Michael McCormack has achieved quite the trifecta in his week holding the fort for Scott Morrison. As if his frolic in post-truth politics wasn’t bad enough, the acting prime minister gave a nod to the far right and decided a pandemic was a good time to launch another round of dole-bludger bashing.
It has been quite the outing for a Nationals leader who, just a couple of years ago, lamented how Labor was “telling far too many lies” and implored Australians to “look at the hard, stark reality of the facts and figures”. But when the time came to take a stand on members of his own side of politics spreading disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines or treatments – or even something as indisputable as the fairly declared winner of the US presidential election – McCormack squibbed it.
“Well, again, I mean, facts sometimes are contentious, aren’t they?” he told the ABC. No, deputy prime minister, facts shouldn’t be contentious, although facts can and do inspire furious debate about the right policy responses. “And what you may think is right,” McCormack continued, “somebody else might think is completely untrue – and that’s part of living in a democratic country.”
When challenged later in the day about the definition of a fact – something known or proven true – McCormack dug deeper. “Well you might look out over there and say the sky is blue and I can see from here it’s grey,” he told reporters in Charters Towers. “You go out from under this rotunda and there are probably blue patches. I mean, there are a lot of subjective things.”
The violent insurrection at the US Capitol building last week – with pro-Donald Trump attackers attempting to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory – really should prompt leaders in all democratic countries to quietly reflect on where sustained undermining of truthful information can lead. This need for reflection applies to media, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about a Quinnipiac University national poll of registered voters that showed nearly three-quarters of Republicans say Trump is protecting democracy, not undermining it. Some seven in 10 Republicans backed the actions of those elected members who tried to stop the certification of Biden’s victory, after a sustained campaign by Trump to “stop the steal” and denial of the election results. This sentiment – backed up by Trump-friendly media – suggests that even after Biden is inaugurated amid unprecedented security measures next week, there will be no quick fix to the divisions and alternative facts of the Trump era.
Australia – happily – enjoys one of the highest levels of trust in government to deliver accurate messages, while the public has also given Australian authorities the tick for their management of the pandemic, according to the results from the recent YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project – a large snapshot of public sentiment across 25 countries shared with the Guardian. But conversely, that level of trust should only increase the responsibility of everyone in government ranks to promote established facts and call out bullshit. Thankfully, the same survey showed just 5% of the Australian respondents think Covid is a myth created by powerful forces and the virus does not really exist – but it is still alarming to think one in 20 Australians could give credence to that vast conspiracy theory.
Unity and truth telling is not advanced when leaders like McCormack roll out the “all lives matter” slogan. He did so, ostensibly, to defend his comparison of the US Capitol riots to the Black Lives Matter protest movement of last year. Critics denounced him for deploying a dog whistle (or should that be fog horn) used by the far right to disparage BLM.
The best sign of the intent behind the “all lives matter” slogan, at least in the Australian context, is that it was Pauline Hanson’s party that attempted to move a motion in the Senate endorsing the phrase last year. McCormack’s own Coalition colleagues in the Senate, led by Mathias Cormann, joined with almost everyone else in the chamber to deny the motion formality. If he were inclined to peruse the hansard, McCormack could find a succinct explanation from Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, of why the slogan is incendiary: “Asserting black lives matter isn’t saying that other lives do not matter. It is responding to a systemic structural problem where black lives are not given equal value. And those who want to reinforce that status quo, including white supremacists, have instead adopted the phrase that is used in Senator Hanson’s motion.”
This week, Human Rights Watch delivered the latest reminder of why we have such a long way to come in this country when it comes to delivering equality. The chapter on Australia in the organisation’s global report pointed out that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system, comprising 29% of Australia’s adult prison population, but just 3% of the national population. Human Rights Watch said Indigenous children were 21 times more likely to be detained than non-Indigenous children. There were, it added, at least seven Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia in 2020. In one of many tragic cases, a coroner found in April that the 2017 death in custody of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day was “clearly preventable” and pointed to the role of “unconscious bias” in her being reported to police for public drunkenness.
These are terrible, but not contentious, facts.
McCormack also spent a great deal of the past week calling for people to consider moving to regional areas to fill job vacancies there. That would be fine, and uncontentious, if he hadn’t also resorted to the tired stereotypes of unemployed people turning up their noses at job offers to stay on welfare.
“Some of those workers who, you know, have been sitting on the couch and being, you know, dare I say, lounge lizards for too long, now it’s time to get back to work,” he said in Narrabri on Monday. While saying his heart went out to people who had found themselves jobless for the first time during the pandemic, McCormack ruined it by suggesting people “perhaps have done reasonably well off jobseeker” and “may have earned more than they could have dreamt of”. Turn off Netflix and come to the regions, he said.
Newsflash to McCormack: while new figures showed strong growth in job vacancies in November, there were still 3.7 unemployed people for every job vacancy, and others have pointed out that the labour market is massively constrained at the moment.
Allowing the jobseeker payment to revert to $40 a day at the end of March – as it is scheduled to – will condemn people to poverty. Peter Davidson, the principal adviser to Acoss, asks: “If that wasn’t enough for people to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead in March [when the government introduced the coronavirus supplement], why is it now?”
Since we’re in the business of facts, here are a couple more. The deputy prime minister’s annual salary is $443,625, or $1,215 per day. For the days he is acting in the top job, that gets bumped up to $1,500 a day. Perhaps McCormack would be wiser not to deliver lectures to those voters who face a bleak future on $40 a day, and focus on marshalling internal government support for a permanent rise in the rate.
Credit: Source link