MUNGO MacCALLUM. ScoMo needs damaging distractions – to distract from even more damaging ones.

Jan 22, 2019

However strenuously our Prime Minister insists that he is talking quietly and respectively to constituents about the real issues that concern them, the real ScoMo always lurches shoutily into the headlines.

Last week, barely emerging from an estivation all too brief for the weary voters, Morrison the Marketeer flung himself straight into the culture wars, parading what he imagined was his patriotic authenticity but which looked more like just another episode of dog whistling and wedge politics.  

Citizenship ceremonies, he trumpeted, would be held on January 26 or never, and what’s more people who attended them were to dress properly – no thongs or board shorts, although he failed to mention whether Chinese-made baseball caps would be acceptable.

And there was to be no conversation, no consultation and definitely no argument. “These are my standards, these are my rules,” he proclaimed flatly, although it would have been nice if he had mentioned them a little earlier, before the 100 odd councils who have other ideas had their preparations so far advanced.

But the point is that while they may well be Morrison’s rules, they are not the law of the land, and if Morrison wants his ukase to be fact rather than rhetoric, he will have to pass legislation to do so.

This would be divisive and messy at the best of times, which these most certainly are not. There are precious few days of the parliament left before we break into full campaign mood, and wasting some of them on a silly gesture intended to ensure conservative political correctness would be at best self-indulgent and in any case an unnecessary distraction by a confused electorate which is still trying to work out just who he is, and more importantly why.

For the vast majority of Australians—the ones Morrison relentlessly harangues in the pubs which will allow him entry – our national day is essentially an excuse for a holiday and a piss up. Unsurprisingly they don’t want to lose it, which is why the loaded polls devised by reactionaries generally provide a large majority demanding no change.

This is instantly interpreted as wholehearted support for celebrating the anniversary of the date when Arthur Phillip arrived to found a British convict colony, or, as they prefer to call it, the beginning of the greatest nation in the history of the universe. In fact the push polls show nothing of the kind; all they say is that most people enjoy an extra day off in summer, and if the date were to be changed very few would make a fuss – except, of course, for those Morrison derides as living in the Canberra bubble, or more correctly the Liberal Party room.

The idea that citizenship ceremonies are to be restricted by fiat, and that they are the exclusive property of the prime minister of the day would be regarded as absurd, quite apart from being essentially undemocratic; citizenship is indeed a precious and valuable right, but it belongs to the people of Australia, not to the executive government, let alone the head of it.

And the fact, if Morrison can be bothered to check it out, is that there are many citizenship ceremonies performed throughout the course of the year; Australia Day is simply the most publicised. As the president of the Local Government Association, David O’Loughlin, has pointed out, some councils have such ceremonies every month,

There is nothing sneaky about this, nor has it ever been attacked for eroding Australia Day, as Morrison conspiratorially opined. Some of it is just to ensure cooler weather – this is why some councils happily hold their ceremonies on the eve of our National Day, which, incidentally, is the practice Morrison’s government has pursued over the release of the embargoed Honours List and the non-embargoed award of the Australian of the Year.

Morrison the marketeer knows that this is the best way to attract maximum media exposure, which is no doubt why he flung his challenge to Bill Shorten to stand up for January 26 rather than trying to justify his own hypernationalism. Shorten replied calmly that he was not planning to change the date, but he had better things to do than play debating games with the over-excited prime minister.

But the Greens leader, Richard di Natale, took the bait and offered himself and his colleagues to conduct the ceremonies Morrison purported to ban — he had advice from the parliamentary library that under the current rule ceremonies and did not need the permission of the prime minster or anyone else.

This was immediately contested by Peter Dutton, whose spokespud produced an admonitory chat: ceremonies, she said, must be approved by the Department of Home Affairs. The implication was that Dutton remained the final arbiter: the supreme Sebago, the paramount Pontiac, the irresistible Idaho.

But as so often, the assertion was exaggerated. Dutton and David Coleman, the embarrassingly silent Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, can make the process more difficult – for instance, withholding the official list of those eligible for citizenship. But if they want to stymie di Natale altogether, they will have to change the rules, as even Matthias Corman acknowledged and Dutton (and presumably Morrison) should have known — and good luck with that with a few sitting days left and a potentially recalcitrant senate crossbench.

So yet another of Morrison’s wizard wheezes seems destined to collapse in a heap, yet another distraction from what he keeps telling us is his tireless efforts to serve the Australian people. Of course, it is entirely Shorten’s fault; he wants Australia Day as we know it to fade away when he should be standing up for January 26.

And with amazing chutzpah Simon Birmingham opined sanctimoniously that Australia Day should not be about politics. What a pity he did not tell his leader before he floated his latest lead balloon; it might have saved another wasted week.

But at least it helped mask the report of the Audit Office’s damning assessment of the mammoth grant of taxpayers money to the Barrier Reef Foundation without tender or due diligence and with enormous administrative costs.

That’s why ScoMo needs damaging distractions – to distract from even more damaging ones.

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