News Politics Australian Politics Michael Pascoe: From QAnon to climate denial, Australia has a ‘Ratbag Government’

Michael Pascoe: From QAnon to climate denial, Australia has a ‘Ratbag Government’

PM Scott Morrison has refused to condemn conspiracy theory-spreading members of his government.
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In December 1648, England had the Rump Parliament – the House of Commons purged of dissenters to clear the way for disposing of Charles 1. In 2021, Australia has something very different, the Ratbag Government, whereby all manner of members’ madness is championed to maintain Scott Morrison as Prime Minister.

It has been obvious since August 2018, but it was made official by the PM in a media conference on Thursday.

Reporter: “Will you condemn conspiracy theories being promoted by members of your own government?”

Morrison: “No.”

That’s it. Let a hundred ratbags bloom and a hundred schools or nonsense contend.

Mr Morrison added to his straight “no” with: “Australia’s a free country. There’s such a thing as freedom of speech in this country. And that will continue.”

Those words filling the space after “no” are an irrelevant distraction – he was not asked if he would pass laws banning ratbaggery, restricting freedom of speech, but whether he would condemn conspiracies promoted by members of the government he is supposed to lead.

This is not a question of free speech, it’s a matter of responsible government and leadership, or lack thereof.

The so-called “no d*ckheads” rule has become accepted sporting club lore – successful teams don’t tolerate bad influences that may bring the team into disrepute, who aren’t team players. The Federal Government does not have that rule.

The Thursday question was sparked by one of the government’s Trump supporters, George Christensen, posting a not-untypical conspiracy theory link, but the issue is always current, whether it’s Matt Canavan rabbiting on about coal or, most obviously, Craig Kelly being a professional Craig Kelly.

Christensen and Canavan are on the National Party side of Queensland’s LNP, so are half a step removed from Mr Morrison’s direct responsibility.

Craig Kelly is another matter altogether, being a Liberal from the electorate adjoining Mr Morrison’s and a “captain’s pick” by both Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull for pre-selection against the wishes of Mr Kelly’s own branch – those who should know him best.

Crazy Craig was at it again on Friday, getting attention for himself with Trumpy conspiracy theory rubbish on Facebook.

No, Craig, they weren’t “neo-fascists and Marxists” trashing the Capitol, they were Trump supporters whipped up by Trump and his entourage. You’d have to be thick and reality-denying as Craig Kelly to think otherwise. Oh, that’s right, you are.

Whether it’s his standard climate denialism schtick or continuing to promote Trump’s hydroxychloroquine COVID treatment after the medical establishment had disproven it and even the febrile president had dropped it, Mr Kelly can be relied upon for spreading disinformation and untruths of one kind or another.

And all without a word of criticism from his supposed leader.

Malcolm Turnbull has tried to excuse his support of Mr Kelly’s pre-selection as being the result of “political terrorism”. Mr Kelly was threatening to blow the government up if he didn’t keep his sinecure.

Mr Morrison has not explained his intervention to keep Mr Kelly in government – whether it also is a matter of caving in to terrorism or if he has a kindred spirit in his neighbour.

It’s one thing to accept a bad smell in the party room for the sake of retaining government, but it’s another to refuse to even hint at criticism of Trumpy conspiracy theories, of lies and crackpottery.

Does Scott Morrison enjoy a little QAnon on the quiet? Photo: Getty

Which again leads to the not unreasonable question of what Mr Morrison actually believes, to what extent he doesn’t mind a little QAnon on the quiet himself, whether he is a Trump true-believer, rather than mere Trump-lite.

In any event, the Ratbag Right is officially free to do what it likes in this government – baselessly question the integrity of the Bureau of Meteorology (Senator Rennick, LNP, Qld), spread COVID misinformation (Kelly), lie about climate change (various members and senators).

Curious thing though: I haven’t noticed any supposed liberal Liberals prepared to go out on a limb, haven’t heard of any moderate MPs or Senators prepared to turn political terrorists on a matter of principle, such as the treatment of the Biloela family or the Medevac Bill.

Maybe Mr Morrison doesn’t tolerate all free speech.

(OK, a couple of government members did buck up about the live sheep export trade two years ago, but soon fell back into line when told to.)

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