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Faith and taxes

Jul 5, 2019 • 12m48s

As Scott Morrison’s tax cuts make their way through the parliament, there are fresh questions over religious freedoms.

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Faith and taxes

29 • Jul 5, 2019

Faith and taxes

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

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

As Scott Morrison’s tax cuts make their way through the parliament, there are fresh questions over religious freedoms. Paul Bongiorno on pragmatism and our Pentecostal prime minister.

[Music ends]

ELIZABETH:

Hi Paul

PAUL:

Is that you Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH:

It is!

PAUL:

All right. When. When you're ready I'm ready.

ELIZABETH:

Okay.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Paul what's happening in Canberra?

PAUL:

Well what's happening in Canberra is the government has had a big win by getting its massive $158 billion dollar five-year tax plan passed through the Senate.

ELIZABETH:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper.

PAUL:

This is vindication in a real sense of its election win. And despite grave reservations in the Labor Party, even graver ones in the Greens Party with its nine senators, the government was able to get the four crossbench senators it needed. Cory Bernardi who's basically a repentant liberal these days, the two central alliance senators and Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania.

[Music ends]

Archival tape — Fran Kelly:

“Jacqui Lambie welcome back to Canberra, welcome back to breakfast.”

Archival tape — Jacqui Lambie:

“Thank you so much. Lovely to be back on.”

Archival tape — Fran Kelly:

“Well Jacqui Lambie, today is d-day… For the record, will you support the tax cuts?”

Archival tape — Jacqui Lambie:

“Yes I will be supporting the tax cuts, Fran.”

ELIZABETH:

This is a huge win for Scott Morrison.

PAUL:

Well it is a huge win for Scott Morrison, it's in line with the with the win he had on on election day. And what it does show is that that election win, even though was very tight, and even though they have a one seat working majority in the House of Representatives — one of the tightest majorities you can get — there is no doubt that this election shifted momentum in a very big way. Away from Labor and towards the Coalition. And political momentum is everything because political momentum weakens the morale and the will of the opposition parties and sends a message to the crossbench that the zeitgeist, if you like, of the nation is more with the government than it is with the opposition

ELIZABETH:

Paul, so tax certainly dominated the week. But there are details still filtering in about what happened in the final weeks of the election, it being the first week the parliament sits since the election. What are you hearing from some inside the Labor Party?

PAUL:

Well Elizabeth it's interesting they say that perception is reality in politics and I think that the first sitting week after the election, perception and reality coincided for the Labor Party. The realisation that they lost and just talking to one senior Labor person he said to me that sure we were ahead in the polls all the time but he says it was more like we were 46 and the Libs were 43 and what we'd underestimated, and what in fact both the published pollsters and Labor's own pollsters didn't quite get, is that that protest vote that would deliver a majority went in massively to One Nation, to Palmer and to other independents. And what was unusual was that protest vote came back in the order of more than 80 percent in most instances, therefore delivering, in Queensland, two seats to the coalition and in other states, blocking Labor's ambition.

ELIZABETH:

Paul, in the end it was very close though. Labor nonetheless hugely rattled by the result. Why were they so rattled? Can you talk me through what the psychology is around that?

PAUL:

Yeah well basically Labor's own polling, right up on… to the eve of the election being called showed that it was ahead in 20 to 21 seats. Now in the end they won one of those 21 seats and they lost two others that they had to defend. So psychologically the the election result was like a 20 seat landslide for them. So it's rattled their confidence, it's shaken them and of course it's it's mightily emboldened if you like the Liberals and the Nationals. The other point to make: that the election result was more disastrous for Labor than it was for the Liberals in terms of marginal seats. The Liberals only have three marginal seats under 2 per cent and Labor's got eight. In other words, Labor at least on paper, is highly vulnerable to going even further backwards at the next election if Morrison can consolidate and win over the confidence of more voters.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

So Paul, the Coalition's one seat majority essentially feels like a 20 seat landslide?

PAUL:

Exactly Elizabeth. And sort of to delve into that just a little bit further. You might remember at the previous election Turnbull emerged with a one seat majority, but that was after losing 14 seats. So the momentum, even though Labor lost that, the political momentum was with Shorten Labor, whereas this time the political momentum is with Scott Morrison.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

So Paul, Parliament is back sitting in Canberra this week and much of the debate has been about tax cuts. But you've been looking at religious freedoms as well. What does this issue tell us about Scott Morrison?

PAUL:

Yes well Scott Morrison is in the situation that everybody knows that he is a committed Pentecostal Christian and he's under enormous pressure from the religious right to do something about religious discrimination. So that's on the agenda and he keeps promising to deliver. But he also keeps pushing back on when he will actually deliver.

