Scott Morrison is big on love, he says. “You love all Australians if you love Australia,” he said in a bizarre speech earlier this month. And on unity. He’s keen to unite Australians, or, as his puts it with his odd tendency for redundancy, “we can work together to bring and keep Australians together.”

Indeed, “bring Australians together” is a key phrase that Morrison has deliberately and regularly used since he became prime minister. It must resonate well in focus groups.

But not, as it turns out, bring all Australians together. In keeping with his “continuity with change” theme, Morrison has taken over the culture wars pursued by Malcolm Turnbull. Out of the blue this week, he sought to stir up debate about Australia Day, with an attack on the “indulgent self-loathing” of those who regard celebrating the start of Indigenous dispossession and mass slaughter as problematic, who promote what he terms “further conflict and argument”, while downplaying the impact of European invasion and occupation on Indigenous people as “a few scars from some mistakes and things that you could have done better.”

Morrison’s language is that traditionally used by the right to accuse progressives of being unpatriotic, self-hating, “black armband” wearers, to use John Howard’s phrase. It’s a neat inversion of the truth. Those who regard January 26 as a day marking dispossession and murder, who believe that white Australia should understand and acknowledge its history as a colonial settler society that has occupied a continent using violence, have a more positive view of Australians than those who want to pretend our history just has “a few scars from some mistakes”.

We think Australians can deal with the truth about our history, and use it as a basis for a new relationship with our first peoples. Those who rail at “self-loathing” are the ones who think Australians are too immature to deal with historical reality; theirs is the self-loathing of low expectations and a belief that things are better never discussed.

Yesterday Morrison took on another issue, the Uluru Statement, which Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce demonised as a call for a “third chamber” of parliament, wholly falsely. Morrison repeated that lie, insisting that the statement called for another representative chamber. In lying about the Uluru Statement, Turnbull stopped the seven-year bipartisan process of Indigenous recognition in its tracks, dismissing out of hand and misrepresenting the views of Indigenous representatives.

In repeating the lie, Morrison has guaranteed the process is halted until he is removed as prime minister. Many conservatives and even right-wingers support an Indigenous voice to parliament, so the prospect of bipartisan support for the recommendations of the Uluru Statement remain good in the longer term. But not, it seems, in the short-term.

Morrison has his own particular angles on the culture wars: he launched an attack on what he termed “gender whisperers” in his first days as prime minister. But it is salient that he has made Indigenous issues the battleground for two efforts to reignite culture wars. These resonate with the racist fringes of his party’s base, and his “why can’t we all just get together and have a good time” approach to Australia Day clearly complements his carefully crafted “suburban dad” image.

The project of shoring up the base thus continues apace. Expect more culture wars from the man who wants us to love one another.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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