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Scott Morrison’s Liberal Secularism: is it a good or a bad idea?

Thursday, 4 April 2019  | Paul Tyson

Note: This is the second in a series on Scott Morrison’s faith and politics by Paul Tyson. You can read the first article here.

As recent discussions in the Australian media have shown, different commentators come to remarkably different conclusions in their evaluation of the relationship between Mr Morrison’s religion and his politics. This area is prone to vociferous ‘go nowhere’ disagreement because, I think, there are at least four different sets of underlying understandings of how religion and power should – and should not – be related within the Australian polity. If these underlying differences are not acknowledged people tend to talk past each other rather than to each other. So, using Mr Morrison as our catalyst, let us quickly unpack four different approaches to faith and politics.

Four approaches to faith and politics

Firstly, some people find Scott Morrison’s religion, and its relation to his politics, sensible and largely admirable. Here, personal moral and religious conviction – particularly of a conservative Christian hue – is seen as a fine and attractive attribute for a political leader. These admirers also seem to accept the idea that the basic logic of contemporary political power in Australia is pragmatic, adaptive and firmly secular. And that this is a good thing. This stance is liberal, in that it is strongly committed to personal freedom in matters of faith and morality, and also pragmatic in relation to how power in the context of secular democratic government best works. Let us call this approach conservative liberal pragmatism.

A second group – typically less religiously inclined than the first group – may not care for Mr Morrison’s personal religion, and may or may not like his policies. Yet they hold that every Australian’s private religious convictions can be whatever they choose, provided they are kept discrete from public concerns. Practically, Mr Morrison maintains a strong separation between his own religion and his actual policies, so his religion is of no public interest. Even so, this stance may well concede that it is just smart political craft for the Prime Minister to harness the fact that he does have deep inner convictions when he promotes his policies to the electorate. So long as Mr Morrison only uses the form of personal conviction, and does not (in the final analysis) impose the substance of any particular personal conviction, all is well. This type of complete disinterest in Mr Morrison’s religion is a secular pragmatist stance. This is a functionally materialist stance when it comes to public policy, even if people who hold this stance have private religious convictions.

To a third set of people, there seems to be a shocking dissonance between the hard-edged political pragmatism of Mr Morrison and at least some of the core moral commitments entailed in the teachings of Jesus. The fact that Mr Morrison publicly professes his personal fealty to the Lordship of Christ is what makes this apparent dissonance so jarring to this sort of person. This third category finds it problematic that Mr Morrison’s claimed personal religious allegiance does not seem to bear on his policies. Mr Morrison’s clean disconnection between his discretely personal moral and religious convictions and his active exercise of public power seems to strip the public square of all substantive moral commitments and remove from it any sort of transcendent horizon of higher meaning. People with this sort of angst are typically moral realists, as they do not think morality is simply a matter of private conviction, but a real feature of reality. Here, however incomplete our moral understanding is, there really are such things as right and wrong, and these moral realities are more fundamental than simply what works and what practically advances my own or my nation’s competitive self-interest. Such people are often also theological realists who do not think we can reduce religion to being a merely human construction whose only proper sphere of operation is in the realm of private conviction. Theological realists believe that God is real, over and above religion itself, and that there is a divine standard of justice that stands above all human power. I will call this family of people theological moral realists.

A fourth group are agnostic or atheist moral realists. Whether morality and God have an origin beyond human subjectivity and religion, they either don’t know or deny. But existentially they have an abiding commitment to public morality. Politics, as the art of seeking to build flourishing human communities defined by justice, goodness and universal dignity, is how these people understand what power in the public square is really all about. To this group, Mr Morrison’s amoral pragmatism and his subjectively intense but publically irrelevant religion seem tied together. To this family of people – let us call them existential moral realists – our Prime Minister’s faith and power setup fails to be genuinely morally serious, and smacks of politically manipulative hypocrisy. The ‘realist’ aspect of this sort of stance is every bit as serious about public moral reality as group three is, but they treat moral reality as a humanly originated and natural reality rather than a divinely originated reality.

