Cabinet minister Anne Ruston launched a staunch defence of Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Q+A on Thursday night, as questions around his character featured on what is likely to be the final episode before the election is called.
- Scathing assessments were made of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s leadership and character
- Senator Anne Ruston defended him and suggested he was the victim of a “political hit job”
- Senator Ruston refused to apologise to refugees who spent up to 9 years in detention
Mr Morrison’s character has been under scrutiny in recent weeks amid allegations of bullying and racism, which he has dismissed as “malicious slurs”.
Then a confrontation with an angry pensioner at a Newcastle area pub earned him more trouble in the lead-up to an expected May election showdown against Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
Kicking off Thursday night’s show, audience member Marley McRae McLeod asked why the women of Australia should vote for Mr Morrison given issues raised around his character.
Senator Ruston — who is Social Services Minister and also the Minister for Women’s Safety — immediately launched a defence of the under-siege PM, questioning whether recent attacks on his character, including those from within his own party, were in fact a “political hit job”.
The PM has been at the centre of critical text messages from Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (while he was on the backbench) and he was the target of a speech by outgoing senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
Senator Ruston suggested it was all a bit too convenient.
“I don’t imagine there’s anybody that’s sitting on the panel tonight, people who are in public life, who hasn’t had a sledging some time in their career,” Senator Ruston said.
“The timing of much of what has come out certainly has to be questioned and we should be calling it out for that.
“On the eve of an election, we start seeing these things coming out of the woodwork.
She then defended Mr Morrison’s character and said in her experience, it was at odds with what was being described in public right now.
“I’ve worked with the Prime Minister for 10 years, closely for the last three years in his cabinet, and I’ve got to say the commentary that I have heard by some of these people is just not the Scott Morrison that I know,” she said.
“The Scott Morrison I know is the man who, when I asked him to make sure that we were supporting with great investment into the next national plan to end violence against women and children, immediately understood what we needed and was prepared to commit to it.”
‘Worst Liberal PM since Billy McMahon’
However, other panellists were scathing of the Prime Minister, describing him as a “shapeshifter” and “the worst prime minister since Billy McMahon”.
Shadow Minister for Justice and Financial Services Clare O’Neil further attacked Mr Morrison’s character.
“The truth is that Scott Morrison is the most strategic politician in the parliament,” Ms O’Neil said.
“He is a politician to his absolute core and the thing that really gets me about the conduct I see in parliament is, he has a fundamental problem with telling the truth.
“He stands on his feet and he says things that are on camera, [and things he said] months or years ago, he just denies ever saying it.
“And this has just happened again and again and again.
“We’re going into this election contest and we have six weeks, and I do think it’s getting to be hard for Australians to feel they can put their trust in him to do what he says he will do.”
NewsCorp political editor Samantha Maiden agreed, saying Mr Morrison did, at times, backflip on things he had said.
“Scott Morrison is a shapeshifter,” Maiden said.
“You do see it all the time … the Prime Minister will say, ‘I didn’t say that, I meant this,’ or ‘Someone asked me this,’ or, ‘ I meant to say this, I never said this.’ It gets intriguing.”
Institute of Public Affairs policy director Gideon Rozner slammed Mr Morrison over what he said was his poor leadership and lack of principles.
“My concern is what Scott Morrison has done to the Liberal Party and to liberalism,” Mr Rozner said.
“My concern is the fact that the Morrison government has embroiled Australia in a trillion-dollar debt, ramped up online censorship, made it a criminal offence for Australian citizens during the pandemic to re-enter their own country, rendering them stateless.
“The Morrison government engaged in that awful state-sanctioned theft that was robodebt.
“I think those are much more important issues to talk to the Prime Minister’s character and his judgement and his leadership.
No apology for released detainees
Later, Senator Ruston found herself under attack when the discussion turned to whether immigrants to Australia could trust the Coalition.
Audience member Bakr Hawari asked if people from Muslim communities could trust the Coalition on issues of race, despite their views on family values aligning.
Senator Ruston was quick to say the Coalition was not racist and she defended Australia’s history on race relations.
“I’m sorry that you think that way because I don’t believe that we have a history of racism,” she said.
“I think that we are a great multicultural nation and all political parties, I think, respect that multiculturalism and particularly respect the faith of many different faiths in Australia and their right to be able to worship those faiths.”
The issue, though, turned quickly when host Virginia Trioli asked about detention for refugees mere hours after the final eight detainees were released from Melbourne’s Park Hotel after up to 9 years there.
“A staggering amount of time and a staggering amount of money has been spent on offshore processing, approaching $6 billion since 2013. What were all those nine years about, Anne Ruston?” Trioli asked.
“They were supposed to be security threats. Why were they released onto the streets?”
Senator Ruston was unapologetic in her response and trumpeted the Coalition’s border security policies.
“One of the strong things we believe in as a Coalition government … is making sure that by having secure borders, that we are able to have immigration policies that allow us to be able to have humanitarian intakes,” she said.
Asked what had changed over the nine years for those detainees to be released, Senator Ruston said it was an issue for the Minister for Home Affairs, but Trioli pressed on, asking whether the detainees’ release would “start the boats again”.
Senator Ruston again stated she would make no apology for the treatment of those people, which drew an angry response from Mr Hawari.
“It’s shocking and ridiculous it took this long,” he said.
“Every moment of a human being’s life is valuable and them being locked up for nine years, fellow human beings, their lives are lost.”
Senator Ruston did not reply to that comment.
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