Menu

A Voice and a prayer

Jul 12, 2019 • 16m18s

Scott Morrison began the week praying in front of 21,000 people. He closed it promising a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

play

 

A Voice and a prayer

34 • Jul 12, 2019

A Voice and a prayer

[Theme starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

Scott Morrison began the week praying in front of 20,000 people. He closed it promising a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Paul Bongiorno on what could be the making of a legacy moment.

[Theme ends]

Archival tape — Unidentified man:

“I have the great honour of introducing Prime Minister Morrison and he’s going to come to speak to the conference for a few moments…”

ELIZABETH:

Paul what is the significance of Scott Morrison's praying at the Hillsong global conference in Sydney this week?

PAUL:

Well it's got a lot of people scratching their heads. There is no doubt that this is the most overt expression of a Prime Minister's personal faith that we've seen, probably ever, but certainly in my 30 or so years of covering federal politics.

ELIZABETH:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper.

PAUL:

I mean, Kevin Rudd was criticised for holding door stops outside church on a Sunday carrying his Bible. Well, this time we have a Prime Minister inside a massive congregation. 21,000 to 30,000 for an international Hillsong conference.

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“We love Jesus...anyone else feel that way?” [Crowd applauds] “I thought so.”

PAUL:

So this was Scott Morrison certainly marketing his belief, saying that it's time for Christians not to be afraid to express their belief, sending a clear message that he is a person of faith. Now all of that is good. Some people are wondering whether he's just appealing to his base and there is another element to it that, frankly, has spooked the Labor Party, because Labor candidates and MPs, particularly in western Sydney, felt there was a backlash from conservatives within the big ethnic groups. So this just isn't conservative Christians but conservative Muslims. So, is this Scott Morrison as it were owning the faith vote and sending a message, if you like, under the radar, a dog whistle, that he gets faith and the Labor Party are really secularists who don't get faith at all?

ELIZABETH:

Mm. Or is this just an honest expression of his faith that perhaps he hasn't felt he could express until now?

PAUL:

Well, that's the other side of the equation and I'm sure many will see it in that way.

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“Not here to judge, not here to lecture. What we’re here to do is just show the amazing love that Jesus showed to us.”

ELIZABETH:

And what was he up there praying for on the stage?

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“Lord we pray for some very important things tonight, lord. Lord, we pray for all of those veterans in our country.”

PAUL:

Look, I've got to say that Scott Morrison's prayer and his message it seemed pretty terrific to me. It was a prayer for our nation: veterans doing it tough, you know, young people considering suicide, even those facing the challenges of middle age… some of us [laughs] facing the challenge of old age. But I'm sure he’d include me if I put my hand up.

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“...we pray for and promote indigenous communities, for young boys and girls, lord, we pray for blessings over those communities…”

PAUL:

He was praying for remote Indigenous communities, people with disabilities and drought-breaking rain. So even if you don't believe in a God these are genuine human sentiments, these are genuine problems that do require addressing in a compassionate way. Which, by the way, some critics say that Scott Morrison's overt christianity is to cover many of the unchristian things he, particularly when he was immigration and border security minister, has done.

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“Amen” [Crowd applauds]

ELIZABETH:

And he was accompanied by one of his ministers at the conference as well. Tell me about that.

PAUL:

Yeah, well he was accompanied by Stuart Robert who is another Pentecostal Christian, a former military man. He's a close ally of Morrison's. And he was a key strategist in the coup that ended Malcolm Turnbull's Prime Ministership. Now we know from Niki Savvas book Plots and Prayers that before the final party room vote Robert and Morrison prayed together that righteousness would exalt the nation.

ELIZABETH:

Hm.

PAUL:

I gotta tell you that the people trying to do the numbers for Malcolm Turnbull were gobsmacked at how ruthlessly efficient Ben Morton and Alex Hawke were in the way they marshalled the numbers for Morrison. So I don’t know about righteousness but certainly trickiness [laughs] was at play. So he was rewarded, this is Stuart Robert, with a Cabinet job as Minister for National Disability Service Scheme and government services.

ELIZABETH:

And Roberts kind of faced controversies of his own in his time in office...

