What a pointless week/Government

The national mood is one of treading water, of unease, of disquiet, of perpetually waiting for an ending that never comes. An end to the pandemic; an end to this particular iteration of cruel and pointless politics and its cruel and pointless politicians; an end to the anxieties triggered by both. This week, the Morrison Government, a strange union of strange units, took time out of its breezy summer schedule undermining itself to push for more of this pointless cruelty. 

Private schools and religions have never needed any help discriminating against minorities or tormenting children whatsoever, and yet ensuring they can continue to do this was the main focus of the Morrison Government during an all-too-rare parliamentary sitting week in the dwindling days of its first and hopefully last full term in office. 

The Religious Discrimination Bill, designed cynically to ensure trans kids were excluded from protection against religious discrimination, was introduced, debated at length, amended, and ultimately abandoned when amendments – supported by five floor-crossing government MPs – went so far as to actually protect against religious discrimination. It’s a weird one. You could be forgiven for not having a fucking clue what’s going on in Canberra right now. The answer is simultaneously “too much” and “not very much at all”. 

This bill was not part of a bold vision for the nation. The government does not have one of those. Attorney General Michaelia Cash suggested fashion and plumbing difficulties as justification for its existence – “Matters such as uniforms, bathrooms, as well as the wishes of other parents to send their children to a single-sex school would need to be addressed” – providing yet another endless example of conservatives fixating on dunnies at every single step along the road to a more tolerant society. I have no idea why they’re like this. 

But this bill was not really about dunnies. It was an attempt to appease religious conservative lobby groups like the Australian Christian Lobby and, more pressingly politically, wedge the ever-wedgable Labor Party on religion, on minority rights, on issues the ALP would rather not talk about loudly during an election campaign. That Labor managed to avoid this fate speaks more to the disunity within the government and the heinous nature of this bill than it does to any 4D chess mastery on the part of Anthony Albanese. 

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With a whole lot of nothing achieved this week, Scott Morrison, “ScoMo” in his mythic form, husband of Jenny, father of “and the kids”, eventual understander that rape is bad, was understandably too busy to attend a scorching National Press Club address by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and former Australian of the Year Grace Tame. Neither had particularly flattering things to say about him. 

Higgins decried Morrison’s PR-led response to her sexual assault (which, for the record, is his response to everything else), saying, “I didn’t want his sympathy as a father; I wanted him to use his power as Prime Minister”. Tame, wielder of the nation’s most potent side-eye, dropped the bombshell that she received a phone call from a senior member of a government-funded organisation warning her not to criticise the Prime Minister in the lead up to this election. Thus far, she has not taken this advice to heart.  

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame during a morning tea for state and territory recipients in the 2022 Australian of the Year Awards at The Lodge in Canberra, Tuesday, January 25, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

It’s almost impossible to fathom that Morrison is Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister since John Howard. That he has lasted longer than Kevin07, Gillard, Kevin13, Abbott and Turnbull feels discordant with reality. Admittedly, the pandemic has taken up 700 odd days of his 1,267 as Prime Minister, and we’re all actively trying to repress this period, but the real reason this is so difficult to parse is because he hasn’t done all that much of anything with his time. 

Where John Howard, a smart and small xenophobic man, used his time to cunningly re-engineer Australia’s national identity and foundational myths into crueller, stupider, more jingoistic forms, Morrison has simply held that course on autopilot, capitalising wherever possible on the cruelty, stupidity and jingoism, and continuing to transfer as much public money into private hands as possible, because that’s why the Liberal Party exists. 

Albanese, a man who in fairness hasn’t done terribly much as Opposition Leader either, pointed to Morrison’s proud lack of a legacy with bemusement at his own National Press Club address three weeks ago. I admit I have little love for the ALP presently: their modern brand of cowardly cruelty while feigning sorrow and remorse and hoping no one notices the outcome isn’t all that different – refugees in indefinite detention; voting with the government on some truly terrible things to avoid getting viciously Murdoched; decades of embracing neoliberal wealth hoovering at the expense of the working class – is enough to make anyone who gives half a shit lose faith in parliamentary politics entirely. But they do appear to at least want to do the job, and in this low-bar epoch of Australian politics, this must be considered an improvement. It is an improvement. 

At the end of Morrison’s tenure – and, again, I sincerely hope this is the end – there is little to show for his time in the big chair. Nothing was built. The states took precedence over the federation. There were fires, there was a plague, there were rapes; all were met with excuses, slogans, outsourcing, waste, deflection, and spin. All of this will evaporate with time, leaving behind only a staggering quantity of context-lacking photographs of a strange smiling man in his kitchen and the shattered lives of those he left behind.  

Pointless and casually cruel. Reactive and uninterested. A substitute teacher of a Prime Minister, the nation plonked in front of a wheeled-out CRT television and a VHS tape of the same three Simpsons episodes on a loop, the curriculum ignored while he rattles through lockers and drawers looking for shiny things to share with his mates after class – mates who all seem to think he’s a horrible person, a liar, and a bit of psycho. Rather than viewing this void of a week as a whole lot of isolated nothing, consider it a microcosm for the Morrison Government’s entire existence. 



Dave Milner
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twitter: @DaveMilbo
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