If a lie is half-way around the world before the truth can get its boots on, what does it take for a Prime Minister to call out a falsehood eight years later? Our intrepid PM tries to set the record straight this week. Or is it a reboot? Many wonder aloud why he didn’t call out the lie earlier.
The alleged lie? In 2010, Morrison called on his party to make political capital out of popular anxieties over Muslim immigration, or so alleges, Lenore Taylor who bases her story on several reliable Liberal sources.
Yet not a peep from ScoMo. “Neither I, nor as far as I know, any of the journalists who did follow-up stories, received threats of defamation suits, nor even an angry phone call from Mr Morrison,” says Taylor to The Age’s Peter FitzSimons.
Is this the curious incident of the shaggy dog in the night-time? What’s clear is, in the wake of Christchurch, Morrison denies he ever suggested fanning anti-Muslim fears and bigotry at a shadow cabinet meeting late in 2010. Some of his colleagues say they don’t recall. Greg Hunt says Morrison’s right but it turns out he wasn’t at the meeting. Luckily, after closing down a presser, ScoMo 2.0 comes up with another version of events entirely. Bugger plausible deniability.
Yeah. Nah. What ScoMo was doing was canvassing ways his party could protect our Muslims from local Islamophobia.
Not only that, ScoMo’s dedicated his entire parliamentary career to walking the talk; even taking young Muslims and “a whole bunch of others” from the Shire up the Kokoda track and in the track of the Sandakan Death March in Borneo in 2009 and 2011. Why, when he couldn’t go himself he was helping organise a trek.
But, in the end, he says, cheerily, his government’s made up of individuals. What can one poor Prime Minister do?
A leader can’t stop Peter (Dutton) lamenting “the mistake” of Lebanese migration; how so many second or third generation Lebanese-Muslim men are terrorists. Nor Gorgeous George Christensen, he’s LNP QLD, anyway or any other MP’s racist hate-speak as he equably explains to Waleed Aly on The Project, Thursday.
Dr Aly list a few examples to support his case that the Coalition may have an Islamophobic problem.
- “George Christensen speaking at a Reclaim Australia rally, appearing on an alt-right podcast, speaking at a Q Society event where horrible things are said about multiple minorities.”
- “Tony Abbott saying that; “Islamophobia never killed anybody,” when actually it already had – it’s not just that it was true at the time and it isn’t now, it wasn’t true at the time – and suggesting that when Muslim leaders condemn terrorism, they don’t really mean it.”
- “Peter Dutton suggesting that Lebanese immigration in the 70s was a mistake or that mistakes were made around it. Talking about Mehreen Faruqi, who is a Muslim Senator, who is part of the Greens, being ‘as bad as Fraser Anning after the Christchurch attacks.”
- “When you have … seven Coalition Senators shaking Fraser Anning’s hand after he gives the ‘final solution’ speech in Parliament.”
- “And when you have reports in a newspaper like The Australian that it got to the point that the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis contacted members of the Liberal Party and of the Coalition, to warn them about the way they were talking about Islam.”
When I aggregate all that and – there are other examples I could give – when I aggregate all that, is there something that does need to be confronted within your own Party henceforth?, Aly concludes.
Prime Ministers and Liberal Party Leaders do have power and responsibility, it is clear despite the current tendency for the PM to be told what to do on policy by his right wing. Scott Morrison regularly makes captain calls about candidates.
Former Labor member and Gerard Henderson’s son-in-law, Warren Mundine is even parachuted in to Gilmore leaving Alby Schultz’s son Grant spluttering. (Has the PM no respect for the practice of rural dynastic succession?) The PM or his party is able to fast-forward the application process so that Mundine is virtually signed up on the spot. Schultz will now contend the seat as an independent; hardly an outcome likely to help Wokka’s prospects.
Most recently, ScoMo rings Stan Grant. Invites him round to Kirribilli House with its view of the harbour. (The Morrisons moved there from their Port Hacking home last September. All that reaching out to community now so much harder.) Asks him to nominate for Craig Laundy’s inner-western Sydney seat of Reid. The Liberal Party will put all its resources behind you, he promises. Grant is not a member of any political party let alone even a member of declining Liberal Party.