PAUL:

Yes, well when he was a minister previously, he was up in China lending his status as a minister to a business deal and a business friend and this earned him the boot from the ministry. And more recently, he charged the taxpayers for $38,000 for home internet use and people were really scratching their heads. That's a hell of a lot of Netflix movies, anyway as it turned out he had to repay the $38,000. This Gold Coast-based minister that's where his seat is, he's raised eyes also in the Liberal Party by establishing his ministerial office in Melbourne. The only minister we can work out that's actually gone out of their home state in this way. His key advisor on the multi-billion dollar NDIS, Gary Simpson, works out of Adelaide, and according to the Sydney Morning Herald says if you want to come and talk to me about the NDIS, you've got to come over to Adelaide. And it doesn't finish there, Roberts senior press secretary lives and works out of Brisbane so there's gonna be a lot of Internet usage here I can tell you Elizabeth if he’s going to do his job properly.

ELIZABETH:

A lot of Skype calls [laughs]... And why has Robert done that?

PAUL:

Look, the point is he has a reputation hard earned that he's something of a wheeler dealer and people are wondering what he's wheeling and dealing about in this instance. So far there's no evidence that it's other than curious.

ELIZABETH:

Hmm. He is nevertheless a key ally of Morrisons. And this week they were in Tasmania together. What did they get up to there?

PAUL:

They discussed the NDIS with various stakeholders. Morrison as you know is a big fan of the NDIS. He frequently invokes his brother in law, who's a recipient of funds from the scheme but Morrison made a lot of people, particularly in the social welfare area, wonder what's going on when he praised the NDIS by saying...

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“...it’s not compensation, it’s not welfare, it’s not any of these things. It’s a support that enables people to realize their potential.”

PAUL:

...the good thing about it, it's not a welfare program.

ELIZABETH:

And why is that distinction between the NDIS and making sure that it's understood it's not a welfare program. Why is that distinction important?

PAUL:

Well it sends the message, pretty clearly, that welfare is a dirty word. And what's got people in the social welfare sector scratching their heads, is that when he described the NDIS as a program that simply wants to ensure that every Australian regardless of life circumstances has the same opportunity to fulfil everything they hope to achieve in life. That's what the NDIS is a nutshell. Well, I spoke to a couple of people in the welfare sector said ‘well that definition should be the definition of a well-designed welfare system that sees the safety net as a trampoline helping people to, as it were, jump out of the safety net rather than be entangled in it in penury’.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

You make the point that really that should be the definition that he's given for the NDIS: a well-designed welfare program. That's not exactly how he sees it though I mean it does seem from some of his comments that he views welfare as a form of vice.

PAUL:

Well the worrying thing is that he seems to see welfare in terms of lifters and leaners, if you have a go, you'll get a go. It's leading to the American idea of the worthy poor and the unworthy poor. And what worries the welfare sector is the massive 158 billion dollar tax package which flattens the tax rates, which takes over 10 years when we get to stage 3, 90 billion out of the revenue, that with an attitude like this from Morrison, which after all is a fairly common attitude amongst conservatives, that it will be social welfare that pays for these tax cuts and nobody else.

ELIZABETH:

We'll be right back.

[Music ends]

[Advertisement]

ELIZABETH:

Paul, the signature achievement of last week was the passing of Scott Morrison's tax cuts package. What role of those cuts played this week?

PAUL:

Well this week it was left to Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer, to sing the praises of the stage 1 tax cuts. He revealed that people have been rushing to file their returns in record numbers to receive the $1,080 rebate for singles or double that for working couples. Frydenberg is hoping the stimulus of the tax cuts will have people spending, particularly in the struggling retail sector.

ELIZABETH:

And those hopes are really an answer to sort of more negative news that's rolling in for the economy. There was there was more of that again this week.

PAUL:

Well that's right. The Australian Bureau Statistics underemployment numbers provided a harsh reality check. Underemployment is at 8.6 per cent, this is the slack in the jobs market that has the Reserve Bank governor worried. The ABS has found 46 per cent of underemployed workers in 2019 reported they'd been working insufficient hours for a year or longer with the median duration of underemployment now at 39 weeks, up from 26 weeks back in 2009. Now when you put this together, these are quite worrying statistics with stagnating wage growth even for those in full time work the one off payment will be welcome, but it's hardly enough to do the trick. The opposition, like the RBA governor, says more is needed.

