It’s becoming very hard to understand the tangled logic of the Morrison government, its media cheerleaders, and business, over remaining lockdown restrictions.
On the one hand, recalcitrant states — mainly Labor states — should end border closures and start opening up their tourism sectors. “We need to get planes flying around Australia,” Scott Morrison says. “If you want to see planes flying around Australia, we need to open up these domestic borders.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says “closed borders cost jobs. The states should go the full hog. They should lift those borders immediately.”
The federal government also welcomed states returning to full-time schooling — an issue over which the most furious arguments were held in the national cabinet at the height of the pandemic.
As for mass gatherings in protests, Morrison is — or was — relaxed. When far-right protesters gathered to oppose lockdown restrictions in early May — including US-imported QAnon conspiracy theorists, with whom Morrison has a personal link — he was sanguine, saying he understood their “anxieties and frustrations … it’s a free country, people will make their protest and make their voices heard.”
But when progressive protesters gather, it’s a different story. Black Lives Matter protesters should be arrested and charged, Morrison said yesterday, contrasting them with “you know, millions of quiet Australians who have done the right thing”.
White, far-right protesters? It’s a free country (maybe Morrison regards them as honorary Quiet Australians, despite their noisy protests). Progressives and Indigenous protesters? Lock ’em up.
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To the extent that there’s a clear message from the government, News Corp outlets (which are in full Culture War mode against Black Lives Matter advocates), and business leaders complaining about protests, it’s that we should get back to the business of spending money — travelling, going to restaurants, pubs and tourism facilities and normal activities like taking the kids to school — but shouldn’t engage in active citizenship for a progressive cause.
Or, as the famous phrase goes, “Consume, Be Silent, Die”.
Indeed, Morrison went even further, yesterday. “It puts others’ lives and livelihoods at risk,” he said about Black Lives Matter protesters. “They didn’t seem to be that concerned about [‘quiet Australians’] health, or their businesses or their jobs.”
Protesters could recklessly kill Quiet Australians, in the view of the nation’s leader.
Except, no one is pretending that there won’t be more cases of infection as lockdown restrictions are removed.
The point of “flattening the curve” was that governments could lift restrictions because the health system is now far better placed to handle any increase in COVID-19 cases.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told parents that school infections and closures should be expected to increase. “This is likely to occur on a more regular basis when schools go back.”
Kids getting infected in schools should be expected. People getting infected at protests, however, is a disaster.
What looks like a double standard becomes something more when Morrison couples his condemnation of Black Lives Matter protests with an assertion that Australian history features no slavery (a comment he has since walked back) and that “important issues here in Australia, [are] now getting hijacked by the usual sort of band of noise makers who just want to make an attack on Australia and its society. And, you know, they’ve got to pull their heads in”.
Again with the “noise” theme. Morrison always prefers his citizens to keep quiet, evidently.
The argument that Australia has a few problems, sure, but there was no slavery and these protesters have hijacked legitimate issues, is an argument for the status quo on Indigenous policy. That status quo is that every year, the prime minister stands up in parliament and — sincerely — laments how we’ve failed yet again to make progress on closing the gap in educational, economic and health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and how we need to engage Indigenous communities more.
The status quo is that proposals for an Indigenous voice — the very embodiment of the idea of a more central policymaking role for Indigenous communities — are dismissed and demonised by racists within the government.
The status quo is that Indigenous Australians continue to die nearly a decade younger than non-Indigenous Australians and live in much poorer health for most of their lives.
Maintaining the status quo will kill far more Indigenous people than Morrison’s threat of Black Lives Matter protesters killing Quiet Australians. But which lives matter?
Is Morrison showing a double standard on protests? Who does he really stand for? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.