An Extract from Dark Dark Policing. Featuring the Photography of Dean Sewell.
There is an encyclopedic array of scandals swarming around Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with journalists already forming a queue to label this the most corrupt government in Australian history.
Scott Morrison is now plotting to go to an election in September or October this year, before the madness of his Covid policies begin to sledge the living standards of almost all Australians bar the already rich.
The Prime Minister is loathed by the nation’s intelligentsia across the political spectrum.
The chaos visited upon ordinary Australians through Morrison’s abject mismanagement of the Covid 19 episode, from quadrupling the national debt to lining the pockets of some of the nation’s largest companies, from tens of thousands of businesses driven to the wall to millions thrown onto welfare dependency, will be a visitation on Australians for generations to come.
Scandal after scandal is now enveloping the Morrison government, “a grotesque throng of rorts, such that this must surely be the most corrupt government in Australia’s history”.
The nation is heading into an election year. As Scott Morrison prepares to face the electorate once again, it’s worth looking back at the origins of this unholy mess.
As a Pentecostal, indeed the world’s only Pentecostal Prime Minister, Scott Morrison is a believer in what is known as prosperity theology, the idea that God materially rewards the righteous.
Clearly, with shuttered shops from one end of the country to the other, many tens of thousands of businesses destroyed and millions thrown onto welfare dependency, the vast majority of working Australians are getting what they deserve: poverty.
But sometimes it’s the little things that irritate the most.
Way back in 2019, even before he made a fool of himself over Covid, Australia’s Prime Minister announced grants to upgrade security at places of worship.
Morrison’s own church, Horizon in southern Sydney, was awarded $110,000 from the Safer Communities Fund, which was intended to help “protect children who are at risk of attack, harassment or violence stemming from racial or religious intolerance”.
Horizon Church’s grant reportedly went towards the installation of eighteen fixed security cameras, thirteen security lights, video intercoms to three designated areas, two security and alarm systems, and the employment of a security guard at the church.
Horizon is known as a wealthy church. The building alone had been valued at $13 million; with reports of millions a year in donations.
While the poor have grown poorer under Morrison’s woeful reign, the wealth of the oligarchs has ballooned. And clearly, at least in the eyes of the righteous, they are getting the rivers of money they deserve.
But even here, Scott Morrison, one of the world’s best paid Prime Ministers, had his hands in the till.
That was what stuck in the craw of working class Australians, not that he was rich, not that he was incompetent, not that he had won the last election by deceiving them into thinking he was one of them and had their interests at heart, but that his already luxurious taxpayer funded lifestyle was being augmented by security cameras at his already wealthy church.
While their own churches, the pubs and beer gardens across the country, subject to a seemingly infinite blizzard of regulation, not to mention some of the highest cigarette and alcohol taxes in the world, were looking increasingly derelict.
Those places where the workers of the country, drivers, plumbers, electricians, builders labourers, had traditionally gathered at the end of the day if not to commune with nature or with God, at least with each other. To exchange gossip, drink a few beers, swap grievances or laugh at each other’s foibles.
As the Peruvian saying goes, we become a person amongst persons.
But even the surviving remnants of what had once been Australia’s famous or infamous pub culture were about to endure months of pointless closure and, when they finally opened, yet further restrictions.
Stand here. Sit there. Socially distance. Scan your QR Code.
Not just wreathed in scandal, a year ago Morrison and his government were wreathed in flames. Australia was in drought.
While relatively few in number, farmers and pastoralists held a special place in the history and psyche of Australia as pivotal to the tough-edged and phlegmatic character of its people.
Morrison shamelessly milked this sentimentality throughout the 2019 election campaign, flying in and out of various rural settings for photo opportunities, announcing the expansion of this or that government program.
Not unsurprisingly, country people were reluctant to sign up to a bureaucratic web of deceit, or to become dependent on handouts. As some critics pointed out, making proudly independent people with often enough millions in assets jump through bureaucratic hoops in order to get a few thousand bucks was never going to wash.
Having won the election, when there was a genuine need, when millions of hectares were going up in flames, when hundreds of people lost their homes and thousands of volunteer fighters gave their time, money and sweat, Morrison was missing in action.
Fathers with young children died while the prime minister drank cocktails in Hawaii.
It was an exquisite wrinkle in time, and exposed all the worst characteristics of the plutocrats who had seized control of the government.
For days no one knew where Morrison was, and his idiot media managers had requested to the Canberra Gallery that no one report he was on holidays. While the country burned.
