Friday, April 30, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

The drums of culture war
Scott Morrison doesn’t miss a beat on identity politics

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivering a speech to the United Israel Appeal Dinner.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivering a speech to the United Israel Appeal Dinner. Image via Facebook

The drums of war – as Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo phrased it in his controversial Anzac Day remarks – are beating. Pezzullo was referring to China, though it’s not clear who, exactly, is doing the beating. But here at home, there’s no doubt the drums of culture war are being given a workout. In this case, it’s Scott Morrison with the sticks. For the second time this week, the prime minister has railed against “the age of identity politics” in a speech to a religious group, last night telling the United Israel Appeal Dinner in Sydney of the dangers of people primarily identifying themselves by their gender, race, sexuality, age or religion, with a dig at “cancel culture” for good measure. It follows his leaked speech to the Australian Christian Churches conference, in which he warned that young people were defining themselves by their groups rather than “who God has created [them] to be”, and comes amid a fortnight of Morrison and his backers stoking the culture wars, whether through sneering stereotypes or attacking “anti-racism” campaigns, admonishing the “woke” or defending men. The government won’t be undertaking any “sharp pivots towards austerity” ahead of the next election, but it seems primed to pivot back to the culture wars. Yet with heightened anticipation for today’s long overdue meeting with former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, and another Essential poll showing women are abandoning the Coalition, is this a war Morrison really wants to be fighting?

Scott Morrison – he of the Australian flag face masks, the “as a father” comments, and the appeals to “quiet Australians” – is rather partial to a bit of “identity politics”, as much as he might like to rail against it. Just last week, the PM used identity to stoke the culture wars over climate, pitting the “pioneering entrepreneurialism and innovation of Australia’s industrial workhorses, farmers and scientists” against the “cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities”. It’s a popular dichotomy in the pages of the News Corp papers, though one not necessarily grounded in reality. (A new series of videos from climate activist Daniel Bleakley this week showcased “Central Queensland Coal Miners Test Driving Teslas”, and loving it.) In March, the PM leaned heavily on his “bloke” persona (they don’t always get it right!) to excuse his belated understanding of sexism, and his “father” persona to justify responding to the Higgins allegations through the prism of fatherhood (“being a husband and a father is central to me, [to my] human being”). Morrison’s Pentecostal persona, meanwhile, has been debated at length this week, with the prime minister now walking back the suggestion that he believes God chose him for the role. 

This week’s debate over Morrison’s faith have felt in many ways like a rehash of 2019’s religious discrimination bill debate, with Morrison’s Pentecostalism being defended in conservative media as if it’s the practising of it – and not the influence of it on our secular politics – that is being objected to. But that’s not the only area in which one can hear the beating of the drums of the culture wars. Multiple government ministers are marching to their own this week: Education Minister Alan Tudge has gone in to bat for “Western heritage” in response to proposed curriculum changes foregrounding the Indigenous experience, while Assistant Attorney-General Amanda Stoker has been waging a war on the term “anti-racism”, expressing concerns about a Human Rights Commission tender for the “Racism. It Stops With Me” campaign (an attack that contains more than a shade of Donald Trump, as Crikey notes). Morrison has also continued his campaign against the evils of social media, which he blames for the evils of society, not least because the “Evil One” resides there.

Morrison is no doubt hoping that the “quiet Australians” will hear and enjoy his latest rejection of the woke, signalling a “departure” (Daily Telegraph political editor James Morrow suggests) from his previous unwillingness to weigh in on the culture wars, much to the relief of those in his base “who have hoped for more leadership against the growing trends of cancel culture and identity politics”. Funny that: Morrison didn’t seem so anti-culture war when he railed against “indulgent and selfish” environmentalists in 2019. Certainly his new rhetoric has been welcomed by the quiet Australians of The Australian, with his “powerful address” garnering their praise.

It’s understandable that Morrison might want to dismiss “identity” right now, given there is one particularly large identity group uniting against his government. But is it a smart move from the PM? With the Coalition’s primary vote falling to 31 per cent among women, down from 37 per cent in mid January, Morrison’s dismissal of identity can be seen as yet another dismissal of women’s concerns. It seems like yet more evidence that the PM is going to focus instead on the groups that suit him – those that really, really hate identity politics. Let’s hope he doesn’t see fit to tell Brittany Higgins, a woman who has suffered a horrible gendered trauma, not to “reduce ourselves to a collection of attributes” as she puts her list of workplace safety demands before him this afternoon. After all, it was only through his identity – as a father – that Morrison has been able to engage with her trauma at all.

“I have long supported targets with clear accountability mechanisms, which some people call quotas – whether to government boards, in the leadership of the public service, or indeed, in preselection in the Liberal Party.”


Former Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer backs calls for gender quotas in the Liberal Party.

“I have seen some political smoke and mirrors over my time and I think this is right at the top of the list.”

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has poured cold water on Victoria’s proposal to build a Commonwealth-funded quarantine facility in Melbourne’s north because “hotels are working very well”.

A sermon from the Church of Morrison
At a recent appearance at the Australian Christian Churches conference Scott Morrison referred to social media as evil, and said he believed he was doing God’s work as prime minister. Those comments have ignited debate over the role of faith in political leadership.

The size of a budget package aimed at helping private higher education institutes survive without international students. Universities, which were excluded from JobKeeper, will not be eligible.

“The Takeovers Panel will receive a $3.4 million boost over the next four years in the May 11 federal budget, with the government set to launch a public consultation on broadening the panel’s role.”


Australia’s primary forum for takeover disputes will undergo a makeover, with proposed changes allowing the panel to provide “advance rulings” on takeovers, mergers and acquisitions.

The list

“The messianic excess of big tech makes for stinging absurdities in Made for Love (Stan), a subversive black comedy about a couple who really do see eye to eye after he inserts a surveillance chip into her brain. After spending 10 years inside her CEO husband’s futuristic home/research facility/fortress, Hazel Green-Gogol (Cristin Milioti) decides she has to leave. Even the couple’s pet dolphin, Zelda, thinks it’s time. But Hazel’s great escape is undermined by the swift revelation that her spouse, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), has secretly chipped her with his latest product, the Made for Love implant. She literally can’t get him out of her head.”

“The tone of Gunk Baby is dreamlike and foggy, almost as though a light haze of marijuana smoke has settled across the pages. When, in an early chapter, Leen’s other housemate, Vic, comes home covered in blood, it’s not as big a deal as it should be, either to the characters or to the reader. The horror is quickly folded into the story, paving the way for the book’s gradually escalating violence to be breezed past just as easily. It isn’t a condoning of violence; it’s a way, in this surreal mirror to our world, of putting microaggressions and physical aggressions on the same plane, to show the way the former become normalised – something that you grow numb to and learn to live around.”

“Born and raised in Paris, Huppert has been working consistently since her first appearance in a French made-for-television film in 1971, the year in which she also made her stage debut. Throughout the next five decades, viewers have been drawn to her ability to make ambiguity compelling, to react to scenes of murder, passion, madness, motherhood, familial abandonment, sexual violence and suicidal urges in utterly unexpected ways. As she told journalist Husam Sam Asi, ‘For me, a character does not exist. It is an arbitrary invention and it gives you limitations. Acting is much more than this. When I act I want to be free, not limited.’”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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