Deconstructing Scotty

28 Feb

The refugee is the representative of total otherness…This is the reason why the refugee is seen as such a threat…the terrifying absolute, total other, the symbol of contamination that otherness may bring upon community and identity. Costas Douzinas

Scott Morrison makes this existential fear of contamination by otherness literal in his construction of boat arrivals as “diseased,” and threateningly infectious to healthy Australians who are bound to take responsibility for their care.

He isn’t the first to draw this comparison between the otherness of asylum seekers and disease. The Solicitor General for Australia, David Bennett QC, when he defended the Howard government’s excision and migration laws in the High Court back in the early 2000’s linked the two thus:

Today, invasions don’t have to be military … they can be of diseases, they can be of unwanted migrants….

And then we have this:

Antisemitism is exactly the same as delousing. Getting rid of lice is not a question of ideology. It is a matter of cleanliness. In just the same way, antisemitism, for us, has not been a question of ideology, but a matter of cleanliness, which now will soon have been dealt with. We shall soon be deloused. We have only 20,000 lice left, and then the matter is finished within the whole of Germany.

— Heinrich Himmler, April 1943

So what can we take from Morrison’s tactic of blaming boat arrivals for exposing honest Australian workers and children to disease?  On the most superficial level it’s just another attempt to highlight the government’s failure to adequately manage the boats, although what Morrison would consider adequate management is anybody’s guess. His boss Tony Abbott just wants to turn them round and send them back to anywhere but here.

However, the narrative Morrison uses as a means to attack the government is far more sinister than Abbott’s preferred solution. Morrison, like many before him, is engaging in propaganda to further dehumanise boat arrivals with the goal of whipping up fear and loathing in the community that he can then use to turn voters against the government.

Boat arrivals are already widely perceived as breaking the law by requesting asylum here, a perception that is entirely wrong. Add to that the suggestion that they are dangerous to us because they are diseased, and their dehumanisation is almost complete.

Nothing unites a people like the threat of an external enemy. John Howard knew this well, and won an election by creating an enemy from whom he then offered voters protection. He was assisted by others such as then Senator Ross Lightfoot, who referred to boat arrivals as “uninvited and repulsive people whose sordid list of behaviours included scuttling their own boats.” (Human Rights Watch Report, 2003).

In case it wasn’t clear enough how undesirable boat arrivals are: “These people abuse their children,” Howard informed us. “I don’t want people who abuse their children in our country.” He must have meant he didn’t want anymore people who abuse children in our country, conveniently ignoring the sex abuse scandals raging in the Catholic and Anglican churches at that very time, and the appalling child abuse statistics generated by those already residing here. In using child abuse as an example, Howard unwittingly revealed the level of denial in which he lived his life and practiced his politics.

Howard was supported in his beliefs about boat arrivals by Anglican Dean Philip Jensen, who advised his flock in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, in 2003 that any beliefs other than Christian are “the monstrous lies and deceits of Satan, devised to destroy the life of the believers.”  Yes, he meant Muslims who fetched up here on boats.

Criminals, harbingers of disease  and bent upon spiritual destruction of Christians.

Howard later revealed Jensen to be his spiritual mentor, to whom he turned for advice on stem cell research, Iraq and “moral issues.”

It hardly needs stating that anyone, refugee or intrepid traveller, can arrive in the country by air or sea, infected with something the rest of us would rather not catch. A friend of mine contracted tuberculous while travelling in India, for example, and unknowingly brought it home. Chlamydia, another disease listed by Morrison, is one of the fastest growing sexually transmitted diseases among young adults in Australia, and it isn’t being transmitted by asylum seekers in detention centres. It’s not hard to demolish Morrison’s stupidity.

But what is harder to demolish is the narrative he’s dedicated to continuing, a narrative that originated with Howard, Jensen, Lightfoot, Ruddock, Reith and the like, and that holds sway over politicians of all persuasions to this day. In this narrative, people who have every right to request asylum here are cast as criminals solely because they accept the invitation we extend through our voluntary commitment to a United Nations Convention.

But casting them as criminals isn’t enough. Through what philosopher Martha Nussbaum describes as “a narcissistic refusal to tolerate the reality of something different from oneself,” boat arrivals are assigned the role of scapegoat for all that apparently threatens a country that has alarming tendencies towards paranoia and neurotic anxieties about sovereignty.