It is clear that little resolution has yet been made between disagreeing commentators concerning the way Prime Minister Morrison’s faith interfaces (or does not interface) with his politics. This is because such disagreement has not yet managed to cross the internal discourse boundaries of broadly pragmatist understandings of modern liberal secularism on the one hand, and broadly moral realist understanding of how power in the public square should operate on the other. Of course, bits of the four outlooks can be incoherently mingled within any one commentator, but until we recognise what the really hard underlying differences between pragmatists and moral realists are, and how those underlying differences impinge on the very hard problems of liberal democratic secularism, we are not going to get far.

In parenthesis, I think it is no accident that a man of strong personal faith is our current Prime Minister. In our day of very pragmatic, individual prosperity-focused, security-concerned and economico-centric political norms, it is almost necessary that we have leaders of sincere and strong personal conviction. Leaders of inner conviction can make our prevailing political norms at least functionally palatable to the polity. Non-religiously defined leaders are not at a hopeless disadvantage here, but I think we are going to see more leaders like Mr Morrison, not less, in the future. While I am in a parenthetical space I would also like to disclose my own stance on the substantive matters we are trying to discuss here: I am a theological moral realist.

Understanding Liberal Secularism

Let us take a quick plunge into the deep-water problems that I believe Mr Morrison’s particular type of religiously inflected conviction pragmatism presents.

Liberal democratic secularism is a very complex political lifeform, produced by a range of historical contingencies and intellectual influences. It has many genuine virtues, but like every lifeworld shaping political framework, it is fraught with its own particular problems and its own distinctive self-destructive tendencies. If we want to protect what we value in liberal democratic secularism, we had better understand it well.

The first thing to note is that there is more than one type of liberal secularism and that all political lifeforms are constantly mutating. Luther’s strongly theologically defined two-kingdom model of civic power is very different to Locke’s conception of religious toleration. John Stuart Mill’s conception of the absolute sovereignty of the private individual on all matters of meaningful belief and of the public arena being only concerned with utility is very different to Locke’s vision of political life. John Dewey’s translation of Mill into a strongly pragmatic ideology again shifts the ground in important regards on classical utilitarianism.

Shifting intellectual currents shape the way we think of faith and power, but so also do the ever-shifting contingencies of history. In recent times the post-war boom era in Australia (1949–1971) was a period of heavily state-funded infrastructure building, in an era heavily inflected with the tacit respectable cultural norms of broadly Christian morality. Things shifted strongly away from culturally Christian norms from 1964 as the Boomers came of age and left the churches in droves. The 1960s to the early 1980s was defined by broadly Progressive and Humanist conceptions of state-building, and an egalitarian and collective conception of the common wealth. This was then displaced, after Mr Fraser, by the rise of a politics more concerned with personal prosperity and economico-centric politics. In the passage from Mr Hawke to Mr Howard we saw the steady rise of the neoliberal security state focused on the promotion of private wealth and increasingly Hobbesian conceptions of absolute protective power. After a rapid succession of internally ousted prime ministers (and what does this signify other than a serious ambivalence about the goals of power themselves in our times?) the inner tensions of the pragmatic neoliberal security state profoundly situates our present understanding of the relationship between the private and the public spheres of life. This is the context in which we are now trying to think about morality, religion and power.

It should also be pointed out that undergirding the entire modern liberal trajectory is a somewhat Protestant rejection of the medieval integration of theology with public power. It is this drive to separate religious authority from civic power that has been the basic engine of modern liberalism. This has led to the pragmatic autonomy of political and commercial power from higher meaning in our times. And yet, a residual religious moral realism has never left Catholic social and political thinking even though it has undergone profound transitions over the past half a millennium and has many forms of expression today. Equally, theological moral realism for the public arena has never simply been a Catholic thing. Though I am Anglican, my own sympathies lie with Chesterton’s distributism on matters of such public importance as economic morality.

The central point of the above very quick sketch of liberal secularism’s intellectual, historical and religious histories is to underline the genuine complexity of the terrain. For this reason it is wrong to simply denounce an opponent in this arena by criteria they themselves have never accepted as valid. The problem of how to locate a viable relationship between personal moral conviction – often religiously grounded – and public power within secular liberal democracy is not at all simple.