Grant declines, he says, wisely, because he likes what he does now. And he values his independence. If only Senator Marise Payne’s excuse were so admirable. Asked if she could get some government Islamophobes to shut up, she uses the well-worn “things are too sensitive” at this moment evasion. Christchurch, David Marr says, on ABC Insiders Sunday, might never have happened as far as Coalition anti-Muslim policy is concerned, Payne’s evasion is pitiful.
“I am not going to go into a series of adjudications on statements made by my colleagues or anyone else at this time. We are dealing with a very serious situation here,” Payne chips in this week to defend indulging Dutton .
It’s just like when ScoMo’s pal Dr Jamal Rifi, The Australian’s Australian of The Year 2015, rang him to see if he could do anything about the El Baf family’s four boys who’d gone off to join ISIS in Syria in 2014. Sadly, it was all too late, says Morrison. Muslim boys just sit at home all day waiting to be called up by an ISIS recruiter. (Nowhere in his appearance, Thursday, is any hint that the risk of alt-right White supremacists far outweighs any other terror).
Always impressively dressed these days, ScoMo opts for a charcoal blue suit on The Project, Ten’s dumbed-down current events show, a blokey, jokey middle-class fantasy world where grinning men in suits run everything with an easy-going superiority. The power suit and open-necked business shirt combo help him blend in while reminding us and his host he’s the Prime Minister. Above all, it implies he’s taking Islamophobia seriously (even if he won’t deal with it).
“G’day Waleed”. Using your host’s first name is a trick that goes back, at least, to Bob Hawke, The Great Ingratiator. See. It’s not really an interview after all. Just two good mates fixing up some personal stuff – as you do, whenever your Prime Minister calls you in to explain himself. Or put you right. On CBS’ prime-time national television show.
ScoMo sits low in his Project set chair – a hint of Marcel Breuer’s “Wassily“, all steel rectangles and shallow bum-shelf. A leg crosses. He cocks one foot up on a beefy knee as if about to kick his Egyptian-Australian host, Dr Waleed Aly. It’s ScoMo’s signature pose. A veneer of matey first names, slick grins and forced civility over bruiser body language.
Exposing a sole to your host is an offensive gesture in Egypt. ScoMo could politely inform viewers he’s on The Project to clear up a canard that he’s Islamophobic based on a leak from a shadow cabinet meeting in December 2010, where he’s accused of proposing a strategy to win votes by exploiting anti-Muslim anxieties in the community.
An “ugly and disgusting lie”, is what comes out of his mouth.
Passive-aggressive. Nursing injury, says his body language. The camera also magnifies his footwear, not the shonky two left-feet-K-Swiss trainers of “shoegate”, but solid, RM Williams ankle-boot jobs that could do you an injury. Boots that put the boot into “putting the boot in”, continue a menacing counterpoint to his puffery; his public self-praise.
These boots are made for walking. Morrison says he’s walked the Kokoda Trail with young Muslims and others. “Both parts of our communities.” In case any Morrison-watcher may have missed it, ScoMo’s been out doing the hard yards community building. “… it has been my work in Parliament to try and build these communities together, not apart.”
What a legend! Not only is Morrison up to rub out a lie, the old shape-shifter reinvents himself as a latter-day Nelson Mandela. A fair bit of air-brushing is required. It was George Brandis in August 2017 who upbraided Pauline Hanson for her burqa burlesque in the senate. ScoMo has never censured Dutton for branding Lebanese Muslims as terrorists.
And, even after Christchurch, the last thing ScoMo will commit to is putting One Nation last on how to vote tickets.
“Don’t prejudge me”, he threatens his host, Dr Waleed Aly, even though that’s impossible given we’ve seen so much of the great man’s work already. ScoMo’s well beyond prejudging, and it’s bizarre for him to act as if there were some way he could “reset” his political identity as The Guardian Australia‘s Katharine Murphy wryly points out.
Murphy cautions Morrison, “You are what you have been. You cannot outrun your record as a public figure, because you are still that public figure, and your identity is the sum of your record. So there aren’t any prejudgments.”
There’s hypocrisy. ScoMo’s been an avid pre-judger, especially, as we love to say nowadays, in the asylum-speaker “space”. Morrison’s record as political attack dog rivals junkyard Abbott’s; it’s well and truly out in the public domain.
