ROSS GITTINS.Scott Morrison,Easter and the pandemic(SMH 13.4.2020)

Since it’s Easter, let me tell you about something that’s long puzzled me: how can an out-and-proud Pentecostalist such as Prime Minister Scott Morrison be leading the most un-Christian government I can remember? Fortunately, however, the virus crisis seems to be bringing out his more caring side.

Many people think being a Christian means being obsessed with sexual matters – abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage – plus, these days, their human right to discriminate against people who don’t share their sexual taboos.

But if you read the four gospels recording what Jesus did and said, one message you get is one rarely emphasised by his modern-day, generally better-off followers. Jesus was always on about the plight of the poor, and was surprisingly tough on the rich.

Jesus gave his followers a new commandment, that they love one another. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Asked who was the neighbour we should love as our self, he told the parable of a despised Samaritan, who rescued a man bleeding in a ditch while two upright church-goers “passed by on the other side”.

Jesus said he came to “proclaim the good news to the poor”. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. . . But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”

To the rich he advised: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”

Jesus blessed those who had been kind to others: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

The Prime Minister says the government will pay employers to pay their staff to deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus, something no Australian government has done before.

When a young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, he said: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But the young man “was shocked, and went away grieving, for he had many possessions”.

All this compares badly with the actions of the Coalition government, in which Morrison has always played a senior role. As minister for immigration, he was more ruthless than Labor in turning away strangers who came by boat seeking asylum. Those who did make it were treated harshly, to ensure any further strangers got the message about how unwelcome they’d be.

A lot of people like to divide the poor between the deserving and the undeserving. Like Labor before it, the Coalition has pandered to this un-Christian attitude. It favours “lifters” over “leaners”. Morrison himself introduced the ethical code that only those judged to have “had a go” will “get a go”.

The deserving poor are people on the age pension; the undeserving are the unemployed, single parents and probably most of those claiming the disability support pension. I went out and found a job; what’s stopping them doing the same except their own laziness?

Labor always pandered to the widespread “downward envy” of the jobless, but the Coalition has doubled down, reintroducing work for the dole despite all the reports saying it does nothing to improve people’s employability, making people run down their savings and wait longer to be eligible for the dole, making people prove they’ve approached an unreasonable number of employers each fortnight and suspending their payment if they fail, or miss an appointment for any reason. Not to mention the “robo-debt” scandal.

The Coalition wants to control how people spend the dole by paying them by card rather than cash. It wants regular drug testing of those on the dole. And it has steadfastly resisted widespread public pressure to increase the paltry amount of the dole, even though Labor has finally been shamed into abandoning its own longstanding hardheartedness.

But now, however, having adopted the slogan “we’re all in this together” – one beloved of my co-religionists in the Salvos – in his battle against the virus, Morrison seems to have had a change of heart. Whereas Kevin Rudd studiously avoided including the unemployed in his two cash splashes, Morrison has included them with other welfare recipients in his two $750 payments.

His temporary “coronavirus supplement” effectively doubles the rate of unemployment benefits to about $550 a week. He must know that returning the dole to $40 a day after six months won’t be politically possible. Meanwhile, his temporary JobKeeper payment of a flat $750 a week undercompensates higher wage earners while overcompensating lower wage earners, including many casuals.

In all, a Christlike turn for the good.

Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.

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Economics Editor, Sydney Morning Herald.

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