The problem with Scott Morrison’s Liberal Secularism

Let us now think more concretely about the relationship between pragmatic secular power, moral commitments and religious faith in the context of contemporary Australian politics. Prime Minister Morrison’s distinctive approach to pragmatic liberal secularism highlights our present situation, so that will be the focus of my brief concluding comments. But I want to make it clear that I am not here interested in whether Mr Morrison himself has virtuous or reprehensible moral convictions, and I am not here concerned with whether his Pentecostal Christianity is an example of good or bad religion in the public arena. I want to push past those questions, important as I think they are, and try to get to the underlying hard problems of the relation of morality and religion to public power in our Neoliberal times.

Mr Morrison’s militarised offshore indefinite detention regime is, by design, cruel and inhumane towards those asylum seekers who find themselves the object lessons that will deter prospective people smugglers and other would be ‘illegal’ arrival asylum seekers. This tough and unflinchingly enforced policy stance is a clear political winner for Mr Morrison, and gives his government the upper hand over the Opposition if they are not prepared to be as unbendingly boarder security focused as Mr Morrison is. This situation has a number of very significant features as regards the relationship between pragmatic political power and personal moral conviction in our democracy. But to better understand the moral significance of this situation I want to take us back to two other conservative politicians, Nick Greiner and John Howard.

Back in the early 1990s Nick Greiner delivered a Deakin Lecture titled ‘Australian Liberalism in a Post-ideological Age’. This lecture pointed out that politics was no longer defined by inflexible commitments to political ideologies of the Left or Right. In the early 1990s, Mr Greiner assured us, government was firstly concerned with successful economic and social infrastructure management. Voters have little interest in political theory and just want to know which team of politicians will be best able to make Australians as individually wealthy and personally happy as is practically possible. We are now too mature and too sensible for dogmatic metaphysical commitments to political ideologies. This does not mean the older socialist and conservative ideological categories entirely disappear, but they are backgrounded to questions of successful economic management and are not treated as sacrosanct by politicians or voters any more. We have now entered a great and promising age of politically flexible economically focused pragmatism. This was a distinctly liberal era because the freedom of the private individual to pursue whatever legal approach to happiness and meaning they choose was really the only sacred ideal that survives in our post-ideological times.

In general terms, I think Mr Greiner accurately discerned the post-ideological norms of Australian political culture in the early 1990s. Under these conditions, securing economic prosperity for ideologically disinterested individual Australians, by whatever means worked, became the first concern of political policy. Until 9/11.

With the War On Terror, national security became as electorally important to Australians as personal wealth and private liberty. Under John Howard a renewed state-sanctioned commitment to the Anzac legend was strongly amped up, and a radical shift in post 1970s immigration policy was effected. The commitment to universal human rights as applied to boat arrival asylum seekers shown by Malcolm Fraser was radically revised under Mr Howard, and ultimately reversed under Mr Morrison.

By the time of Operation Sovereign Borders, the central political goals of good governance were wealth, security and private freedom. In moral terms, these goals are pretty selfish and prone to being savagely callous towards the poor and the alien. That is, they are not easy to promote to the electorate as good goals. So they need to be sold to us as practically necessary goals, and preferably sold to us by someone who can enable us to feel good about ourselves whilst pursuing the necessary hard line pathway of strong government. Scott Morrison was born for this moment.

It is no accident that the liberal secularism of Scott Morrison is religiously inflected and couched in the ethos of strong private moral conviction. But is this the best way of pursuing liberal secular democracy? And will we, at some point, have to choose between pragmatically pursing our own economic interests and security, and having a public political culture that is seriously morally concerned? Is pragmatism marketed to us with personal conviction actually compatible with any serious conception of public morality? Should a politician of personal religious faith be concerned about morally defined public goods? Does the public square need a careful yet serious integration of the moral realism of strong personal faith with the common good, within liberal secularism? Is liberal secularism itself facing some sort of fundamental moral crisis? These are the big questions Scott Morrison poses for us. They are not easy questions to answer. But there is a central problem we need to recognise and address before, I think, we will make any real progress towards viable answers to the above hard questions.

