Image credit: AAP/Simon Dallinger

There’d be some justice if the Morrison government was, improbably, re-elected next year. In two shorts months, it has achieved a marvel of political alchemy: the distillation and crystallisation of the worst aspects of modern Australia.

This goes beyond the didja-see-the-footy-don’t-tell-the-wife World’s Straya’s Best Dad persona of Scomo — Scomes, soon, surely? — and his man-of-the-burbs mugging for the cameras. And it goes beyond the way “looking after your mates” is the actual foundational value of his government – whether it’s Stuart Robert, Morrison’s mate who was otherwise inexplicably returned to ministerial status, or the Liberal Party’s fossil fuel industry mates, or the constant pandering to those top Liberal mates, the radio shockjocks and gibbering reactionaries on pay TV.

No, it goes further. Like how the Jerusalem embassy move was an exemplar of that magnificent Australian expression, half-arsed. Like how it represented our reflexive urge to ape America, a reflex that tags us not so much as “deputy sheriff” – our vaulting ambition a decade ago — as Bully Sidekick 3 in small-print B-movie credits. Like how it represented an instinctive comfort with punching down, not up, to show off to our bigger, more brutal mates. 

Or while we’re apeing the Yanks, why not steal their cloying, hypocritical humbug toward veterans, a fig leaf of etiquette over a systematic failure to look after the hundreds of thousands of men and women broken by endless pointless wars? Thus yesterday’s weird “announcement” by the government that a private company would be giving priority to veterans and making announcements about them, a sobering display of Respeck for our heroes, a gesture with all the substance of the tinny Made In China Aussie flag lapel pin Morrison tells himself to wear so he can remember which country he’s leading. Never mind that police, and firefighters, and others who sacrifice themselves and their families for others, fly every day and won’t be similarly honoured. It will go nicely with half a billion dollars to be popped out of the Commonwealth ATM for an ever-bigger Canberra temple to the Cult of the Aussie Mars, that minor god famed for his relentless efforts to join in any blue more powerful deities summon him for. Half a billion would go quite some distance to improving mental health services for veterans and ADF personnel, or supporting their families who make considerable sacrifices, but wouldn’t, alas, have the same ribbon-cutting potential. So let us thank them for their service™.

The thought occurs, of course, that one might honour those who serve and those who have served by not being so ready to commit them to pointless wars dictated by US domestic or foreign policy, or an Australian prime minister’s personal inadequacies, or even to have a decision to put them in harm’s way treated as the solemn judgment it is, and have parliament make it. But that would be unAustrayan and wouldn’t fit on a lapel pin.

Or there’s how Morrison’s contretemps with Malcolm Turnbull last week exemplified the lazy bullshittery of Aussie blokes, who find it easier to lie than offer a complicated truth to their mates. The sort of lie easily demonstrated to be exactly that… thus making it more socially acceptable, bullshit as social lubricant. Coupled with the good old-fashioned Aussie anti-intellectualism of Simon Birmingham, boasting of vetoing research grants for topics deemed too intellecktural, and colleague Dan Tehan joining in to threaten adding a “national interest test” to the existing national benefit test relating to grants. Half-arsed, again, and presumably leading the way to research being confined to Fair Dinkum Power, digging shit out of the ground, home brewing and equine sports. Mate.

Then there’s the casual racism of the rejection of the Uluru Statement, and its deliberate misrepresentation, and the use of Indigenous issues – an area of profound policy failure by all sides in Australian politics – as a mechanism in internal Liberal party games, a toy to keep Tones occupied and out of mischief. The racism of people who are mortified and angry if you call them racist, but who won’t look for a moment inside themselves and at their own colonial settler country and its history of dispossession and war. Puddle-deep people leading a country with all those faults but many virtues entirely absent from the circus in Canberra.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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