Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.
Alice: The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.
Humpty Dumpty: The question is which is to be master — that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.
I’m knackered. Long drive from Barradine RSL to Cronulla, in southern Sydney. It’s blistering hot and millions of cars are on the road. I’ve been following the struggling nostalgia band, Little Johnny and the Trumpettes. They have come off the RSL circuit to do a benefit concert at Scotty (“Holidays”) Morrison’s church, to raise money for the descendants of the First Fleet, who apparently are still doing it rough. Bless the band.
So here I am in Stapleton Avenue in the Sutherland Shire, outside Scotty’s Pentecostal church, The Horizon. The band hasn’t turned up yet, giving me time to go over the questions I hope I can pose to Scotty. He rebuffed me in Barradine. But I’ll persist. I particularly want to ask him how his twin faiths in Pentecostalism and capitalism have shaped his conservatism. I think he’s going to be a hard nut to crack. Scotty, like the rest of the band, has dabbled in the dark art of linguistic deception.
That is why many of our political leaders are strangers to us. What we know about them comes from very tight scripts. Every now and then they let slip something that comes from deep within. Then we know them. They are rare gotcha moments for us.
Take Joey “(Chuckles”) Hockey, the hot air bassoonist with Little Johnny & the Trumpettes. Back in the day, as Treasurer, he rode shotgun for Tony (“Lizard”) Abbott. But he was no good at it. His 2014 budget punched consumer confidence to the floor. Through cigar smoke, he saw his world. There were only two kinds of people in it, the “leaners” and the “lifters”.
And the “leaners” weren’t the corporates pushing their snouts into the fathomless trough of tax breaks, business concessions and tax-deductible payments for VIP access. The “leaners” were the poor on miserable benefits. He’d often see them huddled outside the Darlinghurst Centrelink as he was chauffeured from his North Sydney home to the airport. As soon as the cigar smoke left the car, he would quickly wind the window up again.
In justifying that his plan to un-freeze the tax on petrol would not disproportionately hurt lower-socio economic Australians, “Chuckles” said: “The poorest people don’t drive cars or don’t drive very far.” Heavy. But thank you, Joey, for revealing your true self.
“Holidays” Morrison, the spoon man for the band, sometimes says what he genuinely believes. When Scotty had a shot at being prime minister, he knew that each year Australia/Invasion Day was becoming more controversial and schismatic. “How can I, as a leader, take the temperature of this day down”? He pondered.
“I know! I’ll dazzle them with my history credentials.” In answer to a question in the days leading up to the 2021 Day, he said, “You know the first Australia Day in 1788 was not a particularly flash day for those on the First Fleet.” “That will do it,” he thought to himself with unmasked satisfaction. Nuh. Sorry, “Holidays”. Still not reading the room.
But what it did do, and we thank you sincerely for your honesty, was to lay out one of your Colgate white core beliefs. A rare thing for you to do as you usually convey your views on hot button issues with circumspection and cunning because it is apparent that an increasing number of Australians do not buy your view of the world.
You know your words are emissaries to the ears of your listeners. They either like or dislike what they hear. You must choose your words carefully from your dog-eared George Orwell dictionary of political obfuscation. So, when you referenced “progress” in your 2021 Australia/Invasion Day speech it was code. But we know how to break the codes of conservative speak.
When you say “progress”, you mean economic profit and expansion with minimal government oversight. You have in your head the financial performance and the economic achievements of Rio Tinto and other government-loved conglomerates. It certainly does not mean “progress” to reduce poverty, “progress” to clean up the banks, “progress” to harmonise with China, “progress” in facing up to climate catastrophe, “progress” in tackling elder abuse, “progress” to close tax autobahns used by the rich and “progress” in stopping political bribery – what you call “donations”. No, there is no “progress” on these, and every time you use that word to refer to them you are lying to us.
Your skill in the dark art was present in another prime ministerial moment. Every Australian prime minister who has visited the White House since the Cold War has come on his knees. We can see that when we unpack Scotty’s speech on the White House Lawn in September 2019.
- Australia shared the “truths and traditions” of America and saw the world “through the same lens”. Not only is this statement historically rebuttable but it is cast at such a low level of generality to render it meaningless. This fiction has been repeated by every prime minister since John Curtin.
- “We believe in the capacity of enterprise and free markets to create wealth and lift all” … Standard capitalist sales pitch. Perhaps Scotty should have checked out the American poverty rate.
- “…and for free and fair trade to bring nations closer together…” There is no evidence for this. In fact, competition produces tensions and disharmony between trading nations.
- “We believe that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed and that the ballot box and democracy is the surest foundation for peace and security.” Did anyone see the look on Trump’s face when Scotty said this?
Morrison used the speech to argue the world was a better place because America was “living out its moral purpose” and making the countries of the world more prosperous. “The new economies of the world, lifting hundreds of millions from poverty, do so because they saw the United States define a century and do it first, and then invited and supported them to follow.”
So hyperbolic, so cringing.
Anyway, the band has just pulled up and is unloading the stacked-up Commodore station wagon. The senior pastors, Brad and Alison Bonhomme are greeting them. I’ll have to bide my time to try to get answers from Scotty as to how he knits the woof of capitalism into the warp of Pentecostalism to produce a working prime minister.