Whose side are you on?
In an instant, it’s both an aggressive and
divisive question, demanding a choice between the favourable and the
unfavourable, the good and the bad. Whose side? Your side or mine? Black or
white? Haves or have nots? Rich or poor? Hard working or lazy? Left or right?
In sporting terms, it’s the most base form of
tribalism: Arsenal or Hotspur? Collingwood or Carlton? Cronulla or Canterbury? Wanderers
or Sydney FC? Perhaps in sport and athletic pursuits, it might be acceptable to
choose sides, although we should never forget that in its extreme forms, it
leads to events such as the Heysel Stadium disaster, when 39 football fans were
killed and 600 were injured during a wave of extreme football hooliganism and
That’s sport: but politics and societies are supposed
to be different. Of course, communities tend to form into social classes and ‘sides’,
although it’s essential in good functioning democracies for political leaders
to ensure that all sides and class structures in a community work towards
Life is more complicated than sport when it
comes to choosing sides, but politics rarely deals with the complexities of
life and so it came to be this week when the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison,
reduced the role of the citizen in Australia to one simple choice: whose side
are you on?
It’s not a unifying question, it promotes division
through the corollary: if you’re not on our side, whose side are you on? It’s
simpleton’s language, but this is the trope that will be used by Morrison and
Liberal Party until the next federal election, due in 2022.
In the absence of any realistic political
agenda for the next three years, Morrison is using that old conservative ruse
of appearing to seek unity within the community, while doing everything
possible to create divisions and prise open the fractures that appear across
every minor fault line.
The history of this goes back to his first
media conference after he became Prime Minister in August 2018, when Morrison
asked the question: “Whose side am I on?”. To which he answered: “We’re on your
side. I’m on the side of the Australian people”.
The Australian flag lapel on Scott Morrison’s suit: it’s manufactured overseas.
He even went so far to attach an Australian
flag lapel pin to his suit to remind himself “every single day” whose side he
But there are only a select few Morrison is siding with and, generally, it’s not too many members within the Australian community.
So whose side is he on?
Morrison is on the side of high-income earners in the over $200,000 bracket – less than 1 per cent of the community – because, according to Morrison, “hard working people deserve a tax cut”, and he’s on the side of those claiming franking credit tax refunds, even when they haven’t paid any tax in the first instance – a policy which now costs the Budget $6 billion per year.
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He’s also on the side of religious zealots, who
claim they haven’t enough freedom to practice their religious beliefs,
including the right to discriminate against other people based on these personal
religious beliefs. These are the same zealots who have demanded a Religious
Discrimination Act, and it’s a piece of legislation Morrison is likely to give
He’s on the side of climate change denialism and
on the side of the large mining companies that consistently donate to the
Liberal Party coffers to ensure key policy decisions aren’t implemented to affect
their business models.
And closer to home, he’s on the side of the Minister for Energy, Angus Taylor, who is rapidly becoming embroiled in allegations of corruption and scandals relating to properties and assets he and his family have direct interests in.
He’s also on the side of Liberal backbencher, Craig
Kelly, who wants the family home to be included as part of the pension assets
He’s on the side of Liberal–National MP, George Christensen, who spent $1,600 to travel to the Great Barrier Reef to meet with the right-wing enfant terrible celebrity racist, Lauren Southern, whose infamy includes distributing ‘Allah is gay’ flyers, provoking migrant communities in Canada, Britain and Australia, and promoting the Great Replacement conspiracy theory.
It’s obvious he’s on the side of the likes of
Raheem Kassam, the former editor of the ‘fake news’ website, Breitbart, and the
supporter of Holocaust denialism, Matt Gaetz. Both are appearing at the Conservative
Political Action Conference in Sydney, and Morrison claims their appearance
relates to freedom of speech issues and Liberal MPs and backbenchers who wish
to participate do have a right to hear their repugnant sexist viewpoints and
He’s on the side of the banking industry,
voting 26 times against the creation of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in
the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, an inquiry which
uncovered a wide range of theft, illegalities and unethical banking practices
across many Australian financial institutions, including stealing funds from
people who had died and the inadvertent funding of terrorist organisations.