The underlying political difficulty for us in contemporary Australia is our determined refusal to face the incurable tension between individualistic wealth and safety-focused pragmatism on the one hand, and serious collectively concerned moral realism on the other. Religion, as always, is intimately enmeshed in the inherently complex relation of the responsibility of each individual to stand alone before God (and this supports a certain type of individualism) and the prophetic tradition advocating collective justice as a function of right worship (and this supports a certain type of moral collectivism). No-one expects contemporary Australian politics to abandon its modern commitment to giving secular political power full democratically accountable autonomy from ecclesial authority. And yet, pragmatism really does oppose moral realism and this is a genuine problem for theological realists who, in the final analysis, find the source of morality in God.

Wherever one stands on Mr Morrison’s faith and his politics, unavoidably, there are demanding tensions that need to be carefully addressed concerning the way we as the polity of Australia think about power, faith and morality.

Paul Tyson is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland.


Janet Queay
April 25, 2019, 10:04PM
Thanks for a great article.

I'm very upset with Mr. Morrison calling himself a 'Christian' when he is so callous towards asylum seekers. I am involved with an organisation which attempts to support these people. Scott Morrison and others have caused these people so much pain that I can't imagine how he could associate himself with the person of Jesus. He is giving the real Jesus' followers a very bad name.
Andrew Kulikovsky
May 1, 2019, 12:52AM
Another article from Paul Tyson attacking the government's border protection policies.

In this one, Paul remotely psychoanalyses PM Morrison and concludes that he has a 'secular pragmatist' approach to faith and politics, because - in Paul's reckoning - 'Morrison maintains a strong separation between his own religion and his actual policies'.

But how can Paul really know the motivation behind Morrison's border protection policies?

Can Paul read his mind? I doubt Paul would claim such powers...

Has Paul interviewed or corresponded with him? His article does not mention such correspondence...

Has Paul read any considered writings or speeches by Morrison that address his motivations and influence of his faith? His article does not cite or quote any such writings or speeches...

So on what basis does Paul conclude that PM Morrison is a 'secular pragmatist'?

It appears that Paul believes his conclusion naturally follows because no Christian who allows their faith to influence their politics could support a 'militarised offshore indefinite detention regime' that is designed to be 'cruel and inhumane towards those asylum seekers who find themselves the object lessons [to deter] people smugglers'.

But are PM Morrison's border protection policies actually 'cruel and inhumane'? This is a factual question not a moral one.

Paul Tyson clearly believes they are - based on no actual hard evidence whatsoever.

PM Morrison and I think he is factually wrong, based on the government's own accounting and first hand testimony from journalists who have actually visited the off-shore detention centres and talked with the asylum seekers.

Rather than a serious analysis of the interaction between faith and politics, this article is nothing more than an expression of Paul's personal - and I would add 'uninformed' - opinion.

I would also add that it borders on being slanderous and a violation of the 9th commandment (Exodus 20:16).
Paul Tyson
May 2, 2019, 7:12AM
Dear Andrew

Thank you for your extensive comments. I will respond in this manner.

Every Australian government this century has successively out-done the previous government in abrogating our signed 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention obligations to asylum seekers. Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton are the most recent Immigration Ministers, so in this trend, they are the worst. I am not making this up; this – alas – is simply an observation regarding Australian policy development.

You are probably aware that the Refugee Convention was drafted because Jews were turned away at borders during World War Two, many of whom subsequently died in Nazi death camps. Three central features of the responsibilities of signatories are these:
1. Not to hinder refugees from entering signatory nations to make asylum claims, however they arrive, and whether they have documents or not.
2. To treat asylum claimants with dignity and fairly examine their claims to see if they are genuine refugees.
3. To give citizen status to refugees.

We are now at a policy place where we do none of these things to irregular arrival claimants. Protecting the sovereignty of our borders against refugees and establishing indefinite off-shore detention centres is entirely contrary to the spirit and letter of the Refugee Convention that our nation is a signatory to.

Further, as a matter of border sovereignty, our governments have made 'stopping the boats' a military matter and it is now seditious for non-authorised personnel to find out what our government and private contractors are doing in off-shore indefinite detention centres. Our government thus carefully controls information about the way we treat asylum seekers, letting out enough information to make it clear that refugees will never be able to have their claim processed and will never be able to come to Australia, and that conditions are – at the very least – hopeless, and consistently unpleasant. These are not holiday camps.

