Morrison, China and Aged Care

It has always been difficult to read Scott Morrison’s motives. Many attribute his hard line policies and actions, and his intolerance of dissent, or criticism, to his religion, but that seems too simplistic.

His religion, for example, did not seem to hobble him when he imposed his will on asylum seekers, and their children. It has never softened his stance on any social issue. In his own words, “the Bible is not a policy handbook, and I get very worried when people try to treat it like one.” The mistake observers make is to expect Christian values to colour his political ambitions.

In fact, in November 2014, the Australian Human Rights Commission delivered a report to the (Abbott) Government, which found that Morrison failed in his responsibility to act in the best interests of children in detention during his time as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

This was also the era of his nonsensical, and contemptuous, insistence that he would not “comment on operational matters” when asked about boat turn-backs. They were “on-water matters”, which is in itself preposterous, as he was actually sending armed patrol vessels out to duel with overloaded, leaky fishing boats. He used many Australian flags as a backdrop, but was that merely marketing, or was he using nationalistic fervour to legitimise his callous disregard for vulnerable human beings?

Morrison was responsible for Aged Care in 2015
In December 2014 he became Minister for Social Services. At the same time Aged Care was transferred into that portfolio. The Shadow Minister, Jenny Macklin, indicated that “Scott Morrison was appointed to clean up Kevin Andrew’s (the previous Minister’s) mess, but left behind more chaos, confusion and cuts“.

It was during this period that the free market Aged Care Roadmap was introduced, and regulations were drastically cut under the guise of reducing red tape. Needless to say, during Morrison’s time in the role, there was rapid deterioration in an already flawed aged care system.

Morrison is an avowed neoliberal, and the signposts are there for us all to see. Free market, roadmap, cut regulations, reduce funding, user pays, the market will right any wrong, less state involvement. As his rise continued, there was no impediment. He was to be the Treasurer the following year, so the decisions were his to make. He was not a victim of a cost-cutting Leader; he was the cost-cutter. Was this another episode of callous disregard for vulnerable human beings?

Morrison on the international stage
Scott Morrison has never been an expert in foreign affairs. His first foray into the area was in October 2017. That was when he blundered into supporting Donald Trump, by controversially recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the intention of eventually moving Australia’s embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem.

Again, his motive is difficult to read. Was he merely slavishly follow his mentor, Donald Trump, who had flagged his intention to move the U.S. Embassy; or was his announcement made to sway voters in the upcoming Wentworth by-election? The Liberals lost.

Morrison was forced to back-track, but not before he had upset Palestine, Indonesia, most of the Muslim world, and most of South East Asia. But he had pleased Trump.

Morrison and China
By April 14, 2020 Donald Trump was in the midst of a war of words with China. He was claiming it had released the virus from a laboratory, and that it had been hiding facts about its origin, and any(?) treatments. He had accused it of either duping the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) or of working hand in glove with them. This was at odds with his earlier praise for their efforts to defeat the virus. He announced that he would withdraw funding from the W.H.O.

Morrison then weighed in on Trump’s side. His Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, presumably at Morrison’s behest, demanded an “independent, global investigation” of the virus and its origins, on April 19. Morrison and Trump spoke by phone on April 22, and Morrison then went global with the demand. The problem was that Australia went it alone, with no supporters.

Not surprisingly, China responded badly. It saw Australia as supporting Trump blindly. At a time when China had suffered over 3000 deaths from the virus, as opposed to our less than 100, it was an insensitive and stupid move. In one fell swoop, we had made the choice between the U.S. and China. This was the choice we had always refused to participate in. For good reason.

To make matters worse, Morrison and several of his Ministers have dug the hole deeper for us. Rattling the saber, exploiting Australians’ larrikin nationalism, he even signalled a change in our defence orientation, from insular defence to long range offensive capabilities. Against China?

One of the Coalition Government’s perceived strengths has been on security matters. It is playing to that advantage when it exploits community fears about the rise of China, and China as a threat. It also takes the public’s mind off the pandemic.

Morrison has blown national consensus away
Morrison and his Cabinet have gradually, but inexorably, withdrawn their support from Daniel Andrews. and Victoria. National consensus has been thrown overboard, in the interest of deflecting attention away from Morrison’s ultimate responsibility for Aged Care. And that is not a recent responsibility. It stretches back, to 2015, and even further, to 1997, when the sector was essentially sold off, by John Howard. Aged Care is a millstone around the Coalition’s neck, and most of us have someone who is affected.

Background Paper 8 – A History of Aged Care Reviews, prepared by The Office of the Royal Commission into Aged Care, 28 October 2019 posed this:

The overarching question that arises is why, after all these reviews, the aged care system still fails to support an appropriate quality life for the most frail and vulnerable members of our community.

So the question is whether Morrison is destroying our relationship with China, our largest trading partner, as a means to flatter and mollify Trump, or is it just another cynical deflection, so that he can duck accountability?

Either way, he is sabotaging our response to the pandemic, sabotaging our economic recovery, and risking us being drawn into a hot war. Because as the U.S. election draws nearer, nothing would suit Trump more than a ‘little war’ with China. And as we all know, if America goes to war, so do we.

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Mark Buckley is a writer based in regional Victoria. He has a particular interest in politics, history and ethics in public life. He blogs at www.askbucko.com

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