As is his ambition. ScoMo’s vaulting ambition saw him leap-frog preselection rival Michael Towke, eight votes to eighty more popular, to win Cook in 2007. Towke was going well until a series of scurrilous attacks on his character appeared in The Daily Telegraph. The Libs rescinded his pre-selection. By-passing preselection, ScoMo was parachuted into candidacy and won the retiring Bruce Baird’s old seat, as he likes to remind us; the baton of greatness passing on.
Bruce Baird was also Morrison’s second boss in tourism as former transport minister in the Nick Greiner and John Fahey NSW Liberal governments (1989-2005). Morrison’s rise to political power is a tribute to his networking.
Scott’s got anti-Muslim form. He cut his political teeth as Liberal bovver-boy challenging the reckless benevolence of paying for the families of drowned asylum-seekers to come to Sydney to bury their dead. Morrison led the Abbott and others in The Opposition pack attack on a feckless Federal Government decision to fly 22 asylum seekers to Sydney for the funerals of eight people, including two babies, who died in the Christmas Island shipwreck, December 15, 2010.
Excessive benevolence? The $300,000 total cost of airfares amounted to a cost to each of us just two cents apiece.
Faced with some opposition from his own party which included Joe Hockey, his mentor Bruce Baird, Russell Broadbent and others, Morrison later withdrew his objections and issued a sort of an apology, professing that he was insensitive to question the cost. Poor timing, he added. Nationals’ Fiona Nash still couldn’t see the point given that Australians don’t get government help attending a funeral forgetting that the Disaster Assist Fund does pay up to $10,000.
After a wobbly start in Social Services culminating in his brilliant “wait for the dole” scheme, which the senate rejected, Scott got a gig as Head Bouncer at our island concentration camps, a job he put his own stamp on as we know.
Less well understood is how his secretive communication style matches his capacity to reach out to local communities, bind them together and inspire them with shared walks on Kokoda and other self-punishing odysseys.
A good guide to his capacity to reach out to others is his record of briefings on border security. As Immigration Minister, ScoMo was quick to do away with briefings entirely. Or walk out of them. Many were replaced by an occasional memo. Despite commissioning a $330,000 media briefing room in Canberra, next door to DFAT, ScoMo chose never to use it. Instead, from October 2013, weekly briefings were held at commonwealth offices in Sydney, closer to home. Briefings ended, that December, as reports of boat turnbacks came in which the government refused to discuss.
Just keeping the room on standby cost us $100,000 PA. Even the unused door knob cost an impressive $800.
In Canberra, Morrison uses Parliament House facilities for border protection-related pressers.
Yet he takes pride in his work. ScoMo proudly displays in his office a model boat trophy of his defeat of the human need for sanctuary; a refuge-seeker’s right to asylum, typically involving men women and children of Muslim faith.
“I stopped these”, says the inscription on the laser-cut steel trophy. It’s an empty boast. The flow of asylum-seekers travelling by boat slowed to trickle in 2013 when Kevin Rudd made it clear that no refugee or asylum-seeker arriving by boat would be re-settled on the mainland. Morrison was, moreover, one of the key figures in the Abbott opposition who helped frustrate the proposed 2011 Malaysian solution, a decision which led to a surge in numbers of maritime arrivals.
Morrison contends he prevented drownings, of course, but a slogan about boats rather than people helps desensitise us to the reality while distracting from the reality that most asylum-seekers arrive by plane. 18,290 arrived by air seeking asylum in 2016-17 and 27,931 in 2017-18, according to former Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg.
Not only is it faster, it’s cheaper with a flight from Teheran at $1500 compared with $5-10,000 on average for a berth from Java to Christmas Island, although Morrison, Abbott and Dutton would have us believe the boats will start up again any minute, given Labor’s perfidious, Medivac Bill that will also swamp us with paedophiles, rapists and murderers.
Murderers? One of ScoMo’s last acts as Immigration Minister was to refuse permission for Egyptian father of six, Sayed Abdellatif to apply for a visa despite his own department recommending that this be granted. Abdellatif was tried and convicted of murder, firearms offences and destruction of property in absentia, in a show trial which relied upon testimony from his father and brother-in-law, obtained under torture. Interpol removed him from their Red list last year.
