The problem with Scott Morrison is not that he uses his office to implement Christian values. The problem is that he doesn’t.
Few Australian prime ministers have worn their religion on their sleeves as much as Scott Morrison. Australia’s first Pentecostal prime minister declares his Christian belief publicly and frequently. He praises and promotes those of similar views, even to attempting to get into a White House state dinner a person criticised by the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse and later charged with offences relating to failing to report child abuse. His regular participation in the parliamentary prayer group is often the subject of comment. He allowed himself to be filmed at church during the last election campaign. He is very much a public Christian.
And he is criticised on that basis. Some call for a strict separation of church and state, while failing to recognise that Morrison is not acting on behalf of any church. Others accuse him of seeking to implement a Christian agenda in law and policy. Others again say that he is hypocritical, professing Christianity while pursuing anti-Christian policies.
My criticism of Scott Morrison, and it is trenchant criticism, is not that he is using his office to implement Christian values but that he is not. And I don’t see him as hypocritical so much as plain wrong.
The basic issue is how Morrison understands Christianity. The term “Christian” covers a very broad church indeed, far broader than the present Liberal Party’s much-proclaimed broad church. Indeed, many strands of asserted Christianity really can’t be considered Christian, however much their adherents think they are.
We don’t have to revert to the dark days of heresy hunting and inquisitions to be able to acknowledge that some beliefs and values are Christian and some are not. Some beliefs and values are mainstream Christianity, some are peripheral and some are over the edge, outside the ballpark. Mainstream beliefs are those laid down in the Nicene Creed of 325, with some amendments and interpretative differences since. Mainstream Christian values are love, compassion, justice, truth – the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbour, the Golden Rule of doing to others as you would have them do to you. Oh, and forgiveness.
This is where the policies of the Prime Minister run into difficulties. I am commenting not on his beliefs or on his conscience but on his policies. Simply put, they fail the tests of compassion, justice and love. Look at the bloody-minded policies towards asylum seekers that permit people to languish in detention for years and years without end without hope of release, that sentence thousands of children, women and men to indefinite uncertainty and insecurity through permanent temporary protection visas, that use bureaucratic inertia and, it seems, deliberate delay in the processing of visa applications such that people die before they get an answer.
The disgrace following Australia’s defeat in Afghanistan is just the latest example. Australia’s contribution to the evacuation was a shambolic failure that devoted an enormous quantity of resources and yet extracted very few people. And those we did manage to extract were overwhelmingly those we felt deserved extraction — 3200 were Australian citizens and others who assisted our military and diplomatic staff there over the past 20 years and had been successful in going through the extended, painstakingly slow visa assessment process to receive a visa in time, just in time; 800 were evacuated on behalf of ‘our Coalition partners’. And there were about 100 others. We know they included ‘a large number’ of women footballers and athletes (and good on them).
And how many human rights defenders? How many women’s and children’s rights activists? How many anti-corruption campaigners? How many democracy advocates? So far as I am aware, not one. I certainly know that of the 90 staff of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission assessed as being at high risk, not one has been accepted by Australia. I know that the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, France, Germany, the United States and others have taken 43 of the 90 and their families, Australia? Not one. I repeat, not one.
If ever there was a time to fix once and for all the longstanding national disgrace of the asylum seeker policies, this is it. With the borders closed, immigration is zero, a situation causing grave damage to the economy and the prospects of post-pandemic recovery. So far as we are aware, the boats have stopped coming. There can be no possible harm in ending the gross injustice inflicted for a decade on people who arrived by boat before 2013. But, in the context of the Afghanistan disaster, the Prime Minister has said clearly and firmly that there will be no change of policy for Afghans who are here, that temporary visa holders will remain permanently temporary since they will not be returned to Afghanistan ‘at this stage’.
There is no difficulty in a person claiming to be Christian adopting and implementing this policy if that person’s Christianity is based on a Manichaeist view of the world as being irredeemably divided into good and evil, good people and bad people, good people who should be rewarded and bad people who should be punished, here and in the hereafter. Asylum seekers clearly fall into the latter group and so they’ll be punished. By God, they’ll be punished.
This isn’t hypocrisy. It’s fully consistent with this interpretation of Christianity. The problem is that it isn’t Christian. Indeed, it’s no more Christian than the Taliban’s interpretation of the Quran is truly Islam. The Taliban’s version of Islam is fundamentalist and extremist, brutal and medieval, an affront to Islam. This version of Christianity is the same.
Over the years, Scott Morrison has revealed different personae. At the time of the last election, he was the Daggy Dad. People voted for him because he seemed pretty goofy but basically harmless. Then his incessant spinning caused people to remember his professional, pre-parliamentary background and he was seen to be Scotty from Marketing. Now at last we seem to be seeing his true self, Mullah Morrison and his Christian Taliban.
US President Joe Biden is an active Catholic. I am too. The Christian value he has difficulty with is forgiveness. I do too. For him, it’s a battle between his Irish heritage and his Christian faith and the Irish wins out. Biden said last Thursday, after the suicide bombing at Kabul airport, “We will not forgive. We will not forget.” For me it’s my Sicilian heritage that is winning out. I thought of the Morrison government and I said, “I will not forgive. I will not forget.”