Paul Sheehan and Scott Morrison: dog-whistling in the gutter

Paul Sheehan and Scott Morrison: dog-whistling in the gutter


It’s a wonderful thing that some in the Liberal Party have finally had the bottle to challenge the shameful Muslim-baiting by the party’s immigration spokesperson, Scott Morrison, and other leading Liberals. Thanks to the whistleblowers we now know that in December last year Morrison urged the shadow cabinet to appeal to atavistic prejudices about Muslim immigrants and their supposed inability to integrate.

Morrison made his suggestion when shadow ministers were asked for ideas for issues on which the Coalition should concentrate its political attack in 2011. The deputy leader, Julie Bishop, and even the notorious former immigration minister Philip Ruddock, were, reportedly, horrified. But that didn’t stop Morrison using the opportunity of the asylum-seeker funerals to wrap himself in the bogan banner and go feral with his now infamous remarks about the cost of the funeral arrangements. He represents, after all, the volk of Cronulla.

Of course when it comes to dog-whistling nobody does it more audibly or more often than the Sydney Morning Herald’s looney-right columnist, Paul “Magic Water”Sheehan. And he’s back at it again, plastering his vile prejudices all over the newspaper of record’s opinion page. He even has a new slogan: “One language, one law, one culture”. Eine Sprache, ein Gesetz, ein Kultur. Gosh, volkish slogans like that haven’t had much of a run in civilized society since, well, Europe in the run up to World War I and, most notoriously between the world wars.

Eine Sprache, ein Gesetz, ein Kultur, was very much the line of the Pan-German gutter politicos in the old Austro-Hungarian empire as they shamelessly whipped up hatred against Slavs and Jews … even Slavs and Jews who tried desperately to behave as “good Germans”. And it was the Pan-Germans whose “defence” of “German culture” the young Adolf Hitler so much admired in Vienna years, before World War I.

But the wonderful thing about Sheehan is that he never likes to be associated with losers. He was, of course, a vast supporter of John Howard – and on the drip-feed from Howard’s office – but when it began to look like Howard might lose the 2007 election Sheehan claimed he’d always been a supporter of an orderly transition to a successor and just before the election he went AWOL from Fort Howard. He was last seen scuttling into the scrub in search of another Great White Leader to follow.

And now here he is telling Herald readers that in the past he has had a “sharp disagreement” with Tony Abbott over Abbott’s faith in Scott Morrison, Joe Hockey, Malcolm Turnbull and Christoper Pyne (SMH 21 February). Sheehan thus paints himself more as an advisor to the Opposition leader than as a journalist, but perhaps he’s just big-noting himself. Abbott should be worried though. Not because Sheehan has any real influence, but because he sniffs the breeze.

Scott Morrison must be surprised and hurt at making Sheehan’s latest hate list. His Islamophobia is intellectually, on a par with Sheehan’s and two men have, in the past, marched side by side. During the 2004 federal election campaign, when Morrison was state director of the Liberal Party, Sheehan played a leading role in the Liberals’ Muslim-baiting of the Labor candidate for Greenway, Ed Husic.

It was Sheehan who opened the campaign against Husic, writing (on 27 September 2004): “while every story about the Greenway contest has mentioned that his Liberal opponent is a member of the Hillsong Church, the largest evangelical congregation in the country, Husic believes there is something sinister about discussing his religious practices. Why? Because his parents, Hasib and Hasiba, are Muslims who emigrated from the former Yugoslavia. ‘I am not a practising Muslim,’ he told The Blacktown City Sun ‘[but] I can’t dishonour my parents by disavowing their religion’”.

Actually, it was the opposite of sinister that Husic didn’t mention his religious background. He followed the tested secular principle that a person’s religion – or the lack of it – is not the basis on which they seek election. The conservative Christian right, on the other hand campaigned precisely on the basis of their religious affiliation. Scott Morrison isn’t above it either.

A few days after Sheehan ‘outed’ Husic and too late for any response to be issued before the federal election the next day, a bogus ALP brochure was distributed in Greenway. It proclaimed “Ed Husic is a devout Muslim. Ed is working hard to get a better deal for Islam”.

Those responsible were never identified, but Scott Morrison was state director of the Liberal Party at the time and it’s difficult to believe that Sheehan wasn’t getting some tips from Morrison’s office.

Husic didn’t get elected and Liberal analysts must have been impressed with the Muslim-baiting technique because, in the 2007 federal election, they tried it again – this time in the marginal seat of Lindsay – by distributing a fake pro-ALP leaflet from the bogus Islamic Australia Federation. The timely exposure of the Lindsay pamphlet scandal badly disrupted the Howard campaign and might just have pushed Kevin 07 over the line.

In 2008 a Parliamentary investigation of the scandal by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters commenced. It reported in March 2010. By a strange coincidence of history Scott Morrison was its deputy chair, but he left the committee in February 2010 three weeks before it delivered its report.

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