Was Morrison's ballot-box rejection due to his faith?


I was asked by Christianity Today to what extent I thought Morrison’s faith was tied to the outcome of this election? I do not think his faith was the issue or the big story from this election last Saturday. From my analysis, what was more a factor was women turning on Scott Morrison in safe conservative seats and electing women Independents, as well as women across the nation voting against Morrison even beyond conservative seats.

I think this change began when there was a March4Justice Women’s Rally on March 4 2021, outside parliament over the lack of response by Morrison’s Government to findings of terrible gender harassment in parliament’s toxic environment. He refused to address the rally and, in parliamentary Question Time, said, ‘Aren’t they fortunate they can protest freely as in other countries they could have guns turned on them.

Post Election 2022

Australian women were to be thankful that they weren’t shot??? Though Morrison later scrambled to redress this misspeak, his tin ear to gender equality proved to be baked in. And the response to that was seen in the election. We have much higher female representation in Parliament after Saturday – dramatically jumping to 38 per cent in the House and 57 per cent in the Senate.

Morrison’s handling of the truth – with some MPs on his own side calling him toxic and a liar – was a factor many Christians found galling.

I do not believe Morrison’s faith won or lost him the election. However, it may well be that his behaviour was interpreted as an expression of his faith which caused even Christians to wonder.

Morrison’s handling of the truth – with some MPs on his own side calling him toxic and a liar – was a factor many Christians found galling. In addition to his attitude toward women, there were issues with his dealing with refugees, Australian Aid, and climate change (creation care) that did not resonate with the understanding of the Christian faith many share.

In his maiden speech to parliament in 2008, Scott Morrison spoke effusively about his personal faith in Jesus and said it was not a political agenda. He spoke of his debt to Pastor Brian Houston (now resigned from Hillsong in sad circumstances). He spoke of his Christian heroes like Bono, Tutu and Wilberforce. He said he wanted to make poverty history and lift Australian Aid.

And then he took a leading role in a government overseeing the deepest cuts to Australian Aid, leaving it at its lowest level in our history and ranked 23rd out of 28 OECD nations in generosity. It was confusing.

Nonetheless, most Christians, including me, were proud of Morrison when his party selected him as leader (and therefore Prime Minister) in 2018. Faith in Australia was typically regarded as a private matter and had not been explicitly spoken of by politicians except Kevin Rudd, a Labor PM elected in 2007. PM Morrison’s open Christianity bonded us with him.

Morrison brought a Pentecostal version largely unknown and unseen out in public. Many people of faith felt that secularity had become too dominant and aggressive in the Australian public square. And given that 28 per cent of Australians are born overseas – the most multicultural nation in the world – Morrison reminded Australians that it is multi-faiths that drive our successful multiculturalism, and it should be both public, celebrated and respected.

In the 2019 election campaign, which saw him re-elected as PM, Morrison invited TV cameras into his church, where he was shown with his hands in the air in worship. He and his family’s long commitment to Horizon Church was impressive and admired. While his public display of worship probably shocked and puzzled many, his interviews about faith were generally well-received, including when he revealed that he would have been a pastor if he had not become a politician.

Morrison would sometimes quote scriptures like Isaiah 58.12 – that he was “a repairer and rebuilder of the breaches” in the pandemic. But when pressed on whether this a prophetic anointing was for him alone, he looked uncomfortable.

The ‘rebuilder’ idea seemed in contradiction with the PM’s behaviour. He had recently gone to Hawaii for a holiday, just as the nation’s worst bushfires were taking effect at the end of 2019. Morrison’s comment, “I don’t hold a hose, mate” – uttered in defence of his absence on a prominent radio interview – was greeted with outrage. Likewise, his slowness in acquiring enough vaccines saying, “It is not a race”, made his self-appointed prophecy look suspect. As did his perceived slowness of response to severe flooding in two States in early 2022.

Morrison’s interviews about faith were certainly pitched at Christians and other faiths.

Morrison’s interviews about faith were certainly pitched at Christians and people of other faiths. He promised to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act that protected the right to discriminate in Christian staff hiring, which Christian schools highly prize. A feature of our secondary schools is that over a third of all Australian students are in the private sector – mainly Catholic and Christian Schools funded with taxpayers’ money. (It is less than 8 per cent of students in the private system in the US and the UK).

But the PM failed to deliver this prized Act because, inexplicably, he introduced the Bill in the last days of his three-year term and seemed to play wedge politics with the Opposition – only to be wedged himself on the House floor by some on his own side crossing to vote with Labor. It came unstuck and disappointed so many people of faith.

