mad dog Morrison, the newly appointed zealot sets about slashing and burning his path to the top.
Don’t count on hearing the truth: funds for the helpers and carers in Australian society and their agencies have for years been cut to the bone. There are no savings to be found, unless we rob Peter to pay Paul. Don’t count on being told that the NDIS is already funded. Do count on an aggressive campaign to deny the needy our compassion and practical support.
What Social Services needs is an increased budget and a higher profile. It is the first duty of a civilised society and it is well within our means. Putting Morrison in charge, however, is the clearest signal yet that this government will do whatever it can get away with to meet its meagre targets in a government obsessed by budget-love; a government prepared to steal from the elderly, the young, the sick and the vulnerable if it helps them balance their books.