By Steve Davies
“The time is well overdue for serious parliamentary and public discussion of the morality of the actions and behaviour of the Scott Morrison Government. In particular its impact on people, the integrity of government and the Australian Public Service.
It is impossible to consider whether actions, decisions and behaviour are moral without considering moral evil.
The key aspects of the actions, decisions and behaviour I have listed in this piece are markers of moral evil.
To varying degrees both major political parties have brought us to this point. It is critical that we have this difficult conversation given the capacity of technology to amplify moral evil and cause great harm to individuals, our society and our democracy” (Steve Davies).
Part 1 – Evil
Social media and the mainstream media are littered with reports concerning the behaviour and policies of the Coalition Government. This has been the case since the election of the Abbott Government in 2013. Community concern ran so deep and was so vocal that within two years Tony Abbott was removed as leader.
He was replaced with the more politically correct and amicable Malcolm Turnbull. It was anticipated that a Turnbull would ensure electoral victory. It did not quite work out that way.
“Malcolm Turnbull’s audacious double dissolution gamble looked to have backfired spectacularly on Saturday night as voters walked away from the first-term Coalition government in droves, raising the chances of another hung parliament and turmoil in Coalition ranks.” (Australian federal election 2016: Voters walk away from Malcolm Turnbull, results on knife’s edge. Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 2016).
The rest, as they say, is history. In what has been characterised as a coup Scott Morrison replaced Malcom Turnbull as leader and the Coalition and was returned to government in the 2019 federal election.
In short order the Morrison Government returned to the radical neo-liberal policies and autocratic behaviour that were the hallmark of the Abbott Government.
Unsurprisingly, it did not take long for severe community concern to re-emerge over the behaviour of the Morrison Government and the impact of its policies.
Fast track to today and what we are seeing with the Morrison Government is the continued:
- implementation of policies, practices and technologies that demonise and abuse welfare recipients and disadvantaged Australians.
- implementation of policies and practices that increase social and economic inequality.
- abuse, via administrative and legal means, of whistle-blowers whose information exposes government corruption.
- abuse, via administrative and legal means, of citizens and taxpayers whose information exposes wrongdoing and maladministration.
- demands for blind compliance within government agencies at the expense of ethical and moral conduct.
- failure to implement a National Integrity Commission to ensure the ethical conduct of politics and public administration.
- development and operation of oversight mechanisms that render redress, justice, fairness and transparency impossible for ordinary citizens.
- weaponisation of technology and data which robs citizens and officials of moral agency and freedom of rights.
- stifling and distorting the public dialogue essential to democracy and good government via propaganda and censorship.
- trauma and psychological harm inflicted on people and damage caused to society through the normalisation of moral disengagement across government. The treatment of refugees is a graphic illustration of this.
It suits the Morrison government and its apologists to look at the actions I have listed though the lens of individual ‘cases’. That tactic falls apart since the actions listed are systemic and touch the lives of every Australian.
The deeper significance of these actions is that they are markers of the normalisation of moral evil within the Morrison Government.
Pointedly, the question of the impact of moral evil has been raised by people of faith in relation to a new evil: the COVID-19 pandemic:
“But potentially deadly viruses, like other natural disasters, can also be greatly exacerbated by the moral evil of bad human decisions and actions. For example, human beings can cause or contribute to pandemics by irresponsible actions like the following: wet markets (animal meat placed in highly unsanitary conditions), risky or negligent laboratory practices, biological warfare, government unpreparedness, failure to share critical medical technology, etc. Natural evil in the world never seems to stand alone. Moral evil often makes things much worse.” (Coronavirus Pandemic & the Problem of Evil by Kenneth R. Samples, April 21, 2020).
Definition of moral evil: Moral evil is the result of any morally negative event caused by the intentional action or inaction of an agent such as a person or organisation
What accrues from all of this that we should all question the behaviour and actions of the Morrison Government, or for that matter and other governments, through the lens of moral evil. It’s also logical and prudent that we do so considering the espoused values and beliefs of the Prime Minister and some of his colleagues.
It may very well be that the Prime Minister and his colleagues assert that their beliefs are their business. However, it is particularly important we do question them due to the impact of government on our society, democracy, and lives
After all, how do we judge whether actions and decisions are morally good without considering moral evil? In many ways, this is illustrated by the Morrison Government’s behaviour in relation to COVID-19.
One only has to look at the constant sniping of the Morrison Government against the actions of the Victorian Government. In particular, against the Premier of Victoria Dan Andrews see this.
Throughout the Morrison Government have railed against the recent lock down in Victoria. The tension behind this appears to be the Morrison Government’s preference for what they call a “scalable proportional response,” snapping back and ‘living with’ COVID-19.
As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 March 2020:
“A group of experts convened by the Group of Eight prestige Australian universities at the request of Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy a fortnight ago were asked to give the government their view of the severity of social distancing measures that should be adopted. The overwhelming majority in the group urged a strategy of “go now, go hard and go smart.”
But “go now, go hard” did not find favour in Canberra. As Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly later explained, what was at issue was “essentially two schools of thought”. One was go hard, go fast, while the other was what he called a “scalable proportional response.” (Has Australia’s coronavirus response been too slow off the mark? Sydney Morning Herald, 28 March 2020).
The difference in the two approaches was highlighted by Bill Bowtell AO, Adjunct Professor UNSW Strategic Health Policy Consultant especially related to global health and development, HIV/Aids prevention and public health in a tweet on 28 October 2020.
Re-opening of Melbourne only possible because of great determination of Victorian people and setting of strategic goal of zero local transmissions by @DanielAndrewsMP Imperative this goal remains into 2021. The best way to live with #covid19 is to live without it. Well done!
— Bill Bowtell AO (@billbowtell) October 28, 2020
Bill’s statement; “The best way to live with #covid19 is to live without it” sums up the moral evil inherent in Morrison Government sniping and position. That is, the so-called scalable and proportional response sews the seeds of illness and death and, with that, social and economic decline.
One only has to look at the success of our neighbours in New Zealand to see that and, of course, of the success of the people of Victoria.
Part 2 – Demons
Part 3 – Demagogues
Steve Davies is a researcher, ethical government activist, and was a public servant for 30+ years.
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