ELIZABETH:

There's obviously a difference between a one-off stimulus like the one Kevin Rudd offered in 2008, and then a cut to the revenue base in the form of these tax cuts that we're seeing now, but is there anything else that makes this different?

PAUL:

The difference between the global financial crisis and now is that we haven't hit the full crisis yet. You know, we're limping along. The economy is slowing but it hasn't crashed, if you see what I mean. But the indications are that this government, unlike the Labor Government, will not be prepared to put at risk the surplus to stave off the recession or to ameliorate it. And that's really the parameters of this argument.

ELIZABETH:

Paul before we let you go I wanted to ask about Ken Wyatt’s speech at the National Press Club this week.

Archival tape — Ken Wyatt:

“How do we bring the majority to a common ground that is acceptable? That we could win a referenda with? That’s the challenge... but I’m up to that.”

PAUL:

Well Ken Wyatt himself an historic appointment, the first Aboriginal Australian to be the Minister for Indigenous Australians, a renaming by Scott Morrison of the portfolio. He has resurrected the target and the ambitions for recognition of first Australians in the Constitution. He says he wants it done and it can be done in this term. But of course he says only if the words that we put into the Constitution are right. Now, these words, Wyatt concedes, must be accepted not only by the wider Australian community, and his hitherto reluctant conservative colleagues, who even yesterday expressed their reluctance, especially about a voice to the Parliament. But of course most importantly by Aboriginal people themselves.

The basis of the words to be put in the Constitution for recognition has to be the Uluru statement from the heart. That's the line in the sand as far as the Labor Party and Linda Burney, another Aboriginal Australian who is the shadow minister, and Anthony Albanese have put there. Burney warned that Labor's not interested in a race to the bottom. What they want from this is excellence. So there is room for accommodation, but there is not room for mealy-mouthed compromise.

[Music starts]

Archival tape — Ken Wyatt:

“It’s a high hurdle to have to leap over but it’s one that protects out democracy…”

PAUL:

What we're trying to move away from is what Noel Pearson calls the great amnesia and what John Howard citing Geoffrey Blainey called ‘a black armband view of our history’ which, of course, is nothing but a racist cover and it is based on the fact that most Australians, certainly of my generation but even younger ones, weren't taught about the history of settlement that involved a history of bloody dispossession.

ELIZABETH:

And Paul, Wyatt’s promising a referendum this term, do you think we're going to get one?

PAUL:

Look I think a lot will depend on the leadership of Scott Morrison It really will. What he's doing and what he's saying at this point of time is much more positive than negative here. And he has much more authority within the Liberal Party. He's coming at it from the conservative side, if you like, rather than the progressive side and he does seem to be committed. Now, if it's nothing more than clever marketing, it'll fall in a heap in the next three years and he'll be damaged by it. But if Morrison pulls this off, that will be some legacy.

ELIZABETH:

Paul, thank you so much for being with us again this week.

PAUL:

Thank you, Elizabeth. Bye.

[Music ends]

[Advertisement]

[Theme starts]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

In America, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is facing two federal lawsuits for blocking right-wing users on Twitter. The suits follow an appeals court decision that held President Donald Trump was breaching the constitution by blocking constituents on the social media platform. The court found he violated the First Amendment by excluding people from an otherwise open dialogue.

In local news: David Gallop has resigned as chief executive of Football Federation Australia. And three people have died after a boat capsized off the coast of Newcastle, north of Sydney.

7am is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem.

Erik Jensen is our editor.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Equate Studio.

If you’ve got a second, please subscribe to the show through your favourite podcast app. Or leave us a review if you listen on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps others find the show and it helps us.

This is 7am. I'm Elizabeth Kulas. See you next week.

[Theme ends]

Scott Morrison began the week praying in front of 21,000 people. He closed it promising a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Paul Bongiorno on what could be the making of a legacy moment.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

Scott Morrison, prayers and Hillsong in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

Listen and subscribe in your favourite podcast app (it's free).

Apple podcasts Google podcasts Listen on Spotify

Share:

7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Equate Studio.

Tags

hillsong faith morrison indigenous recognition voice




Subscribe to hear every episode in your favourite podcast app:
Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify

00:00
16:18
34: A Voice and a prayer