Our governments also carefully de-humanise these asylum seekers so that images of separation and hopelessness do not become a PR problem domestically. It is also the case that Mr Morrison is very proud of his achievements of tough border protection policy resulting in stopping the boats. I cannot see why Mr Morrison does not simply withdraw Australia from the UNHCR Refugee convention if he is so determined not to follow any of its guidelines when it comes to boat arrival asylum seekers. Perhaps you think he should withdraw Australia from the Refugee Convention. But, against successive Australian government policy trends, I think we should repent and return to our UNHCR responsibilities. I think this is the only Christian direction. Our Lord, after all, was one of the outcast and oppressed of the world. 'As much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.'.
Andrew Kulikovsky
May 3, 2019, 1:06AM
Dear Paul,

Almost everything you have stated above is factually incorrect.

Firstly, the Refugee Convention was created to deal with the protection of European refugees in the *aftermath* of World War 2. Indeed, my own father and grandparents were among those refugees!

Secondly, relatively few Jewish refugees were "turned away at the borders." There were about 900 on board the St Louis who were refused entry, and 254 were subsequently killed during the Holocaust. By June 1939, there were around 300,000 applications for visas to US Consulates in Europe but the US was only willing to accept around 30,000. This was quite understandable at the time, since no country - even today - could handle a sudden in-flux of 300,000 people!

Thirdly, the 1951/1967 Refugee Convention is an international treaty, and like all international treaties - even those we have signed and ratified--are NOT BINDING on Australia unless they are incorporated into Commonwealth legislation that has been validly passed by both houses of Parliament and given Royal ascent by the GG. It is surprising how many people cannot or do not grasp this constitutional requirement! In the case of Australia, the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) sets out the extent to which the Refugee Convention applies. Have you read this Act?

Fourthly, the Refugee Convention and the relevant provisions of the Migration Act make it clear that protections afforded to refugees only apply to verified refugees with a well-founded fear of persecution. Just turning up at the border and claiming to be a refugee doesn't cut it! We know very well that the majority of boat arrival asylum seekers are not genuine refugees but mere economic migrants looking for a better life. The Refugee Convention does not apply to such people.

Fifthly, the Migration Act makes it clear that even for genuine refugees, if they can seek protection or live safely in a third country then they must do so in preference to seeking residence in Australia. We know very well that asylum seekers from the middle east pass through several safe countries before arriving in Australia and many have lived in Indonesia for several years, even running businesses there!

Sixthly, your claim that "it is now seditious for non-authorised personnel to find out what our government and private contractors are doing in off-shore indefinite detention centres" is incorrect and slanderous. For a start, they are 'Regional Processing Centres', not indefinite detention centres. The Nauru and Manus Island centres are located in foreign countries. Australia does not control access to them. You can visit them by applying to the governments of those nations. Several Australian journalists have done so and reported on it, which is why I know your claims are baseless and untrue.

BTW, stopping boats has ALWAYS been a military matter! Protecting Australia's maritime borders is one of the primary objectives of the Australian Navy. It is just that under Morrison and Dutton, the Navy is actually enforcing the law instead of merely providing an escort for illegal maritime vessels.

No, the government is not de-humanising asylum seekers. The government has stopped the people smugglers from de-humanising asylum seekers. The people smugglers have de-humanised them by treating them as mere economic units to be crowded on to an unseaworthy vessel that is very likely to sink! We know that before Morrison shut down the people smugglers at least 1200 asylum seekers drowned, including many children! You can't get much more dehumanising than that!

Again, Australia is meeting all its Refugee Convention obligations as set out in the Migration Act, so your claim that the government is not following them is just false.

Yes, indeed, 'As much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me' - but many of those asylum seekers are NOT the least of these... The least of these are more often than not left wallowing in UN refugee camps close to the place from which they fled, because they cannot afford the airfare to Indonesia or Malaysia, or to pay the people smugglers to ferry them to Australia...
Paul Tyson
May 5, 2019, 10:28PM
Dear Andrew,

You force me to engage with you in a detailed manner. Very well.

To your first comment.

