In the last few months, the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, has come under heavy attack. I myself have written a number of pieces in which I challenge the morality of policies Mr Morrison has introduced. I’ve noticed however that alongside questions of policy, people I know have started asking questions about his personal motivations and the authenticity of his faith. In my opinion, this is unfair. Here are my guidelines for why and how we should criticise politicians.
1. Politicians make public policy, and because it is made for us and on our behalf, policy should come under the blowtorch of public scrutiny. We should applaud good policy and protest when we consider policy bad. We should feel proud of good policy and get angry and disappointed at policy that hurts people. If the contestability of ideas is a key plank of a healthy democracy we should not shy away from robust, passionate debate about the things that matter to us.
2. Politicians are people, who like all of us, are a mass of dreams, hopes, fears, and contradictions. If you apply the blowtorch of judgement to my life you would undoubtedly uncover areas where how I live is inconsistent with what I profess, and discover ideas that I hold that are mutually contradictory. I’d be disappointed if you judged the authenticity of my faith on this basis. I am dismayed that the drive towards ever harsher treatment of asylum seekers has been spearheaded by three prominent Christians – Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, and Scott Morrison. I cannot see how they reconcile the tenets of their faith with the policies they’ve introduced. But this does not give me grounds for calling into question the authenticity of their faith anymore than my own inconsistencies would give you grounds for calling into question the authenticity of my faith. I think it right to ask them how they see the values of their faith worked out in their policies, but I’m not prepared to join with those who question the genuineness of that faith.
3. Except for those rare occasions they tell us what motivates them, I have no idea what drives a politician to do what they do. My experience of people suggests to me that motivation is rarely one-dimensional, that people are simultaneously motivated by any number of things, and I suspect the same is true of politicians.What is uppermost in Scott Morrison’s mind and heart as he drives forward Australia’s asylum seeker policy? I don’t know, nor do you, nor do I care. At the end of the day what motivates them is irrelevant to whether or not they are enacting good public policy.
So the upshot of all this is that I want to be rigorous and unabashed in my critique of the policies of our government, without allowing this to degenerate into personal critique.