Who is the man who brought a lump of coal to parliament and went on to become PM?

24 August 2018

Despite more than a decade in office, there are many Australians who still don’t know much about the man they call Scomo.

After everyone in Australia’s collective heads stop spinning at the assassination of yet another prime minister, thoughts may turn to the character of the latest man to step into the top job, again over the political corpse of a vanquished rival.  

Prime Minister-designate Scott Morrison is widely viewed as a moderate but a more accurate description would be that of a chameleon and an opportunist.

His duplicitous nature was on full display as recently as two days ago when he was asked if he would challenge Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal Party leadership.

Morrison threw his arm around his leader and smiled broadly as he declared “Me? This is my leader. And I’m ambitious for him”.

A bemused Turnbull smiled and thanked the man who would take his job, and end his career, less than 48 hours later.

But far from being a recent phenomenon, Morrison has been saying one thing and doing another for decades.

After working in the tourism industry in New Zealand, Morrison returned to Australia in 2000 and assumed a position as State Director of the Liberal Party of New South Wales. In that role, he ran the Liberal’s successful campaign at the 2001 federal election. At Morrison’s urging asylum seekers and national security were at the centre of the campaign, with the government falsely claiming that asylum seekers had thrown their children into the water to force Australian authorities to rescue them.

Morrison knew he was onto a winner, and demonising the other became a hallmark of his parliamentary career. After winning the southern Sydney seat of Cook in 2007 he reportedly argued in shadow cabinet that the Coalition should exploit community concerns about Muslim immigrants.

Thinly-veiled attempts to do the same thrust Morrison into the national spotlight in 2009, when he became the shadow minister for immigration. Morrison arguably politicised the asylum seeker issue more than anyone ever has, to this day, with his three-word slogan “stop the boats” cutting through, and dehumanising a large group of vulnerable people.

Morrison claimed that his Christian beliefs led him to advocate a harsh policy of offshore detention and boat turnbacks. His reasoning was that preventing asylum seekers from risking their lives on a dangerous voyage was the most humane approach to take. However, one incident from 2010 stands out for its complete absence of even a shred of humanity.

After 48 asylum seekers were killed when their boat sank after striking rocks near the shore of Christmas Island, Morrison questioned the Gillard government’s decision to pay for relatives of the victims to travel to funerals in Sydney. The incident was so distasteful that Morrison’s comments were rebuked by his colleague, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey. Faced with the criticism from his own side, Morrison begrudgingly conceded that the timing of his comments was insensitive, but refused to back down on them.

With Tony Abbott’s victory at the 2013 election Morrison was elevated to cabinet as immigration minister. He made his name as “the man who stopped the boats” by overseeing a brutal system of offshore detention and boat turnbacks.

The ABC claims that cabinet documents obtained by them in January this year revealed that Morrison was so committed to keeping refugees out he agreed his department should intervene to request ASIO delay security checks so people close to being granted permanent protection would miss the deadline.

Morrison was so ruthless in his handling of asylum seekers that the Australian Human Rights Commission said that he had failed to act in the best interests of children in detention during his time as minister and violated Australia’s international obligations.

His behaviour as immigration minister so disgusted 300 former students at his alma mater, Sydney Boys High School, that when they discovered Morrison would be a special guest at an alumni fund-raising event they signed a letter warning it would embarrass the school to celebrate a man who has “so flagrantly disregarded human rights”.

After a destructive stint in immigration, in 2015 Morrison moved to social services, where he spent around six months before being named Treasurer in Malcolm Turnbull’s government.

He made headlines last year when he brandished a lump of coal in parliament and accused those raising concerns about the environmental impacts of coal of being driven by ideology or a pathological fear.

He has since failed to make the headlines as regularly as he did while imprisoning children, but it is worth noting that the man who used to incessantly talk up the “budget emergency” and “Labor’s debt and deficit” has increased debt massively.

At July 1, 2018, the budget estimate of net debt in Australia was about $341.0 billion, up from $174.5 billion in September 2013, when the Coalition took office. That’s an increase of $166.5 billion, or roughly 95 percent.

It also bears mentioning that while Turnbull has been ousted for a series of policy bungles, Morrison has been at his side the whole time and owns them as much as Turnbull. Morrison was happy to stand beside a prime minister who proposed a pathetic National Energy Guarantee (NEG) that would kill renewables and do nothing to stop climate change. And as that already inadequate policy was gutted to the point where it was no longer a climate policy, he continued to stand by in silence.

With large sections of Australia in severe drought and being scorched by dozens of mid-winter bushfires, Morrison is a leader we cannot afford.

Make no mistake, Scott Morrison is just a more polished version of Tony Abbott.

Morrison served both Abbott and Turnbull. He has shown over his career that he is driven by political self-interest and will not hesitate to continue selling out the environment at the behest of his mates in the fossil fuel industry.

We deserve better than this. The voices of ordinary people who just want the climate crisis addressed are absent from our parliament. We deserve a say in who runs this country and the way it’s run. We need an election now to demand a greener, fairer country.