God, fire and politics

I was going to do a bookish Christmas post, but have concluded that Christmas is a bit overrated. Besides, a few things have got my goat this week, so a pre-Christmas rant is in order.

On a day of 44 degrees in Melbourne, when half the coastline of the country is ablaze, and NSW is in a state of emergency, my dystopian fantasy of our future world is right on my doorstep and plastered all over the media. Meanwhile, our political leaders continue to bury their heads in the sand about climate change and the environment. I use the term leader loosely as it’s an attribute I feel is sorely lacking among our current political class. The best Scott Morrison seems prepared to offer is thoughts and prayers in its place.

You may be wondering why a fiction writer is having a rant about politics on a blog about writing? As it happens the crime fiction manuscript that I will start querying in the new year has political hypocrisy as one of its central themes, and it is something I am both fascinated and repelled by in the real world as well.

Morrison has gone to some lengths to avoid engaging in discussion about climate change and has pushed his perverse nothing to see here stance while communities are raised, flora and fauna are decimated, and city populations choke on the smoke. Earlier this month the man determined holding a press conference about his controversial Religious Freedoms Bills was more important than showing leadership about the bushfires. The first version of the bills had been heavily criticised by faith and secular groups alike, and I can tell you the second version is no better.

While Sydneysiders were gasping on smoke, Morrison was touting a package of legislation with potential to significantly change Australia. It may prevent many individuals accessing services such as medical, education, employment, aged care, and some commercial services on the basis of their otherness. Not to mention the Isreal Falau clause about how we can interact on social media. It is the most hateful piece of legislation to be tabled in some time.

I find it curious that institutions that were called out on poor governance, lack of transparency, and accountability in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse should now be deemed in need of the types of protections that will enable them to be even more closed and secretive by excluding anyone they view as other from their ranks. It strikes me as a recipe for more festering problems and institutional failure.

The religious freedoms debate started as a knee-jerk reaction to a small group of ultra conservatives railing against a secular state and afraid that allowing gays to marry would cause the sky to fall. After years of preventing progress in this area these conservatives were over ruled by the Australian public who voted in favour of same sex marriage. The religious right were offered a review to assess the state of religious liberty in Australia by the government as a consolation prize for the postal vote on same sex marriage to keep them sweet. Phillip Ruddock was tasked with overseeing the review. The first airing of the reviews outcomes was in the form of leaks of key findings around the time of Malcolm Turnbull’s demise. The leaks exposed the fact existing law already exempted religious groups from discrimination laws and enabled them to discriminate against teachers and students. They could sack teachers and expel students of diverse sexualities already if they chose to – it caused a moment of outrage, that many may have forgotten.

Subsequently Attorney-General Christian Porter was tasked with turning Ruddock’s review into legislation. It took an extraordinarily long time because ultra conservatives did not just want anti-discrimination laws for religious groups, they wanted a positive right to discriminate. Any reasonable person would agree that an individual should not be discriminated against on the basis of their faith, but what the religious right wanted was a weapon to strike out at people they deemed unworthy, like the LGBTI community, not just a shield to protect their faith. The laws are not about freedom to speak ones religion, but freedom for institutions to hire, fire, deny service, insult and humiliate based on an individuals personal characteristics. The cynic in me can’t help thinking Morrison may have chosen that moment on 10th December to announce the bills, with Australia burning in the background, to invoke some kind of symbolic fire and brimstone moment. But in reality who knows what Morrison really thinks about anything (he abstained from voting on same sex marriage)? He appears to be a man who will go wherever the favourable winds of power blow.

On the same day as focussing on a bill few deemed necessary, Morrison insulted volunteer firefighters by downplaying their work. Two CFA volunteers died fighting fires yesterday, and three more were injured. I wonder if Scott still thinks they really want to be doing this job?

…they’re tired, but they also want to be out there defending their communities…

Scott Morrison

All the volunteers were, foregoing income and time with their families to risk their lives fighting fires with often substandard equipment, yet Morrison was more interested in announcing legislation that has never been needed, and has the potential to create great divisions in society.

The wife of a firefighter wrote a heartfelt response to Morrison’s insensitive comments about our volunteer fire fighters that touched on another of Morrison’s blind spots – climate change. The blog has had over 80,000 views in a week. Remember Morrison is the guy who loves coal so much, he took a piece (which had been cleaned) into parliament in order to demonstrate his committment to a carbon-intensive economy and mock those concerned about climate change.

In November Morrison declared the bushfires had nothing to do with climate change and has been actively and publicly trying to shut down climate protesters because he doesn’t like their message, and clearly struggles to understand the science. He’s since made some concessional comments that climate change may be a factor, though I suspect that’s because he’s afraid of losing public support, he must have felt the winds changing. One wonders if he is confusing his own beliefs with science. He’s a Pentecostal. The evangelic religion emphasises the idea of the Rapture – that when it arrives, the chosen will ascend to heaven while the rest of us suffer the Tribulation – fires, floods and famines that will kill most of us, while he and his fellow chosen believers wait for the Second Coming.

Meanwhile, Scott has packed up his family and gone off on holidays. I don’t actually resent Scott having a holiday, we all need one now and then after all, but the act does expose a nasty element in his makeup and a big hypocritical black hole in the mans psyche. You might think that comment a bit harsh, but let me take you back to the Black Saturday fires that started on 7 February 2009 in Victoria.

I remember the day well as I was at home and could see the red orb thrown by the fires over the King Lake Ranges from my house. Apparently my town was spared by ten minutes and a wind change, my cousin wasn’t so lucky – her place burnt to the ground. In the aftermath, when people were looking for answers, and perhaps a few scapegoats, an ambitious young politician called Scott Morrison made an appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program and had a few things to say about the fact that Police Chief Christine Nixon left the incident room and went out to dinner that night.

“She’s clearly made a bad judgement call. That happens to people from time to time, but this was a very serious issue…I think there are very serious concerns in the community about exercising judgement, and it’s incumbent on all of us in public life to make decisions following that in the best interests of the ongoing nature of the program.”

Scott Morrison, Q&A 2010

Christine Nixon ultimately lost her job over the dinner decision. The comments then, and Morrison’s actions now, are an indication of the shallowness of the mans convictions. Ultimately he’s simply playing the politician, but his actions in recent weeks also call his judgement into questions based on his own benchmark. The image I have of Morrison lands somewhere between a crazed religious zealot determined to impose his beliefs on all of us, and Nero fiddling while Rome burns. The BBC delivered an interesting summary on Australia’s leadership failure on climate this week.

He’s not my Prime Minister, never was, never will be. I just hope the rest of Australia wakes up to his disastrous Prime Ministership soon and vote someone in capable of real leadership on the big challenges of our time.

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