ELIZABETH:

And who is Morrison disappointing by not rushing forward on this?

PAUL:

One very senior church source tells me. What's worrying people like Archbishop Fisher and Archbishop but Davis up in Sydney is that they see that the successful politician Morrison is a ruthless pragmatist. Now that pragmatism of Morrison is coming through to this extent that he realises that this whole debate on religious discrimination and religious freedom is fraught. The churches themselves are beginning to realize they're in a bit of a corner here. And yesterday I was talking to advisers in the prime minister's office. When I asked, when are you going to bring in the religious discrimination bill, they said: ‘We're not bringing in a discrimination bill. We're working on a religious freedom bill.’ Now that's a subtle but important difference. And whether that will suit the churches is open to debate.

ELIZABETH:

Tell me what that looks like.

PAUL:

Well look, he’ll need to do a lot of work to convince middle Australians, when he talks about wanting to govern from the center, that he means it. It looks like he wants to avoid legislation that would play in to, you know, a stereotype that he is a right wing ideologue. So as a result in the Government party room on Tuesday he warned his MPs and senators to avoid more controversy on religious freedom.

ELIZABETH:

And what do you think that signals, more broadly?

PAUL:

I think it's a sure sign that Morrison's political antenna shows that Australia basically, as a nation, has a more secular sentiment than it does have a religious sentiment. Now Morrison told his party room he wants to work carefully and consultatively.

In fact on Wednesday he met Anthony Albanese and he urged Albanese to work with him on this issue of religious freedom. He said he will consult Labor, he will consult church leaders. So the tête-à-tête with the Opposition Leader was characterised by the Prime Minister's office and indeed by Albanese's as the prime minister looking for areas of collaboration on contentious issues.

ELIZABETH:

And given that this is about faith in politics and how faith is publicly displayed in politics. Is Morrison's concern that he might appear to be too religious for the Australian public?

PAUL:

Yes I think that's it. I mean he has said when he's been tackled on his belief or his faith over the years that his faith is his business.

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“My personal faith Mr Speaker in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda. As Lincoln said, our task is not to claim whether god is on our side, but to pray earnestly that we are on his. For me faith is personal, but the implications are social.”

PAUL:

He's not out to ram it down people's throats. So he is aware that if he feeds the stereotype it could be a political negative for him.

ELIZABETH:

Paul, there were two former prime ministers watching on as the 46 Parliament opened…

PAUL:

Yes, there were two former Liberal prime ministers there they were Tony Abbott and John Howard. Notable by his absence of course was Malcolm Turnbull. He wasn't there, mainly because the election result was probably even another harsh judgment on him as much as it was on Labor. But anyway, the two who were there of course were champions for the religious right and for Australian conservatives.

But Morrison is perceived to be more in the pragmatic mould of John Howard and one of the things that made John Howard our second longest serving prime minister was that he was very canny, very cunning as well, and quite ruthless as we saw particularly over the issue of asylum seekers. But he was also pragmatic. And I think that people would say that if Morrison moulds himself more on Howard than Abbott, he could be there for a long time.

ELIZABETH:

And Paul what can we expect next week do you think?

[Music starts]

PAUL:

Well next week the parliament gets up for a couple of weeks, it doesn't come back till the end of July. I suspect things will go a little bit quieter. Labor will continue to lick its wounds and I wouldn't be surprised if the prime minister and his senior ministers remind the nation that um... he's delivering tax relief. Because from next week something like 10 million Australians... It's being phased down... Will expect to get their $1,080 dollar tax rebate.

ELIZABETH:

Hmm, that’s no small thing. Paul thank you so much, as always.

PAUL:

Thank you Elizabeth. Have fun. Bye.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

On Thursday afternoon, the prime minister confirmed that Alek Sigley, the Australian who had been missing for over a week in North Korea, had left the country. Sigley was released and safely transferred to the Australian embassy in Beijing with the help of Swedish authorities.

And The Guardian reports that former environment minister Melissa Price approved plans for a uranium mine the day before the election was called, despite advice that it could result in the extinction of up to 12 native species. In the statement of reasons relating to her decision, Price said that she "accepted that there was a risk" but that this was not "inevitable," according to departmental advice. Price declined to comment on the approval, stating that she was now focused on delivering in her new role as defence industry minister.

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.

Special thanks this week to Zacha Rosen.

If you’ve got a moment, 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 that helps us.

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

As Scott Morrison’s tax cuts make their way through the parliament, there are fresh questions over religious freedoms. Paul Bongiorno on pragmatism and our Pentecostal prime minister.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

Faith and tax cuts as 46th parliament begins in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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

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29: Faith and taxes