With Philip Ruddock referring to them as “infecting” us,  the boat arrival rapidly became in our mythology what Rénè Girard, in his commentary on the purpose of scapegoating, describes as “…the polluted figure, whose appearance within their boundaries fills the inhabitants with dread.”

We need proper processes for asylum seekers who arrive by boat, including attention to health issues for their protection and ours. But why does this have to be framed as a moral rather than a practical and human rights issue?

Morrison is a Christian, a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal churches. Does he share Philip Jensen’s views on the destructive and Satanic intentions of non-Christians?

Morrison’s press release is abhorrent. Is this the kind of Christian politician we want in government? And what the hell would Jesus say? It’s perfectly reasonable to ask that question of any Christian, and to expect a serious answer.

It’s time to refuse the moralistic narrative politicians like Morrison impose on what are questions of practicality and human rights. Let’s deal with them within those frameworks.

When I visited detainees in the Woomera Detention Centre I was overwhelmed by the effort they made to extend hospitality to me. They had nothing, and faced an uncertain future. Yet they managed to offer refreshments and they apologised for their necessarily constrained ability to honour a guest as they would like. The contrast between their notions of hospitality and the attitude of many in this country towards their appeal for sanctuary here, is shocking.

Yes, the detainees I met were absolutely “other” to me. But when encountering Other we have choices as to how we respond. “Other”, in the words of Derrida, “brings me more than I contain…” if only I allow that.

To shelter the other in one’s own land or home, to tolerate the presence of the land-less and homeless on the “ancestral soil” so jealously, so meanly loved – is that the criterion of humanness? Unquestionably so. Emmanual Levinas.

42 Responses to “Deconstructing Scotty”

  1. Marilyn February 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Swine flu came on cruise liners and equine flu on jumbo jets and did enormous damage here.

    Morrison is a vile coward.

    But the media are no better, the likes of Lenore Taylor are still prattling about the long dead and illegal Malaysia deal.

    Even after not only our high court but all the European courts have ruled in the last 6 months that forced arbitrary expulsions of anyone to anywhere are illegal.

    Morrison and co. are utterly vile. Not a drop of care or compassion for anyone.

    And it is not typhoid, it is typhus which has always been known to exist in the rotten refugee prisons we keep supporting in INdonesia.


  2. gerard oosterman February 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    To deconstruct Morisson? Not even the entire tool inventory of Bunnings would suffice. We would have to call in the Chinese and possibly the entire Hydrological Engineering Faculty of Leiden’s University.


  3. paul walter February 28, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    Agree with both of above and the thread starter explains it succinctly.
    Morrison is so like the US Tea party politicians so many FB friends over there detest, a good example being Opus Dei type Santorum, who ridiculed the president for apologising for the recent Koran burnings by US troops in Afghanistan.
    The only thing that would have surprised me would have been, if Jennifer had said he WASN’T a Pentecostal “whited sepulchre”.


  4. gerard oosterman February 28, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    It ought to be Morrison, but does he deserve the extra ‘r’?


  5. paul walter February 29, 2012 at 3:21 am #

    The “Ewige” refugees?
    These filthy fellows threaten the very fabric of the Reich, is there a final solution fitting for such untermensch?


  6. paul walter February 29, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    A highly qualified medical practitioner, eh?
    Our own intuitions are confirmed.
    But then brown shirt Morrison was never concerned with the health of poor people, or Australians or anyone else, so much as he was concerned with his callous Howard style dog whistle reaching Alan Jones country, with its legions of scared, ill-informed, fatalistic sheep.


  7. DontSueMeMTR February 29, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Without hard data, it seems plausible to me to suggest that, individually, boat arrivals would be more likely to carry disease than those that come by other means. After all, most of these people have probably either come from, or been through, some pretty desperate conditions (hence the need to arrive by boat). The sorts of conditions where certain diseases would thrive. Just look at the rates of disease in some of our own remote communities compared to the rest of the country.

    However, when comparing boat arrivals to non boat arrivals as overall vectors for infection, wouldn’t one have to adjust for the NUMBERS of people who arrive in either case?

    And if the rates of disease amongst boat arrivals are higher, doesn’t that just mean that we need to be smarter and more careful about how we handle them and do more to look after them, rather than making out like they’re something gross we stepped in?


