Annika Smethurst recently wrote an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Religion is at the heart of the PM”. What it is, essentially, is an attempt to paint Morrison as a genuine and good guy at heart (despite his “many faults”), while deflecting certain criticisms by throwing them at the Australian Labor Party, making them and their supporters seem hypocritical and antagonistic. In some ways, perhaps, but as someone who says to hell with both factions of the capitalist hegemony, lets throw in a little balance and blunt truths.
Firstly, none of the genuine criticism of Morrison’s faith is that he has it. People have attacked his religion because he and his party have for years now used it as a framework for policy and their worldview, when it’s convenient for them to do so. Tony Abbott was openly religious, opposing SSM, having a severely outdated view of the role of women in society, all while gleefully supporting his “good friend” George Pell as he was on trial for paedophilia.
Morrison is also heavily involved with the Church, abstained from the SSM vote, oversaw the introduction of a “religious freedoms” Bill, and does not appear to view women as human beings unless his wife reminds him about his daughters. Those are just a few loose examples, but it is abundantly clear that his religious leanings, as well as those of some others within the Coalition, do have very real effects on policy and governance, intentional or not. It is not an attack on his faith to call out its influence in a supposedly secular society – it is a criticism of him and his party being unable to separate their private faith from their role as public servants.
That Labor has felt the need to back down on this line of inquiry is disturbing, but is the result of the media and the government being able to twist the narrative. Smethurst’s positive portrayal of Labor having “learnt its lesson” is telling – what would she say if they hadn’t? She then calls those who mustn’t be so enlightened “keyboard warriors”, a phrase I thought was left behind with the right-wing of 2016. What did theses “keyboard warriors” do?
Well, not only did they have the gall to mock Morrison’s story about the eagle thing, they “[attempted] to justify the coverage by linking it to a potential misuse of expenses. [My emphasis].” Not potential, if that little excursion was at the taxpayers’ expense, it was a misuse. She then equated this ACC event to his travel to a mosque in Lakemba after the Christchurch shooting occurred, which she asserts current detractors did not protest.
That may be because this “official”, unpublicised visit to a religious event in Queensland and his statements there are questionable if he was acting in the capacity of Prime Minister, whereas visiting a hurting community during a traumatic event for them is an expected display of unity and compassion from our leaders. Something Morrison is sorely lacking from violence against women to the refugees he so “successfully” stopped from entering the country.
Speaking of refugees.
Smethurst says it is hypocritical to condemn Morrison for not showing compassion towards refugees based on his supposed religious values, but then to also condemn him for abstaining from the SSM vote. This would be a weak argument if it even mattered. Again, his religious beliefs should not be what guides his politics. For the SSM vote, the plebiscite was extremely harmful to the LGBT+ community, some of his religion ran wretched campaigns riddled with misleading and false information, and despite the majority of the population voting “Yes”, he decided to abstain. Because of his religion. In a secular society.
Regarding those seeking asylum, the legal, moral, and compassionate thing to do was to have brought the refugees onshore and had them processed while they lived in the community, with a pathway to citizenship if they desired it. Instead, the Coalition did everything they could to make their world hell. Here, Smethurst also swipes at Labor, particularly Kevin Rudd, on a couple of points. On refugees, she deflects from Morrison by (correctly) stating it was Rudd who introduced offshore detention and said they would not be coming here.
That is true. Under Kevin Rudd, our refugee policy took a bad turn, and as usual, the Coalition made it even worse. Saying “but they did it too” is a poor defence. Keating was the one who introduced mandatory detention as a temporary measure – it didn’t stay temporary, and it got worse under Howard. Maybe some Labor loyalists won’t appreciate or acknowledge these things, but those with a consistent moral compass do notice and call it out no matter who is in charge.
The second point Smethurst makes is about how Rudd called himself a “Christian socialist” and “held press conferences outside church”. Take it from the guy with anarchist in website name, Kevin Rudd was not a socialist, and Labor is not a socialist party. They have, historically, had good social policy, and Gough Whitlam you could make a compelling argument for being socialist, but otherwise no. As for the press conferences outside church, Rudd actually addressed that recently:
Surprise surprise, the media doesn’t mention the media’s role in them. And there is also a slight difference between answering questions outside a church to delivering a sermon/speech.
Smethurst ends the piece by claiming Scott Morrison doesn’t “inflict [his faith] on non-believers”.
She also says there is no political gain from mocking his religion. Sure, but again, it’s not his religion being mocked, at least that’s not the central part of it. It’s the influence his faith has on his worldview and therefore his government’s policy decisions that is being questioned, which it appears the media has made a sin and made synonymous with mockery. Finally, she states: “indulging in such religious bigotry simply creates more room for bigotry and intolerance to thrive.”
Way to blame the victims.
The bigotry and intolerance comes from the current government and the Church as an institution. Those who have been and are being oppressed or silenced by them have every right to call out the powerful sway religion has had over their lives, directly or indirectly. That is not bigotry, that is the people demanding their rights. To misinterpret this as return “bigotry” against religious beliefs is absurd and ignores the genuine concerns they bring up. It defends the powerful at the expense of the weak.
But what else could we possibly expect from Fairfax or the rest of the mainstream media these days?
Liked this? Read The Management of Meaning in Australian Journalism
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