Australia’s PM tests public patience with links to QAnon conspiracist

Sydney Letter: Morrison’s trip to Hawaii at height of bushfire season enraged voters

Though Covid-19 dominates headlines in Australia, as it does everywhere, prime minister Scott Morrison's habit of obfuscation and being economical with the truth is garnering more column inches than he would like.

The first time the broader public became aware of this was in mid-December 2019 when, in the middle of a bushfire season that saw 479 deaths and 3,500 homes lost, Morrison went on holiday to Hawaii and kept it secret. His office told reporters they were "wrong" to say the prime minister was out of the country.

As Australia recorded a new heat record, with temperatures reaching an average of 41.9C, Morrison’s office continued to deny he was abroad. But when Australian tourists in Hawaii tweeted pictures of themselves with the prime minister, the jig was up and he said he’d go back to Australia. He still waited a few more days, saying he couldn’t get a flight.

While still in Hawaii, Morrison phoned a radio station in Sydney and played down what use he could be in a bushfire season: "I don't hold a hose, mate, and I don't sit in a control room," he said.

Public anger was palpable, with many people refusing to shake Morrison’s hand when he campaigned for a byelection in a fire-devastated area. But the Covid-19 crisis meant memories of Hawaii were short lived for most.

Ideological attack

On September 29th last though, Morrison used the pandemic as cover for a blatant ideological attack, saying medical stocks had been delayed by industrial action, with “militant” unions preventing ships from unloading in Sydney. “There are 40 ships, and I’m told there’s some 90,000 containers out there. That includes medical supplies. I mean we cannot have the militant end of the union movement effectively engaging in a campaign of extortion against the Australian people in the middle of a Covid-19 recession.”

It sounded shocking, but it wasn’t true. The truth was seven ships were either waiting or had just arrived at Sydney’s Port Botany when Morrison made the claim. Only three were delayed and no medical supplies were affected.

The latest example of the prime minister's questionable judgment is over revelations of links between him and one of Australia's leading right-wing conspiracy theorists. QAnon adherent Tim Stewart is a decades-long friend of Morrison's and their wives are best friends.

When Tim and Lynelle Stewart celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary in August 2017, then-treasurer Morrison sent congratulations on Lynelle's Facebook page, saying "Happy Anniversary guys – still remember you telling Jen and I a very long time ago in our little flat in Bronte that you had an amazing guy – you were right."

After Morrison became prime minister in August 2018, Lynelle got a job in Kirribilli House, the prime ministerial residence on the shores of Sydney harbour. Her husband Tim and their son Jesse, meanwhile, were using social media to promote QAnon, whose followers believe Satanic paedophiles run a global child sex trafficking ring and conspired against former US president Donald Trump.

Apology

Last week, it was alleged by state broadcaster ABC that Morrison used the phrase “ritual sexual abuse” on October 22nd, 2018, in an apology to survivors of child sexual abuse only after Stewart asked him to.

Morrison said: “The crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes.”

But Dr Michael Salter, a child protection specialist at the University of New South Wales, said: "Ritual child sexual abuse wasn't a focus of the royal commission [which led to the apology from Morrison]. It wasn't evident in the reports or in the recommendations and so, certainly there were questions about where did this phrase come from . . . How did it come to be in the prime minister's speech in the manner that it was?"

After the 2018 speech, Jesse Stewart tweeted: "You know #TheGreatAwakening is in full swing when the Australian Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP mentions #RitualAbuse. Scott is a patriot."

Morrison addressed the issue in a radio interview on Monday, and tried to put some space between him and Tim Stewart. “We’ve all got friends and we’ve all got acquaintances who have got views that we don’t share. But you know, what do they expect us to do, to just sort of cancel people just because they have views different to ourselves?”

Morrison added: “I certainly don’t agree with Tim’s views on those things at all. He’s a Sharkies [rugby league team] supporter, I agree with him on that, but not on QAnon.”