19 August 2022

Morrison's secret power grab trashed the conventions that underpin our democracy

| Ian Bushnell
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Scott Morrison

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison: time for him to go. Photo: Screenshot.

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s press conference in which he attempted to justify his ministerial power grab has only raised more questions and exposed the vulnerability of Australia’s system of government.

It was typical Morrison – evasive, slippery, full of blame shifting and contradictions, without any semblance of understanding how his actions had trashed convention and subverted the Cabinet system to accumulate unwarranted power for himself.

It was really our fault because we were clamouring for him to take control of an unprecedented situation, and it had to be kept secret, apart from Health Minister Greg Hunt, because he didn’t want to undermine the confidence of his Ministers.

And it was really OK because he didn’t have to break the emergency glass and overrule anybody, apart from Resources Minister Keith Pitt on a completely unrelated matter of an offshore drilling permit.

And that was proof that he had confidence in them, Morrison said, apart from Pitt, who didn’t understand the political consequences of allowing drilling off the NSW coast.

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Morrison’s defence that there would be few people who would disagree with his decision also, quite deliberately, misses the point and diverts attention away from how he went about it.

Morrison could only offer “unforeseen circumstances” when asked why he needed to have the ministerial powers and could not adequately explain the inexplicable decision to later add Treasury and Home Affairs to his bundle of ministerial responsibilities.

The former PM targeted ministries where Ministers had the final say and could take “unilateral action”.

Hunt acquired unprecedented powers under the Biosecurity Act, powers that may have surpassed those of the Prime Minister, who was also being sidelined by National Cabinet and the Premiers.

Is that what was going on in an insecure Morrison’s mind? Could he see his power ebbing away and he needed to regain control?

The reality is the arrangements were perfectly adequate for covering the loss of a minister due to COVID and a Prime Minister should have the political heft to take an issue such as the exploration leases to Cabinet and impose their will.

But did Morrison feel confident enough to do that without fear of provoking a backlash and destabilising his own position?

If all the Ministers had found out about the PM’s secret accumulation of power, would there have been a Cabinet revolt? Probably.

Indeed, questions need to be asked of the two journalists from The Australian who sat on such explosive information for so long, keeping it from not just the other Ministers but the public until after the election and they began promoting a book.

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Morrison made much of the fact that he broke no laws and sought and received advice that what he proposed was legal.

It may have been but that was never tested, while the conventions upon which the Westminster and Cabinet systems rely were discarded.

Much of Australia’s system of government, its checks and balances and distribution of power, is predicated on these conventions. Flout them and we have a house of cards.

Morrison has set a precedent, a template for dictators, that will need to be closed off by legislation.

He coopted the public service, which may have raised questions about the implications, and the Governor-General, who probably had no choice but to accept the advice of his Prime Minister, although it is not known just how much he was told.

A more activist Governor-General may have queried Morrison’s intentions, but that throws up a whole set of still unresolved questions about vice-regal powers.

Public servants can offer robust advice but cannot do much if a Prime Minister or Minister chooses to ignore it.

Nonetheless, expect any inquiry to grill those involved about how they handled the matter.

We still do not know whose idea it was, and Morrison was deliberately vague about this.

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The fact is the public service was put in the position where there were parallel lines of authority, where mandarins such as Treasury head Dr Steven Kennedy and Home Affairs boss Michael Pezzullo were unaware that they were answerable to Morrison as well as their respective Ministers.

Typically, Morrison implied the controversy was another obsession of the Canberra bubble, saying Australians had more important things to worry about.

His attempt to play down the gravity of his actions should only condemn him, for what could be more important than how we are governed and how power is exercised by the people we elect?

Morrison’s position in the Parliament should now be untenable. He misled Parliament, he misled Cabinet and he showed a complete lack of respect and understanding for the conventions that underpin our system of government.

The Liberal Party may not want a by-election, so lacking in confidence is it, but Morrison should resign his seat in the national interest.

But then that is something he was not able to grasp when he embarked on and persisted with actions in his own self-interest at the expense of his Cabinet colleagues and the Parliament he swore to serve.

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Certainly a lot of chattering regarding SCOMO’s planning for the continuance of Government.
Probably fortunate this was not conveyed to us, as they were indeed grave days my friend.
Despair was everywhere. All doom and gloom..
(PS .. I suspect SCOMO”S trip to the GG cost perhaps a 100 bucks, give or take.)

All travel was banned. Boozers were shut, as were most shops, as were schools, which made a lot of people wonder why did they procreate ..?

In Melbourne 2 old dears sitting on a park bench were surrounded by law enforcement types for breaking the law.

Things here were so dire that the Phillip ice rink was touted to be turned into a morgue , and Chief Min helped this general feeling of anguish and despondency, by building a pop up hospital, for a measly 25 mill.

Can you imagine the hullabaloo if the continuance of the Federal Government was announced at this time.

Here, no doubt a proposal for horse paddocks to be turned into mass burial grounds would be seriously looked at.

Is there anyone out there willing to take on Scott Morrison the Musical?

I find it quite amusing that of all the attainment and actual exercising of emergency powers during the pandemic and the trashing of civil liberties along the way, apparently Morisson being sworn in as a minister in multiple portfolios is the one action that’s deserves a politician to resign.

Of course the same people that think that also believe he should have overriden the states powers during previous natural disasters and “taken control” because he was the Prime Minister…..

The only thing that really is at issue is the secrecy, but as we see elsewhere, open and transparent government doesn’t exist and hasn’t for a very, very long time.

There is clearly a lot more to it than thy Chewy and would have thought you of all people would know that.

If his appointments were just because of covid then sure. But look at the portfolios he put himself in charge of, look at the areas where he overrode ministers and look at the secrecy of it all then there is clearly a burning pile of dog crap to be seen.

I reckon he maybe for himself on health for good reason (though as expert commentators have said even if the minister was unable to do their job there are already safeguards), anyway after seeing how easy and powerful it was he the expanded his little empire into areas where covid cover cannot be the reason.

It all lines up perfectly with the character of the bloke, that of a control freak or as someone may call a dictator.

The GG “acting on the advice of the prime ministers office” – It has become obvious that the role of our GG is a completely pointless one. Anything beyond serving up cups of tea and singing songs, this ceremonial role serves absolutely no purpose at all in our constitution.
Just a retirement home for defence bosses who once presided over one of Australia’s largest workplaces with the highest rates of depression and suicide, and we then promote them to this cushy role as a reward for their in-effectiveness!

John Coleman8:18 am 19 Aug 22

I wish those who rubbish the Governor-General role would determine what their narrative is – does it have too much power (think sacking an elected Prime Minister in a crisis), or does it have not enough (he’s ceremonial).

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