The article I wrote is centrally concerned with trying to understand the differences between pragmatic approaches to modern liberal secularism, and moral realist understandings of power and the public square. Because of this underlying difference in the way people understand faith, morality and power, there are at least two different ways of evaluation how leaders like Scott Morrison relate their faith to power. I want us to look at those underlying issues rather than simply assume that everyone sees faith and power the way we do. Strikingly, none of your comments show any interest in what my article is centrally about. For this reason I was initially uninclined to respond to your comments at all, as you have missed the point of my article, are determined to read my piece as a personal attack on Scott Morrison, and have set about defending him and Coalition border protection policy using my piece as a springboard.

Even so, I have indeed located Mr Morrison’s border protection policies as a concrete illustration of how faith and power are pragmatically isolated from each other in his politics. By the way, I am not politically partisan on immigration and “border protection” policies, as ALP policy and initiatives on this front this century, are very hard to distinguish from the Coalition’s. Yet as I did illustrate my argument via Mr Morrison’s 'border protection' policy record, I thought it reasonable that I should make an effort to respond to you.

In your comment you take offense that I describe Mr Morrison as a secular pragmatist. But what is offensive about a Christian being a secular pragmatist? Here you confuse me. You seem to approve of Mr Morrison’s electorally expedient use of indefinite off-shore detention, and his tough 'national security' motivated non-compliance with the UNHCR Refugee Convention, as if you yourself see nothing wrong with that sort of secular pragmatist approach. But then you are offended that this might be thought of as not a Christian or humanitarian stance, and you think if I was not so ignorant of the actual facts, I would see that this really is a Christian and humanitarian policy setting. It looks like you want to have your cake and eat it too. For seriously, Andrew, this is a very degrading policy game our governments are playing with very globally vulnerable people. Have a look at de Cryspigny’s The People Smuggler, Behrouz Boochani’s No friend but the mountains and repeated criticism of Australian indefinite offshore detention by the UNHCR – see this UNHCR facts sheet from Jan 2018, https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/publications/legal/5a6512507/unhcr-fact-sheet-on-situation-of-refugees-and-asylum-seekers-on-manus-island.html – if you think I am just making this up. Alas, you are wrong. Indefinite offshore detention is designed to be a deterrent, it is designed to be degrading, despair-inducing and without human compassion. If you are a pragmatist and a political realist and you can sell it to the electorate by harnessing irrational fears, then this is fine. If you believe personal faith and personal morality are not directly related to secular liberal power, then fine. But don’t try to tell me this is really a Christian and humanitarian policy setting.

To your second comment.

Conceded, my off the cuff response to you about the origins of the convention were inaccurate; thank you for your correction. However, you would be mistaken to argue that the greatest atrocity of WWII was irrelevant to the formation of the UN itself, and was not a significant driver in the universal humanitarian nature of these important post-war conventions. But let us consider substantive matters.

You can find the current version of the UNHCR Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees here: https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/3b66c2aa10. I quote the core logic of this document, of which Australia is a signatory:

'Convention provisions are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin… refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules. Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum.'

If signatory nations do not intend to follow these protocols, why do they sign them? The fact that 21st century Australian politicians have decided not to follow these protocols, and such a political decision is not illegal as regards Australian law, makes a travesty of our being signatories.

Both the Coalition and the ALP have backed out of our UNHCR Refugee obligations in – by now – a total reversal of the Fraser government's outstanding commitment to follow these conventions. Here I will get a bit personal. I have married the daughter of post-war European immigrants (economic immigrants, not refugees, by the way) and I have many friends who are from European immigrant families – a number being Jewish – who came here in the post-war boom from war devastated Europe. This immigration was driven by the White Australia policy, and the desire to grow our population. When that policy was finally shut down, I was a youth, and many of my friends in the 70s and 80s came from Vietnam and moved to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne where I grew up, as boat arrival refugees. Our immigrants and refugees from all races and religions have enriched Australia beyond reckoning. Since the 90s I also came to have many friends from Muslim countries, many of whom were from refugee families, like – so it seems – your own. So what I don’t understand is why you seem to be so unwilling to share the peace, safety and prosperity of Australia with others who are now in a similar position to your own family when they came to Australia. This, I really don’t understand Andrew.
Andrew Kulikovsky
May 7, 2019, 2:40AM
Dear Paul,

Thanks for response and explanation of your position. Now please let me explain mine.

