There’s a question that must flit through the mind of every voter who is horrified by the Abbott Government’s methods for deterring boat-borne asylum seekers: How does the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison sleep at night?
It’s hard to imagine how a person endowed with even a modicum of humanity could defend a process that reportedly sets out to deliberately “place asylum seekers under ‘strong coercive pressure’ to abandon plans to live in Australia”.
And yet defend it Morrison does, very successfully too as it turns out.
Recent polling shows 36 per cent of Australian voters sanction the Government’s current treatment of asylum seekers, believing it’s the right approach. Another 18 per cent think it’s too soft.
Setting aside the extent to which racism, xenophobia and misguided security concerns drive the community’s antipathy to asylum seekers, it appears Morrison has managed through stonewalling, obfuscation, and good old-fashioned politicking to convince us to move along because there’s nothing to see here.
And even if there was, we shouldn’t worry because it’s for our own good.
Indeed, unlike previous incumbents, Morrison has flourished since becoming minister for immigration and border security.
In opposition he was more shrill and less polished, stridently proclaiming the arrival of every boat, declaiming each as even more evidence of the Labor Government’s softness on border control, and even complaining about taxpayers footing the bill for the bereaved to attend a funeral after a boat fatally crashed on the rocky shores of Christmas Island.
Now Morrison is personable without being charming or smarmy, confident, articulate, seemingly unflappable, schooled in the dark art of saying very little, and apparently impervious to the glint-edged questioning of ABC 7.30’s Sarah Ferguson. It seems only Guardian Australia’s David Marr has found a way to throw the minister off his game.
This is significant given the portfolio has proven to be an albatross for other ministers, and in some cases has permanently darkened their reputations.
Immigration Minister during the Howard years, Philip Ruddock, was once considered a champion of progressives within the party.
Now he’ll always be remembered for strengthening the former Keating Government’s mandatory detention scheme by introducing the Pacific Solution offshore processing system and temporary protection visas.
Labor’s Chris Bowen has been more successful in rehabilitating his reputation since relinquishing the immigration portfolio in 2013, which he initially received in a hospital pass from Prime Minister Julia Gillard after the 2010 federal election.
This is despite Bowen having been involved in the decisions to re-open the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres and the thwarted attempt to send asylum seekers to East Timor and Malaysia.
Perhaps Morrison’s edge comes from having both political and marketing skills, combined with an unshakeable faith in the righteousness of his actions.
He’s the son of a policeman turned politician, with qualifications in economics and geography that landed him employment first in the property industry and then the local and New Zealand tourism sectors.
His next role as state director of the NSW Liberal Party set Morrison on the path to federal parliament, via a controversial stint as the head of Tourism Australia (courtesy of the “Where the bloody hell are ya?” campaign) and a particularly nasty pre-selection stoush.
Morrison has also travelled along a path from the Uniting Church that he started attending regularly as a child, and from where he’s known his wife Jenny since they were children, to the Pentecostal mega-church in his electorate called Shirelive.
One interesting analysis of this connection suggests Morrison’s particular school of Christian belief leads him to accept but not seek to improve the plight of asylum seekers.
And according to this ‘prosperity theology’ Morrison’s own material success confirms he is doing the right thing.
The analysis concludes by suggesting it is this doctrine that allows Morrison to sleep well at night, even though his charges most likely do not.
Like many other previously-proclaimed moderates in Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party, Morrison has shifted to the right to maximise his own prospects as well as those of the Government.
Having adopted a more conservative stance, and proven to be almost impervious to criticism over the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers or his handling of the immigration portfolio, Morrison has positioned himself as the poster boy of the hard-right.