The organisation I lead, Micah Australia, engaged well with his Administration. But, again, it was curious that in December 2019, when we brought Pacific Island Church leaders to meet him, his advisors counselled the visitors to avoid raising their concerns about climate change in the meeting. One of the pastors indirectly raised the issue by sneaking it into his closing prayer in the PM’s Office!

Our ‘End Covid For All’ campaign to increase Australia’s contribution to supplying vaccines to the world’s poor saw the government massively increase its initial offering. This was very welcome.

A second campaign we ran, ‘Christians United for Afghanistan,’ saw the left, right and centre of the Australian Church unite in a call to accept 20,000 additional places for Muslim Afghans after the fall of Kabul. The Australian Church is rarely united on anything, so this was unprecedented. And in Morrison’s last ever Budget in March 2022, he granted an additional 16,500 places.

Given that all this took place in the shadow of the coming election, it was likely pitched to appeal to the Christian vote. Australian Christians have been at the forefront of advocacy for refugees. They have agreed that you can have border security without unnecessary cruelty to refugees – and this is the point of most discomfort with our outgoing Pentecostal PM.

Morrison built his reputation as Immigration Minister from 2014 to 2017 on being harsh. Since then, he has never wavered from using fear of people seeking asylum on boats as a political tool – including in this election, with millions of voters were texted on election day about a Sri Lankan boat arrival.

Morrison has insisted on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) cruelty for people who cannot go back to Afghanistan, Iran, and many other countries, despite TPVs serving no public policy purpose other than inflicting uncertainty and harm.

Why couldn’t mercy meet justice and kiss? This is the point of behavioural incongruence. How does a man who is happy to be seen with his hands in the air worshipping the Lord act not to abolish TPVs or release the Murugappan family back to Biloela?

The Murugappans will now be released in the ‘kinder Australia’ that incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (better known as ‘Albo’) spoke of in his victory speech. The new PM also spoke of constitutional recognition and a voice to parliament for our First Nations peoples. He has already promised an increase in Australian Aid, and the removal of TPVs. Curiously, in that speech, it was Albo who seemed to be more the repairer and rebuilder from the ruins spoken of in Isaiah 58.12.

Still, I do not think Morrison’s faith in itself caused this election loss. More so, it was the split between the progressive and conservative wings in his base, and the impasse to act strongly on 2030 emission targets to address climate change and agree to a national Integrity Commission with teeth.

Morrison’s personal unpopularity was not because he was a very public Christian, but more due to the perception that his policies did not adequately reflect the Christian faith.

By the 2022 Federal Election campaign, the perception of government rorts – in which 40 per cent of Liberal mates had been appointed to independent taxpayer tribunals (compared with only 5 per cent of mates under John Howard and Kevin Rudd) – started to smell. Handouts to commuter carparks and sports grants seemed partisan, too. And Robodebt, which was harsh and aimed at the vulnerable.

Morrison pitched his party as being strong on defence in these uncertain times with war in Ukraine and the threat of China looming to our north. But many, including myself, believe his government lost focus on regional issues, resulting in a Chinese security pact with the Solomon Islands that may well see a future Chinese military base within striking range of our nation.

Morrison’s personal unpopularity was not because he was a very public Christian but more due to the perception that his policies did not adequately reflect the Christian faith. Morrison’s handling of the truth – with some MPs on his own side calling him toxic and a liar – was a factor many Christians found galling. Scott Morrison’s line of attack was all about maintaining a strong economy – but with cost of living increases, interest rate increases, and petrol costs biting hard, this did not register as well as he thought it would.

His legacy is deservedly to be credited for getting us through a pandemic and seeing unemployment fall to its lowest level in 70 years. But the admission of being ‘a bulldozer’ because of these tough times did not sync with voters and certainly did not resonate with any biblical leadership image. His marketing background meant he was super good at campaigning but too often more focused on wedging, dividing and less on governing when the nation wanted an empathetic and consensual leader.

I think he is a good man with deep faith, and his behaviour after losing showed that. Prime Minister Scott Morrison rang the Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to congratulate him on his election win and then made a generous speech conceding defeat. He also said he would not seek to remain as leader of the Liberal Party. Unlike what occurred on January 6 2021, in the USA, democracy in Australia had worked.

On Sunday, May 22, Morrison spoke at his home church in his electorate and broke down in tears. He said he was pleased that this was his last act at PM, as he read from Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Though the fig tree does not blossom. And there is no fruit on the vines … yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”