It's not that I have missed the point of your article, but that I think your argument is based on false assumptions and presumptions. Therefore, whatever points you seek to make are invalid.

For example, you label PM Morrison's border protection policy as "electorally expedient use of indefinite off-shore detention." But the term 'electorally expedient' is a pejorative term and your mere presumption. Have you ever considered that PM Morrison’s policy was motivated by national interest and security concerns?

You said: 'By the way, I am not politically partisan on immigration and “border protection” policies'. I find this hard to believe given that you have been active on Ethos since 2011 yet have written nothing critical of the ALP's border protection policies, and a string of articles critical of the Coalition's policies. And this is despite the fact that the 'cruel' and 'degrading' detention of asylum seekers you so readily speak of occurred under the ALP's time in office! When Howard left office in 2007, there were 4 adult males in detention. Since the Coalition came to power in 2013, no boats have arrived and no new people from boats have been transferred to Nauru AFAIK. Again, it appears you are blaming the Coalition for having to deal with the ALP's policy disaster!

And only an ALP true believer could seriously claim - contrary to all the evidence - that Gough Whitlam was some kind of moral giant:

In addition, you appear to believe that the UN Refugee Convention is the Word of God and may not - under any circumstances - be disobeyed. It is NOT the Word of God!

As I explained to you, it is an in-principle agreement which is only binding on Australia to the extent that the Migration Act implements its provisions. This is more or less the same for ALL signatories.

You said: '...if I was not so ignorant of the actual facts, I would see that this really is a Christian and humanitarian policy setting...this is a very degrading policy game our governments are playing with very globally vulnerable people'.

I think that any truly Christian position must seek and acknowledge truth. Many of the people coming to Australia and claiming asylum are NOT genuine refugees. They are economic migrants seeking a better life. Therefore, contrary to your assertion, there are NOT 'very globally vulnerable people'. Do you deny the existence of these economic migrants? If so, I suggest you read the following research paper:

Secondly, you incorrectly characterise Australia's regional processing centres as "indefinite detention" yet neither term is accurate. Asylum seekers in Nauru have been free to come and go as they please and roam the island since 2015. Moreover, they are free to leave the island at any time and return to their home country with a wad of Australian cash, and many have taken this option (and some have gone to the USA).

BTW, the UN 'fact sheet' you reference refers to the Manus Island detention centre - but that centre has been closed since October 2017, so that 'fact sheet' (most of which refers to the trivial...) is worthless.

In any case, your assertion that 'Indefinite offshore detention is designed to be a deterrent, it is designed to be degrading, despair-inducing and without human compassion' is demonstrably false because it's not indefinite (people are accepted or rejected as asylum seekers, and if they are accepted they may be resettled in Oz or another country) and it's not actual detention.
Regarding your assertion that detention is cruel and degrading, you should consult the following re assistance to asylum seekers:

Keep in mind also that the asylum seekers on Nauru did not arrive during the time of Morrison's and Dutton's tenure. They arrive when the ALP were in power. PM Morrison's policy was to not allow boat arrivals at all - ie. to turn the boats back, and to shut down the people smuggling operations! In other words, detention - indefinite or otherwise - was never Morrison's policy, so your assertion above is wrong on every point!

You say: 'If you believe personal faith and personal morality are not directly related to secular liberal power, then fine. But don’t try to tell me this is really a Christian and humanitarian policy setting'. Again, you are assuming that (1) every asylum seeker is genuine; (2) that Australia has an inexhaustible capacity to take in every refugee that qualifies; and (3) that a large in-flux of refugees will only have a positive benefit on society, the economy and infrastructure. If you're honest, you will acknowledge that these assumptions are clearly wrong.

You ask: 'So what I don’t understand is why you seem to be so unwilling to share the peace, safety and prosperity of Australia with others who are now in a similar position to your own family when they came to Australia. This, I really don’t understand Andrew.'

