The divisive Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison

Whose side are you on?

In an instant, it’s both an aggressive and divisive question, demanding a choice between the favourable and the unfavourable, the good and the bad. Whose side? Your side or mine? Black or white? Haves or have nots? Rich or poor? Hard working or lazy? Left or right?

In sporting terms, it’s the most base form of tribalism: Arsenal or Hotspur? Collingwood or Carlton? Cronulla or Canterbury? Wanderers or Sydney FC? Perhaps in sport and athletic pursuits, it might be acceptable to choose sides, although we should never forget that in its extreme forms, it leads to events such as the Heysel Stadium disaster, when 39 football fans were killed and 600 were injured during a wave of extreme football hooliganism and violence.

That’s sport: but politics and societies are supposed to be different. Of course, communities tend to form into social classes and ‘sides’, although it’s essential in good functioning democracies for political leaders to ensure that all sides and class structures in a community work towards common goals.

Life is more complicated than sport when it comes to choosing sides, but politics rarely deals with the complexities of life and so it came to be this week when the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, reduced the role of the citizen in Australia to one simple choice: whose side are you on?

It’s not a unifying question, it promotes division through the corollary: if you’re not on our side, whose side are you on? It’s simpleton’s language, but this is the trope that will be used by Morrison and Liberal Party until the next federal election, due in 2022.

In the absence of any realistic political agenda for the next three years, Morrison is using that old conservative ruse of appearing to seek unity within the community, while doing everything possible to create divisions and prise open the fractures that appear across every minor fault line.

The history of this goes back to his first media conference after he became Prime Minister in August 2018, when Morrison asked the question: “Whose side am I on?”. To which he answered: “We’re on your side. I’m on the side of the Australian people”.

The Australian flag lapel on Scott Morrison’s suit: it’s manufactured overseas.

He even went so far to attach an Australian flag lapel pin to his suit to remind himself “every single day” whose side he was on.

But there are only a select few Morrison is siding with and, generally, it’s not too many members within the Australian community.

So whose side is he on?

Morrison is on the side of high-income earners in the over $200,000 bracket – less than 1 per cent of the community – because, according to Morrison, “hard working people deserve a tax cut”, and he’s on the side of those claiming franking credit tax refunds, even when they haven’t paid any tax in the first instance – a policy which now costs the Budget $6 billion per year.

He’s also on the side of religious zealots, who claim they haven’t enough freedom to practice their religious beliefs, including the right to discriminate against other people based on these personal religious beliefs. These are the same zealots who have demanded a Religious Discrimination Act, and it’s a piece of legislation Morrison is likely to give to them.

He’s on the side of climate change denialism and on the side of the large mining companies that consistently donate to the Liberal Party coffers to ensure key policy decisions aren’t implemented to affect their business models.

And closer to home, he’s on the side of the Minister for Energy, Angus Taylor, who is rapidly becoming embroiled in allegations of corruption and scandals relating to properties and assets he and his family have direct interests in.

He’s also on the side of Liberal backbencher, Craig Kelly, who wants the family home to be included as part of the pension assets test.

He’s on the side of Liberal–National MP, George Christensen, who spent $1,600 to travel to the Great Barrier Reef to meet with the right-wing enfant terrible celebrity racist, Lauren Southern, whose infamy includes distributing ‘Allah is gay’ flyers, provoking migrant communities in Canada, Britain and Australia, and promoting the Great Replacement conspiracy theory.

It’s obvious he’s on the side of the likes of Raheem Kassam, the former editor of the ‘fake news’ website, Breitbart, and the supporter of Holocaust denialism, Matt Gaetz. Both are appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney, and Morrison claims their appearance relates to freedom of speech issues and Liberal MPs and backbenchers who wish to participate do have a right to hear their repugnant sexist viewpoints and philosophies.

He’s on the side of the banking industry, voting 26 times against the creation of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, an inquiry which uncovered a wide range of theft, illegalities and unethical banking practices across many Australian financial institutions, including stealing funds from people who had died and the inadvertent funding of terrorist organisations.

