What we don’t know: Is our Prime Minister a nutter?
Scott Morrison with Donald Trump in the US in September last year. Photo: Getty Photo: Getty
Whether Scott Morrison’s wife’s friend’s husband is a conspiracy theorist isn’t an especially important question for me; what is important is whether our Prime Minister is a nutter.
We don’t know the answer to that more important question.
Mr Morrison won’t let us know. He won’t discuss the issues that have led to that question.
They’re “gossip”, “bubble”, “family privacy”. Running away from what should be simple matters creates fears about how bad the answers might be.
And his government has had to fall into line, stonewalling attempts to delve into two of the mysteries that help give rise to the nutter question.
In anything like normal times, it would sound like a conspiracy theory to question whether the Australian PM is given to conspiracy theories.
These are not normal times. It has become a rational question.
There’s nothing unusual about having ratbags in Parliament. Heavens, Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts have made careers out of it. Try having a rational discussion with Bob Katter.
But it’s a different matter if our Prime Minister is attracted to loony QAnon fantasies, if he believes Donald Trump is leading a battle against an international “Deep State”, or that Israel is fulfilling a Biblical prophecy to bring on Armageddon.
As is so often the case, the cover-up has become bigger than the original actions.
It has taken further the suspicion that Mr Morrison isn’t just a “Trump-lite” populist political copycat, but a genuine Trump True Believer.
In normal times, it would be neither here nor there whether the PM wanted evangelical entrepreneur Brian Houston to accompany him to a White House party, assisting his friend’s ambitions of expanding his US business.
The author of You Need More Money: Discovering God’s Amazing Financial Plan for Your Life would fit in fine with the billionaire climate-denialist miners, Trump fanboys and international political manipulators on Mr Morrison’s invitation list.
That the Hillsong founder wasn’t acceptable to the White House would normally pass as a one-day wonder, embarrassing for Mr Houston but of little matter to the PM – except that Mr Morrison has behaved so very weirdly about the episode, refusing to even acknowledge it and move on.
That has left Prime Minister’s Department bureaucrats and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann twisting in the Senate estimates breeze, forced to pretend something strange isn’t happening with the PM.
And it’s helped kick on questions about how Brian Houston handled paedophilia in his church.
Then there’s Tim Stewart, the reported QAnon conspiracist in the Morrison circle, complete with social media happy snaps.
Again, it’s left bureaucrats hanging and Senator Cormann faking outrage as he obfuscated in Senate estimates.
To recap, the Morrisons (well, technically the Prime Minister’s Office) hired Mrs Morrison’s friend – Mr Stewart’s wife – to work at Kirribilli House in a role that requires a security clearance that is yet to be given.
Senator Cormann cut off attempts by Senator Penny Wong to question bureaucrats on the QAnon issue: “I am not aware of either the circumstances you describe or what is asserted in that particular story,” he said.
“I would be disappointed if your suggestion is that a wife couldn’t be appropriately employed because of what may or may not be the activities of her husband, if indeed the activities are accurately reported.
“You are now going to allegations about a family member … of a staff member, which I think goes beyond what I am comfortable dealing with on the spot without properly informing myself of the facts.”
Maybe the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, next in line after the Deputy Prime Minister to be Acting Prime Minister, really has no idea of what’s involved in obtaining a negative vetting-level-2 security clearance for top secret documents. Maybe.
A spouse’s activities certainly come into assessing top-level security clearances, along with those of other associates and relatives, right down to a list of who might have spent a night in the family home.
Mr Stewart tweets as @BurnedSpy34. Senator Wong reasonably described the conspiracies he’s aired as “extraordinary and bizarre”.
For the political purposes of Senator Wong’s Estimates performance, the questions were about @BurnedSpy34 and his relationship with the PM.
The bigger question is what that relationship says about Mr Morrison’s beliefs.
Does he call out the danger of his friend’s QAnon ratbaggery, is he tolerant of it, agnostic – or a supporter?
Again, we don’t know what he believes.
When it comes to belief, Mr Morrison is very public about some aspects of his evangelical faith, inviting television into his church to film him praying during the election campaign.
Scott Morrison at his Pentecostal church in Sydney last year. Photo: AAP
What has not been explored is how mild or extreme is his particular evangelism.
All but the narrowest versions of the main religions are “broad churches” – Catholics ranging from liberation-theology revolutionaries to arch conservatives, Muslims from Islamist jihadis to the most tolerant and peaceful of people, Anglicans from married gay priests to those who tell supporters of same-sex marriage to leave the church.
Similarly, there are left-leaning evangelicals walking the social justice path of Christianity, but overall, evangelicals skew right, amply demonstrated by the Australian Christian Lobby.
Mr Morrison obviously is more than comfortable with that, and it’s not hard to see the Brian Houston brand of prosperity theology flowing through the PM and his government.
It has more than a whiff of the “undeserving poor” about its social welfare policies, the trumpeted belief in “if you have a go, you’ll get a go” with the sotto voce corollary that those not getting ahead aren’t trying – it’s all their own fault.
The PM’s personal stubbornness about not increasing the subsistence Newstart allowance is extraordinary.
It goes against the wishes of pretty much every pillar of society, from the mainstream churches and social welfare lobby to the Business Council and many of his own MPs.
If only for the sake of assisting our weak economy’s soft consumption, economists are fans, let alone those with a social conscience, such as the Nine newspapers’ Ross Gittins.
But we’re to have no “unfunded empathy” in Mr Morrison’s belief system.
The prosperity-theology belief that God showers the deserving faithful with material rewards might be heresy and depressing for the best of the economics trade, those with “hard heads and soft hearts”, but it doesn’t qualify as full One Nation Senator wacko.
The unknown is how much further Mr Morrison travels towards the extreme end of the evangelical spectrum where a type of madness does lie, such as believing God wouldn’t let serious climate change happen, or embracing Donald Trump to a level that disadvantages Australia, or Middle East policy formed with a view to the Rapture.
Who does Mr Morrison believe will be barred from heaven?
How far do his minority religious beliefs push policy, like the American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?
What’s with the weird Brian Houston thing and the QAnon mate?
We don’t know. We can’t know if the PM is a nutter or not if he won’t honestly answer questions.
Which seems the most logical reason for not doing so.