  8. DontSueMeMTR February 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Without hard data, it seems plausible to me that, individually, boat arrivals would be more likely to carry disease than those who arrive by other means. After all, most of these people have probably come from, or been through, some pretty poor conditions (hence the need to come by boat). Conditions where certain types of disease would flourish. Just look at the rates of certain diseases in our own remote communities (where conditions are similarly poor) compared to the rest of the country.

    However, when comparing boat arrivals to non boat arrivals as overall vectors for infection, wouldn’t one have to factor in the NUMBERS of people who arrive in either case?

    Also, if boat arrivals are more likely to carry disease, doesn’t that suggest that we need to be smarter and more careful with how we handle them and make sure we have proper resources for dealing with these problems, rather than just talking about them like they were something gross that we stepped in?


    • Jennifer Wilson February 29, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      Here’s an expert’s opinion:


      • DontSueMeMTR February 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm #



    • Doug Quixote February 29, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Of course : and that is why we round them up, put them in quarantine and screen/ treat them for TB, typhoid, cholera and other diseases.

      I ask again, how many ever get to the mainland undetected. Are there any?


      • Jennifer Wilson February 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

        I might be wrong, but it isn’t my impression that boat arrivals intend to get here undetected. Their intention is to ask for asylum and go through the processes of being accepted as a refugee, not to live a life on the run. The undetected are usually plane arrivals with family already here who melt into the general population and I suppose live a kind of underground life. It’s interesting how those with honest intentions are criminalised and imprisoned, isn’t it?


      • Doug Quixote February 29, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

        A person who arrives by plane has a passport and a visa; they are I understand required to have certain health checks for anything other than a tourist/business visa, and vetting is possible at different stages.

        If they subsequently claim asylum, we know who they are and where they are from, and vetting is relatively easy.

        Quite a contrast with a boat arrival!


      • AJ March 1, 2012 at 10:25 am #

        Good point Don


    • Jennifer Wilson March 1, 2012 at 6:58 am #

      I really like your gravatar, BTW. Just had a close look


      • DontSueMeMTR March 1, 2012 at 11:00 am #

        Did you mean mine?

        What can I say, I find the act of using the law to stop criticism and debate vile beyond words. And I find the manner in which your case has been appropriated and skewed by every self proclaimed feminist and women’s rights advocate with a drum to bang pretty sickening too.

        In all honesty, I’m not an avid fan of your writing (sorry, I don’t know how to put it more politely than that) but if push came to shove, I’d even be willing to chip into a legal fund. Such are my feelings on this matter.


      • Helvi March 2, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

        Don’t sue me, I’ll put money in your piggie bank, even I don’t like you…
        What’s happening,why have so many people had the sensitivity by-pass operation, makes me feel sad.


      • DontSueMeMTR March 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

        Helvi, I’m going to assume you left the word “though” out of your first sentence and answer the question I THINK you’re asking (please correct me if I’m wrong) …

        Your sadness is unwarranted. I was not attempting to convey feelings toward Ms Wilson the person. My interaction with her has been limited to about three comments on this blog and I do not feel that is enough to make such judgements. However, if I was to base assumptions on what I’ve seen of the rest of this bog, I’d say she seems like a perfectly lovely person.

        Rather, I was attempting to make it clear that I am not offering financial support because I am a huge fan who sees their own thoughts and opinions mirrored in her writing, but rather in spite of the fact that largely the opposite is true.

        My apologies to both you and Ms Wilson if I was not as clear as I’d hoped to be.


        • Jennifer Wilson March 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

          I understood what you meant, DontSueMe. No need for apologies. Thanks again.


      • Helvi March 3, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

        Don’t sue me, when I wrote that I had just read on another political blog ( nothing to with MTR) a blogger saying nasty things about Jennifer, putting down her qualifications, and calling her a dickhead Wilson…

        I felt saddened by such outburst of nastiness, I wondered what the other commenters there thought of it…totally uncalled for…

        I hope this explains my little outburst :)Thanks for your reply.


  9. DontSueMeMTR February 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm #



  10. Marilyn March 1, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Doug, so how come the swine flu came through a cruise liner with people with passports?

    And who says we actually know who they are when over 3 million people get a visa on the internet.

    You really are fucking moronic, fancy implying that people with passports don’t have diseases.


