PM's 'blessed' gaffe blown out of proportion but indicates concerning lack of empathy


Reaction to Scott Morrison’s “I am blessed” gaffe during the first Election 2022 debate proves frustrating reading for those who are more progressive Christians.

No, I don’t think Morrison meant to imply it is not a blessing to have a child with a disability. Yes, I do believe it was a clumsy attempt at empathy.

But I also understand why some parents of children with a disability would see red in the PM’s comment, and I have no urge to suggest their perspective is wrong and mine is right.

Clearly, their sensitivity to the comment results from having lived with the kind of casual ableism I am not attuned to notice. Why can’t we accept that the PM’s comment meant different things to different people according to their experiences?

There is no need to attribute a nefarious motive to Mr Morrison to critique what transpired last night. Regardless of what he meant to communicate, his answer highlighted a lack of empathy that has characterised his politics since well before he took the nation’s top job.

As Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has consistently been accused of showing a lack of empathy for the vulnerable regarding people seeking asylum, offshore detainees who require medical care, women who have suffered abuse, and people who have lost their homes to bushfire and flood.

So, it is unsurprising that he failed to express appropriate empathy for those who face the challenge of living with a disability in last night’s election debate.

Of greater concern is when the same lack of care for the vulnerable is evident in a party’s policies. And significantly, the Liberal Party has not outlined a disability policy in the election policies on its website.

The Liberal Party has not outlined a disability policy in the election policies on its website.

Instead, if you search for the word “disability”, you will get a list of media conference transcripts that include the word.

The transcripts show the solitary use of the word “disability” in the PM’s stump speech which he has delivered on the campaign trail. It reads: “You can’t invest in a strong defence force, you can’t invest and sustain Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.”

This is significant – and not unrelated to his so-called “blessed gaffe” in last night’s debate. Australia’s PM, who is campaigning for re-election, has chosen to talk about the challenge of living with a disability only by mentioning it as a high national cost.

This is his political strategy, of course. The narrative that conservative governments are good at managing the economy and progressive governments are good at looking after people are tried and true campaign winners – even when evidence proves them false. Of course, the coalition wants to fight this election out over the issue of the economy!

But Christian voters should keep in mind that the Bible doesn’t offer God’s followers the luxury of not caring about the lives of vulnerable people. It’s simply not an option provided to God’s followers by the Old Testament prophets, the example of Jesus, or the early church writers.

The PM’s inability to empathise with the vulnerable should never be acceptable to Christians. It should not be acceptable when it’s a “blessed gaffe” in a debate speech because we know he has had media training and has prepared sound bytes. We must ask ourselves why expressing empathy for people with a disability has not been on his priority list.

It is also unacceptable when an expression of care for the vulnerable is lacking in the election policy documents of the party he leads. There is no lack of space on a website to express profound care for people with a disability. The LNP has managed to find the time and space to develop an anti-union election policy. It is not overstating the matter to suggest the lack of a disability policy communicates a lack of care for people with a disability.

Our duty as Christians is to ask our leaders to do better – to care more for the vulnerable, not less. This is how we act as ‘salt and light’ in a secular democracy. We must hold our leaders accountable to do better and be better – especially when that leader is a ‘brother’ and one of the nation’s highest profile Christians!

Mr Morrison is a brilliant debater and an even better politician. He is likely to outwit and outplay his political opponent at every turn during this campaign. The “gaffe count” and the “gotcha moments” are unlikely to lean in the Labor leader’s favour.

But there is an excellent chance that Scott Morrison will fail to out-care Anthony Albanese. And expressing care for the vulnerable is a quality that Christians should insist upon when voting for someone to take on the nation’s top job.