Paul, I am not unwilling at all to share our great country with others. I just want people who are genuine refugees, like my father, and who show a little gratitude for the gift our country has given them. My father fled the Soviet Union because he and his family would have been executed or sent to Siberia. He embraced Australia and its social institutions. He got a job the day after he arrived. He didn't demand my mother embrace communism, nor seek to create a Soviet ghetto, nor advocate for communism. He lived under that evil oppressive regime and didn't want a bar of it! He didn't hate our country and teach his 6 children to hate it as well. Instead, he worked hard - 2 jobs in fact for most of his life - so that his 6 children could have a much better life than he did. I'd gladly take all the refugees we can practically handle if they all had the same attitude and gratitude.
Paul Tyson
May 7, 2019, 10:05PM
Whitlam ended the White Australia policy and Fraser upheld Whitlam's stance in his acceptance of Vietnamese boat people. In my estimation they are both moral giants unholding the universal humanitarian aspirations of the UNHCR in a nation with a deeply racists and bigoted heritage. One Nation, Senator Anning et al are, alas, not aberrations. In my opinion, when it comes to immigration and asylum seekers, we have not seen any leader of the moral caliber of Whitlam and Fraser in the 21st century on either side of politics.

FYI, the only political party I have ever been a member of is the Liberal Party. The only Australian Prime Minister I have ever personally talked with is Malcolm Fraser, and I fully agreed with his evaluation of 21st century immigration politics. If you think Malcolm Fraser was a fool who had no idea about what was really going on after Tampa, well... I don't think there is any point in trying to respond further to your comments Andrew. I wish you well.

Andrew Kulikovsky
May 9, 2019, 10:24PM
Paul, once again your grasp of the facts - this time around the White Australia Policy - is sadly lacking.

Firstly, it should be noted that although there were some racist politicians who supported the bill to introduce the White Australia Policy in 1901, Keith Windschuttle has demonstrated from a detailed examination of the 600 pages of the actual parliamentary debate in Hansard, the White Australia Policy was introduced for economic and cultural reasons, not primarily because of racial prejudice. So your claim that Australia is "a nation with a deeply racists [sic] and bigoted heritage" is a total exaggeration. Indeed, as Mal Garvin has long pointed out, Australia has absorbed more people from other nations and cultures than any other nation apart from the USA.

Secondly, Menzies and Holt had progressively dismantled the Policy from the late 40s to the late 60s. Non-European refugees were allowed to stay, and Japanese war brides could be admitted (1949), Asian students were allowed to study here (1950), non-Europeans with 15 years' residence were allowed to become citizens (1957), dictation test in Migration Act was abolished and a simpler entry system introduced which included qualified Asians (1958), citizens were permitted to sponsor Asian spouses for citizenship (1959), and conditions of entry for non-European were relaxed (1964).

The Holt Government's Migration Act 1966 effectively dismantled the White Australia policy and increased access to non-European migrants, including those refugees fleeing the Vietnam War. Immigrants would now be accepted on the basis of their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily and their possession of qualifications positively useful to Australia, and allowed foreign non-whites to become permanent residents and citizens after 5 years (as for Europeans), and also removed discriminatory provisions in family reunification policies. Gough Whitlam merely legislated what was already being done...

Incidentally, the ALP under Arthur Calwell opposed all these changes and continued to support the WAP.

I wouldn't be too quick to praise Whitlam as some kind of virtuous anti-racist hero. Recall that in 1975 Whitlam famously declared that he was 'not having hundreds of f#$%ing Vietnamese Balts coming to this country'... Whitlam also denied refugee protection for Vietnamese employed by the Australian Embassy in Vietnam, as well as Vietnamese students who had returned to Vietnam after completing their studies in Australia. (All this is recorded by Clyde Cameron, Labor Minister for Labor and Immigration in 1975).

Not sure why you raised Malcolm Fraser. I never even mentioned him at all let alone called him a fool. Nevertheless, I'm not sure why you would put so much confidence in his assessment given that had been out of politics for almost 20 years at the time of Tampa. What would he know? I, on the other hand, have worked in the defence industry for 25 years, and have worked with, and talked to, Navy and Airforce personnel actually involved in border protection so I think I have a bit of insight...

In any case, thanks for the discussion Paul. I, too, wish you well.

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