Scott Morrison governs in the assured first person. His curiosity ends at the limits of his own experience.
He speaks as a man whose imagination reaches as far as Kurnell. Like John Howard, he believes leading the country is the same as organising a barbecue.
He speaks “as a parent”. For complex questions, he forms a quorum: “Jenny and I.” He defers to his faith. He rules in his own image.
Morrison is untroubled by gay conversion therapy. He has the luxury of not caring. “I respect people of all sexualities,” he says, and then, as if the two things are even, as if one does not embolden the abuse of the other: “I respect people of all religions, all faiths.”
He won’t be drawn on recommendations to ban the practice, on the advice of doctors or the evidence of barbarism. “I’ve never been involved in anything like that, I’ve never supported anything like that,” he says, as if the question is of him and not his office. “It’s just not an issue for me and I’m not planning to get engaged in the issue.”
Scott Morrison forgets something because likely it should never have been true: he is prime minister. The questions he answers are no longer hypothetical. He no longer decides whether he is engaged. This is his job. It is a job he does not understand.
“We do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools,” he writes on social media, sharing a vile, distorted piece from The Daily Telegraph. “Let kids be kids.”
This is the other lesson from Howard’s barbecue prime ministership: if you are to reach outside your experience, let it only be to stoke fears and misrepresent facts. Let it only be to demonise an other.
Morrison condemns the teaching of sexual diversity in schools. He panics at the idea of support for trans and non-binary children. Alone among prime ministers, he says he abandoned public education because of the values taught in it. “It’s not happening in the school I send my kids to, and that’s one of the reasons I send them there.”
Simona Castricum is a musician, a trans woman and PhD candidate in architecture at the University of Melbourne. The morning of Scott Morrison’s “gender whisperers” comments, she was twice abused by men from their cars.
“There’s often a spike in harassment towards the transgender community at the times when our leaders and media pundits single us out with hate speech,” she wrote afterwards. “It gives permission for people to think their prejudiced ideas are justifiable beliefs that need to be shouted from cars or in playgrounds. It’s the Australian way – passed down through the generations – with transphobia a staple in the diet of the bully.”
No doubt this is not an issue for Morrison. He has never been involved with anything like that. He’s probably not planning to get engaged in it.
Perhaps that is okay for Morrison, but it is not okay for a prime minister. No longer are his thoughts an expression of his limits: they are an image for the country. On the evidence of this week, it is a narrow and scared one, unconcerned for the rights of others, indifferent to minorities, willing to stake its comfort on the suffering of trans children. Here we are in a new, worse Australia, and it has been only a fortnight.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 8, 2018 as "Gender troubles". Subscribe here.