Even better, at the same time he let himself be photographed sitting around a Waikiki resort drinking cocktails, while back home exhausted volunteer firefighters were literally dying on the frontline in one of the worst bush fire seasons the country had ever seen.
Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, died in the Green Wattle Creek fire south-west of Sydney when a falling tree caused their fire truck to roll. The two men became fathers days apart in May 2018, to a son, Harvey, a daughter, Charlotte, respectively.
Their crewmates in the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade were back fighting fires the following day. The 68-strong brigade had three crews fighting fires with their trucks emblazoned with “In memory of Geoff Keaton” and “In memory of Andrew O’Dwyer” on their fronts.
The Facebook pages of both men record them as very much traditional Australian men, proudly in love with their wives and children. Full of the joy of life. Lots of pictures of their kids.
Geoffrey Keaton’s page records his affection for the football team the Penrith Panthers. Andrew O’Dwyer records under Life Events: Bought a house 2013.
They were exactly the sort of people Morrison, with his daggy dad routine, had suckered into voting for him, believing he would help improve the lives of their families.
Ultimately the fires burnt through more than eighteen million square hectares and destroyed more than 5,900 buildings, including 2,779 homes. Thirty four people died.
The cover up, as so often with public scandals, was even better than the original.
Scott Morrison’s attempts to say Australians would understand he wanted to keep a promise to his children that they would have a holiday in Hawaii was met with widespread derision.
They were kids. They could do without a $3000-a-night Waikiki holiday. Most other Australian children somehow managed to bravely muddle through without holidays in expensive international resorts.
In a series of interviews, Morrison compared himself to a plumber forced to choose between a Friday afternoon job or seeing his family. As if this multimillionaire, with his smooth hands and pudgy physique, could possibly know what it was like to be a plumber in the devastated economy he had gifted the nation.
The democratic contract was broken; Scott Morrison and his conservative predecessors had been the perpetrators of the crime.
The media hunts in packs. And every journalist in the country now had Morrison in their sights.
The public and the media were “woke”, as the expression of the moment went, and no amount of “nothing to see here” shuffle could save this hapless brand of conservatism.
Until Covid came along to save Morrison. His shameless and deliberate sowing of panic and confusion into the Australian population served him well as his polls rose, indicating that much of the population supported his absurd mishandling of the Covid crisis.
A switched off, poorly educated and media illiterate population has no capacity to tell when they are being lied to.
Now the talk is not of recession but depression, a belated acceptance of a reality already gripping many parts of Australia.
A year back, the headlines told it all: “Firefighter killed in rollover identified as Samuel McPaul” — “Mr McPaul leaves behind his wife Megan, who is pregnant with the couple’s first child.”
“Fire warning: Bushfire mushroom clouds”, “Bushfires leave up to 4000 people sheltering on Victoria beach as flames close in”, “Firestorm bears down on holiday towns”, “Multiple properties lost”, “Catastrophic fire conditions across the nation as ‘extreme’ heatwave hits”.
“Chinese company approved to run water-mining operation in drought-stricken Queensland.”
“Australia’s vast household debt a giant economic millstone”, “The economic outlook for Australia has tanked”, “International Monetary Fund has sharply downgraded forecasts for the Australian economy”, “Australian economy to limp along as consumers struggle”.
“Mining giant given millions in grant by Coalition from fund for Indigenous disadvantage.”
“Our plunging economy”, “How the Government protects its donors and tax dodgers”, “Government caves to a few ‘big interests’.”
“Morrison government paid empathy consultant $190,000.”
Greed is blind. Most particularly in this place, where the worst of the worst prayed for a righteous nation in flights of delusion as they rigged a government replete with malevolent spirits and staffed with those of unparalleled avarice.
The Morrison government is characterised from top to bottom by malfeasance and incompetence, by a staggering ignorance of and indifference to the very people they purport to represent and who, instead, they rob.
Historians will look back and wonder how it was that a country’s ruling elites could so savagely betray, so audaciously plunder, their fellow countrymen. How integrity and decency were so easily abandoned. How they could with such blinding arrogance destroy the very place which had made them rich.
Why the population did not rise up even quicker than they did.
Multi-award winning Australian photographer Dean Sewell made his name as a news photographer and photo-journalist. Collaborations between A Sense of Place Magazine and Dean Sewell can be found here.
This piece, written and compiled by veteran Australian journalist John Stapleton, is adapted from his book Dark Dark Policing. A collection of his journalism is being constructed here.