We have in Scott Morrison a Liberal Party leader who “sold” himself to the nation on the basis of “stopping the boats” and dehumanising, then indefinitely imprisoning, asylum seekers. Now this same “leader” is stirring transphobic bigotry, using the lowest means to try to again secure the nation’s highest office.
What does it say about the seriousness of political discussion in Australia when one of the most insubstantial and arguably unworthy candidates in this 2022 Election is attracting far more attention than those with policy commitments that could change the nation?
I am referring, of course, to Katherine Deves. She may be remarkably uninteresting in herself as Scott Morrison’s personally chosen Liberal candidate for the NSW seat of Warringah but she is also startlingly effective as the frontwoman for “Christian” attitudes that are ignorant, deeply harmful, and should have no part in the inclusive, tolerant society Australia claims to be.
Ironies abound here. The current member for Warringah is Zali Steggal, an effective Independent who won a formerly “safe” Liberal seat from Tony Abbott at least in part because of the former Prime Minister’s entrenched views denying the right of all to marriage equality. The drearily authoritarian, patriarchal version of Catholicism embraced by Abbott, and vigorously defended by Cardinal George Pell and the current Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, does not reflect the views of all Catholics. Perhaps not even of the majority. Nor does an obdurate close-mindedness on climate action speak to those who see this as the major of many crises with which we must deal intelligently and urgently.
That Abbott was self-evidently way out of step with the people of Warringah might have given Morrison and the NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet, pause when selecting their Liberal candidate to run against Steggal and wrench the seat back for Liberals.
Perrottet is, though, himself a conservative Catholic with strong, public links to Opus Dei (as discussed in this article I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald six months ago). Perhaps he was unable to see or didn’t know that Deves would become a lightning rod for unacceptably transphobic and homophobic views already rejected in that electorate. Yet, as little as I admire Perrottet – especially for his “protection” of the economy before citizens’ health and wellbeing – it is difficult to believe that in favouring Deves, he was knowingly endorsing Morrison’s signalling to prospective Liberal voters way beyond Warringah, and most particularly in NSW various “bible belts”.
The deceptions here are manifold and reflect an ethical vacuum entirely consistent with Morrison’s behaviour throughout the term of his leadership. The leader of the Liberal Party continues to insist that he is “standing by” a woman who is “defending” women and girls’ sport. And that this is “all about” fairness of opportunity.
Even devotees of Santa would find this ingenuousness hard to stomach. Deves, within hours of her pre-selection, was shown to have waged a long-term obsessive battle on two fronts, via social media. Her attacks are 1) against trans people whom she misunderstands and insults on many fronts – trans women’s participation in sport only one of them; 2) against surrogacy, which Deves described as “reproductive prostitution”.
Deves seems particularly agitated about gay couples using surrogacy, so much so that she accused Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation, and his husband Chasten, of a “human rights violation” to satisfy a “vanity project” after the couple became parents of twins – born not by surrogacy, as Deves assumed, but adopted.
Let’s think about this. It is so painfully recent that gay couples could enjoy any of the family and couple freedoms as those who are heterosexual. It is just as recent that those who are LGBTQ+ can enjoy any easing of the bigotry, prejudice, hounding and dangers that have curtailed their choices, cost them safety and sometimes their lives. Christian churches have much to atone for here: driving harm and often benefitting from it by situating themselves as moral arbiters, despite their own scandals of abuse and exploitation.
For Morrison to be in such floridly “supportive” mode when it comes to Deves shows clearly that his own narrow prejudices are integral to who he is. And that he, a self-professed “Christian”, has no hesitation in honing in on exactly those prejudices to win votes for himself and his “tattered rabble” of a political party, as a notable ex-Liberal has called them.
The pathetic pretence that this is about women and girls’ sport and not the far deadlier “sport” of diminishing and dehumanising others should deceive no one. And if the not-too-bright Perrottet was at least somewhat initially deceived about Morrison’s (and Alex Hawke’s) signalling to “religious voters” via Deves, then he has caught up fast. He is reported as saying, “I have a very strong view that people should have rights to raise issues and have public debate without being cancelled. And I agree with what the Prime Minister said yesterday. I think Australians are sick of treading on eggshells.”
If there has been any eggshell treading – or any hint of care or understanding – when it comes to authoritarian, conservative “Christian” attitudes to gay and trans people, then that evidence is sparse. Where we do have real evidence is that trans people are currently among the most vulnerable among all marginalised groups. The UCLA School of Law (Williams Institute) reported in September 2021: “Studies have found that around 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetimes and that 30% of transgender youth have attempted suicide in the past year.” Thirty per cent in one year.
But hey, Australia, if the marketing man with unquenched Murdoch media support thinks he can sell his “pitch” on the basis of crude perceptions and callous indifference to the humanity of those he marginalises, he will do so. 21 May cannot come soon enough.