He’s on the side of Liberal MPs Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert, who were forced to resign for ministerial impropriety during the era of the Turnbull government, but have been brought back into Cabinet since the 2019 election victory in May.

These are the sides Scott Morrison has chosen and once sides are chosen, it means there’s a wide range of sides that miss out. And which sides are they?

He’s most definitely not on the side of recipients of Newstart, asking this week: “are we increasing Newstart, well the answer is no we are not” and claiming the calls to increase the Newstart allowance by $75 per week were simply a matter of “unfunded empathy”.

Mark Riley interviews Scott Morrison, where he announces he will not increase the Newstart allowance.

To emphasise that this definitely is not their chosen side, the Morrison government messaged the newsroom of Channel 7 with details of how 78 per cent of Newstart recipients had their payments suspended at least once – without providing the reasons for why this might have occurred – which Channel 7’s Sunrise program duly reported as “many dole bludgers are trying to take advantage of the welfare system”.

Morrison then proceeded to end this week’s Question Time session by suggesting he would bring in legislation to implement drug tests on Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients, and would resurrect a plan from 2017 to test sewerage to find traces of drug usage amongst these target groups.

He’s not on the side of Indigenous Australians, dismissing a referendum to include Indigenous references within the Constitution and already vetoing the ‘voice to parliament’, erroneously claiming it would “create a third chamber of parliament”.

He’s not on the side of low-income employees or those who are seeking a wage rise, consistently ruling out a rise in the minimum wage while he was Treasurer, and denying there was actually an issue.

He’s not on the side of asylum seekers or refugees, implementing a secret and harsh regime on Manus Island and Nauru while he was Minister for Immigration, and now seeking to repeal the asylum seeker medical evacuation legislation, which allows for medically unwell asylum seekers on those islands to be treated on mainland Australia.

And he’s not on the side of those who seek cohesion and solutions for how to unify the community. Like Liberal Party Prime Ministers that have preceded him – Robert Menzies, John Howard and Tony Abbott – Morrison seeks to create divisions within the community, and nothing has been more apparent than the question he revisited this week, calling for the Australian community to take sides.

There were 84 references to “on your side” in Parliament this week. There were also 16 ‘Dorothy Dixers’ which asked the Prime Minister and assorted government ministers: “whose side are you on” over a wide range of issues, including digital platforms, child exploitation, energy, roads, drought, taxes, education and childcare. And, of course, the correct answer was always: “we’re on the side of Australians”.

It’s insane, it’s inane, it’s childish and demeaning to the parliamentarians that have to act out this charade, and even more demeaning to the Australian public. The entire Liberal–National Party backbench was laughing maniacally like a cackle of drunken hyenas when Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg were taunting Labor with their ‘whose-side-are-you-on’ antics. It was embarrassing to watch, but this is what parliamentary Question Time has come to with the Liberals in power. No accountability and all about theatrics and political spin.

“Whose side on you on” is typical conservative political marketing: appearing to be a unifying force for the better, but replete with a sinister divisive undertone.

It’s similar to John Howard’s “For all of us” message from the 1996 election campaign which, taken to the next level down, signals the subliminal message that it’s for all of “us” (the white mainstream Anglo-sphere of the Australian community), but not “them” (the migrants, the Aborigines, the Bohemians, asylum seekers, unionists, the people who depend on welfare, the sick, and defenceless).

Morrison’s mantra of “whose side are you on” holds similar racist and exclusive overtones, as well as the lower-level subliminal subtext of “we’re on your side, but not theirs”. The Liberal–National Party is brilliant at being able to exploit these areas of political messaging, and will use these tactics to provide smokescreens to cover their poor performance in government, which has been evident since they got back into office in September 2013.

It’s facile but expect to hear more of it over the next three years.

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About Eddy Jokovich 62 Articles
Eddy Jokovich is a journalist, publisher, author, political analyst, campaigner, war correspondent, and lecturer in media studies at the University of Technology, Sydney and the University of Sydney; has a wide range of experience working in editorial and media production work and is Director of ARMEDIA, a publishing and communications company specialising in public interest media.