    • Doug Quixote March 2, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      I suppose it depends on the incubation periods, and how long the gap is between tests/screening and flights or cruises.

      I don’t mind being called “fucking moronic” but please address the issues – I think we all want what is best for Australia. And I’d prefer to stay polite, if possible.


      • Marilyn March 3, 2012 at 5:47 am #

        I am sick to death of being told that being polite is more important than facts.

        Australia cannot be apart from the world and prattling that a few hundred refugees is going to destroy life as we know it is moronic.


  11. Marilyn March 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    this is what happens when we illegally jail people in Indonesia where they do not recognise refugees.

    I hope the racist bogans are fucking thrilled.


  12. Trevor Melksham March 3, 2012 at 5:06 am #

    I didn’t know, but should have guessed by his hypocrisy, that Morrison is a Christian – and a Funda at that.

    The muslims have a more appropriate term for him – Crusader.


  13. Marilyn March 3, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    Yes, 50,000 people a year lie and stay here, about 4,500 arrive openly and ask for help and we call them criminals.


    • Jennifer Wilson March 3, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      Yes, this is the case. It makes no sense at all. But then it isn’t about sense, is it?


      • Marilyn March 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

        No, we have to let the racists have someone to hate.


  14. Marilyn March 7, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Why the media have to go on endlessly about refugees seeking asylum, but only if they come by sea, is beyond me.

    And why do they have to publish the vile filth of both major parties who are lying and know it.

    184,000 permanent migrants welcomed, 4500 refugees spurned and abused.

    Makes not a jot of sense does it?

    And the media’s wide eyed “they came by boat” drives me crazy.

    This is a fucking island.


  15. paul walter March 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    Re Marilyn’s last, Fairfax has given prominence to John Menadue, the former high level public servant and his criticism of the opposition and its stirring up of “Xenophobia”, as it reports on another small boatload turning up.
    But the new minister, Jason Clare, plays a very defensive shot, as to a loose ball that should have been put over the fence, in cricketing parlance, in this report.
    I don’t think the government is going to loosen up on this too quickly, it’s still edgy and wiping the sweat off its brow over its near death experience re the epic leadership spill of last week.
    Certainly no sign of the likes of the ABC, Grattan and co letting up any time soon either, judging by the spiteful effort from Miss Havisham in the same journal today.


  16. Doug Quixote March 7, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    Border security is a non-issue : I ask again just how many arrive on our shores unchallenged? Any?

    The arrival of a few hundred asylum seekers each month is such a minor issue that it should not cause even a ripple in our national consciousness, and be dealt with administratively.

    Marilyn, you may well be surprised to read that I largely agree with your take on these matters.

    The perceived “problem” arose because there was an hiatus in arrivals from 2003 to 2006, serendipitously for John Howard; one result was that the infrastructure and expertise were allowed to atrophy with so few arrivals, and the increase in arrivals in 2007 and 2008 led to a logjam in processing.

    The indications are that the logjam is being cleared and that most of those kept in detention are being released into the community, or repatriated as the case may be.

    The asylum seekers are on the whole patient people, and they have needed to be. The troublemakers are unsurprisingly those who have been rejected and are to be repatriated.

    The repatriation could have been handled better; my suggestion would be to tell them of their rejection when they are on the way to the airport.


    • Marilyn March 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      Trouble is the so-called trouble makers are refugees anyway.


  17. Marilyn March 7, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    The arrival of refugees has nothing to do with fucking border security, they are allowed to arrive and we are not allowed to stop them.

    The two major parties are vile, racist, ignorant slugs.

    And the media are trash. They know it is nothing to do with border security or people smuggling but they prattle like half trained fucking monkeys.


  18. Hypocritophobe March 11, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Where are the crocodile tears,now, Morrison?


  19. Marilyn March 11, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    Why do the media continue to allow Bowen to prattle about something that has no basis in any law anywhere in the world and is just ridiculous.

    If asylum seekers could apply for refugee status in transit countries and be safe they would have by now.


  20. Hypocritophobe March 11, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    The media allow him because they want the issue to stay alive,for him to appear incompetent, which within the redneck voting public means they must vote for Abbott to stop the boats.
    It is a reality that the media(all) want Labor out.



  1. How to Go Forward without Fear | From guestwriters - July 16, 2019

    […] Deconstructing Scotty […]


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