He’s on the side of Liberal MPs Sussan Ley and
Stuart Robert, who were forced to resign for ministerial impropriety during the
era of the Turnbull government, but have been brought back into Cabinet since
the 2019 election victory in May.
These are the sides Scott Morrison has chosen and once sides are chosen, it means there’s a wide range of sides that miss out. And which sides are they?
He’s most definitely not on the side of recipients
of Newstart, asking this week: “are we increasing Newstart, well the answer is
no we are not” and claiming the calls to increase the Newstart allowance by $75
per week were simply a matter of “unfunded empathy”.
Mark Riley interviews Scott Morrison, where he announces he will not increase the Newstart allowance.
To emphasise that this definitely is not their
chosen side, the Morrison government messaged the newsroom of Channel 7 with
details of how 78 per cent of Newstart recipients had their payments suspended
at least once – without providing the reasons for why this might have occurred
– which Channel 7’s Sunrise program duly reported as “many dole bludgers are
trying to take advantage of the welfare system”.
Morrison then proceeded to end this week’s
Question Time session by suggesting he would bring in legislation to implement
drug tests on Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients, and would resurrect a
plan from 2017 to test sewerage to find traces of drug usage amongst these
He’s not on the side of Indigenous Australians,
dismissing a referendum to include Indigenous references within the
Constitution and already vetoing the ‘voice to parliament’, erroneously
claiming it would “create a third chamber of parliament”.
He’s not on the side of low-income employees or
those who are seeking a wage rise, consistently ruling out a rise in the
minimum wage while he was Treasurer, and denying there was actually an issue.
He’s not on the side of asylum seekers or
refugees, implementing a secret and harsh regime on Manus Island and Nauru
while he was Minister for Immigration, and now seeking to repeal the asylum
seeker medical evacuation legislation, which allows for medically unwell asylum
seekers on those islands to be treated on mainland Australia.
And he’s not on the side of those who seek
cohesion and solutions for how to unify the community. Like Liberal Party Prime
Ministers that have preceded him – Robert Menzies, John Howard and Tony Abbott
– Morrison seeks to create divisions within the community, and nothing has been
more apparent than the question he revisited this week, calling for the
Australian community to take sides.
There were 84 references to “on your side” in
Parliament this week. There were also 16 ‘Dorothy Dixers’ which asked the Prime
Minister and assorted government ministers: “whose side are you on” over a wide
range of issues, including digital platforms, child exploitation, energy,
roads, drought, taxes, education and childcare. And, of course, the correct
answer was always: “we’re on the side of Australians”.
It’s insane, it’s inane, it’s childish and
demeaning to the parliamentarians that have to act out this charade, and even
more demeaning to the Australian public. The entire Liberal–National Party
backbench was laughing maniacally like a cackle of drunken hyenas when Morrison
and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg were taunting Labor with their ‘whose-side-are-you-on’
antics. It was embarrassing to watch, but this is what parliamentary Question
Time has come to with the Liberals in power. No accountability and all about
theatrics and political spin.
“Whose side on you on” is typical conservative political marketing: appearing to be a unifying force for the better, but replete with a sinister divisive undertone.
It’s similar to John Howard’s “For all of us” message from the 1996 election campaign which, taken to the next level down, signals the subliminal message that it’s for all of “us” (the white mainstream Anglo-sphere of the Australian community), but not “them” (the migrants, the Aborigines, the Bohemians, asylum seekers, unionists, the people who depend on welfare, the sick, and defenceless).
Morrison’s mantra of “whose side are you on”
holds similar racist and exclusive overtones, as well as the lower-level subliminal
subtext of “we’re on your side, but not theirs”. The Liberal–National Party is
brilliant at being able to exploit these areas of political messaging, and will
use these tactics to provide smokescreens to cover their poor performance in government,
which has been evident since they got back into office in September 2013.
It’s facile but expect to hear more of it over
the next three years.