But Home Affairs keeps him in gaol. We’ve detained Abdellatif for six years in the Hotham high-security wing of Villawood, an act of sadistic cruelty.
“My case has taken five years to be finalised, it’s ridiculous. It’s not only crushed my hope. It’s torture, he says”
We call it immigration detention but really it is open-ended imprisonment without charge, writes Richard Ackland.
Back in the studio there’s a palpable subtext of injury. “Morrison’s office”, that wonderful cop-out of modern politics, rang Waleed Aly recently and threatened to sue him over his claim that ScoMo urged his party’s shadow cabinet to exploit concerns over Muslim immigration. It’s a hurtful slur which festers.
“Does your Party and your Coalition have a problem of Islamophobia?” asks Aly.
Morrison replies he does not believe the Coalition had a problem with Islamophobia, as if it’s a matter of belief.
“I don’t think the Liberal Party does as a total group. And I don’t think the National Party does either,” he ducks and weaves before abdicating any responsibility as leader of his party for its members’ bigotry.
“Our party is made up of a lot of individuals and in our parties individuals have a lot more freedom to say what they think than other parties. It’s not for the party to answer for every single member on every occasion,” he responds, changing Aly’s question which is perfectly clear. What is he, as PM, going to do about his party members’ islamophobia?
The Project is dedicated to the Wildean premise that while all of us are in the gutter, some of us are pissing ourselves laughing at everyone else’s misfortune but the only joke, tonight, is the PM’s appearance as an angel of mercy.
In thirty minutes – “commercial-free” -ScoMo totally owns the show. A grateful nation rejoices. Gets the good oil; fair-dinkum gospel according to Arthur Brooks, US neo-con think-tanker, man of God and mammon, about how we should “disagree better not less”. ScoMo’s devoted his whole political career to binding and uniting. And denial.
The denials come thick and fast. ScoMo’s never led an anti-Muslim mob in his life. A PM’s can’t be responsible for whatever Tony or George or Peter may say in the heat of the moment. It’s up to branches to put One Nation last on how to vote cards. “We’re a party of individuals, he says, unlike some … (we know who you mean, ScoMo, you sly-digger.)
Why, Scott’s got mates in Lakemba who’ll tell you. He doesn’t have an Islamophobic bone in his body. On cue, the ubiquitous Dr Jamal Rifi, News Corps’s celebrated “moderate Muslim” pops up on Friday on ABC’s The Drum to say just that. Rifi extols Morrison’s compassion and humanity.
Muslims rush to hug him when he rocks on up to the local mosque. Hug one another. That’s what we all should be doing at this troubled time. Just like they do to you down at the intensive care unit when you come in bleeding to death from an AR 16 fired by a white supremacist. St ScoMo, somehow knows that what the nation urgently needs is a bucket full of platitudes and absolutely no action. He won’t attempt to stop the Islamophobia. He can’t.
“So as I said on that first Friday night to Australians; just hug each other tonight. I think we need to keep hugging each other,” the new touchy-feely Morrison, touchy-feelie gropes for what he hopes will be mistaken for compassion.
Hugs are only part of his story. Morrison’s a beacon of ecumenical enlightenment, tolerance and multicultural, inter-fidelity. Just the other day, he took Jenny and the girls to pray at a Coptic church. Put that in your thurible and smoke it.
If he were truly such a huge friend of Islam, Morrison would be acting upon the leaders’ advice. The Islamic Council of Victoria, for example, urges that we need to act upon what is sees as the escalating threat of white extremists.
“We’re not confident they’re taking the threat of far-right extremism as seriously as they do – and I’ll use their terminology, though I don’t like it – Islamist-based or jihadist terrorism,” fears spokesman Adel Salman, who tells The Saturday Paper. “This is a very, very toxic form of white nationalist and white extremist ideology.”
Salman wants governments to publicly condemn Islamophobia. “It’s about time that our authorities … do it seriously,” he says. “They may be doing it behind the scenes, but they need to be taking it up publicly.”
An enchanted nation looks on in wonder as ScoMo, Australia’s most spectacular quick-change artist sets out to convince the nation that he, too, can talk like an Egyptian. If his goat ate your washing, he’d tell you that it wasn’t his goat and it just didn’t happen because Greg Hunt says so and besides you ought to be more careful where you peg out your smalls.