30 August 2022

Sure ScoMo's ministry grab was strange, but did you see what norms we trampled during the pandemic?

| David Murtagh
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"The ACT is in lockdown" road sign

The ACT went into its first lockdown days after our first COVID-19 case. It wasn’t our last rodeo. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Oh, the pearl-clutching. The assault on democracy that took us so close to tyranny. How did we get through it? The weirdness. The norms. Won’t somebody please think of the norms?

Oh, for the love of all that’s holy, stop it.

The Scott Morrison “power grab” whining has been going on for weeks now – it seems to be the only issue the Albanese Government is truly committed to.

Of course, this makes sense. It’s always fun to whack your opponents, especially when they give you the bat and drop their dacks. It’s also well accepted that Morrison hasn’t a leg to stand on. Norms, after all. Where would we be without them?

And there are so many questions.

READ MORE Public servants will have to front inquiry into Morrison’s secret ministries

Why take over so many ministries? Why indeed. Was he worried his Cabinet would succumb to the virus? Maybe – but he had the same chance of being felled as they did.

Was it a “power grab” as so many have suggested? Not at all.

True we have a Westminster system and the prime minister is first among equals, but the PM really isn’t an ‘equal’. Not in reality.

Remember the words of Churchill who noted that the position of the prime minister is unique: “If he trips he must be sustained; if he makes mistakes they must be covered; if he sleeps he must not be wantonly disturbed; if he is no good he must be poleaxed”.

READ ALSO No point having a corruption watchdog that can’t do its job properly

Prime ministers have absolute power, which is why, when he didn’t know precisely what his prime minister said, Bill Shorten in April 2012 famously covered all bases with his PM, Julia Gillard: “I haven’t seen what she’s said but let me say I support what it is that she said.”

What was his view? “My view is what the prime minister’s view is.”

It was ridiculous. But Shorten was right. Contradicting your PM is a shortcut to the backbench.

So the most farcical aspect is that Morrison always had absolute authority. He didn’t need to be sworn in as Minister for Lint.

None of this makes the affair less galling. But not for the reasons you might think.

It’s galling because of the appeals to norms and the handwringing around how his actions upended the democratic process and how we do things in Australia.


Let’s go back. Some people seem to have forgotten the past few years.

"Stay at home" road sign

We were quick to throw norms away like a used mask (after we’d worn it for a week). Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Morrison took the first of his 17 ministries (give or take a dozen) on 14 March 2020.

Less than a week later, Australians returning to Australia – that is, their homes, their country – were ordered into hotel quarantine. Some could not return for months.

Does that sound like a norm?

On 30 March 2020, Morrison became defacto finance minister. That was the day JobKeeper was born and six million Australians became government funded.

Does that sound like a norm?

In September 2020, a Ballina-based woman was compelled to travel to Sydney rather than Brisbane for urgent medical attention for her unborn twins because the Queensland border was closed to people from NSW. She lost one of her children.

“People living in NSW they have NSW hospitals. In Queensland we have Queensland hospitals for our people,” Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

Wrap your head around that for a second.

Does that sound like a norm?

Row of AFP officers and traffic

Checkpoints at the ACT/NSW border … what were you saying about ‘unAustralian’? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

In August 2021, 300 soldiers hit the streets with police in Cabramatta to make sure people stayed locked in their homes. Brigadier Mick Garraway said the ADF wasn’t working as law enforcement officers but rather a “disciplined” support task force. Oh, that’s a relief.

Does that sound like a norm?

In September 2021, Victoria Police fired rubber bullets and beat protestors in the street because they didn’t want to be locked down and forced to take a vaccine (which, incidentally, doesn’t do what they said it would do, but we all took it, right?). They wanted to protest – which used to be a right – but were batonned and tear-gassed instead.

Does that sound like a norm?

In October 2021, Victoria ended its sixth lockdown. After hundreds of days locked in their homes, only able to leave when they had an excuse. After Australians were being tracked by their government with drones and attendees at BBQs checked by police, a state government granted ‘freedoms’, including being able to have 10 people in your home.

And you could go to a pub. If you were vaccinated. Which you had to prove.

Does that sound like a norm?

And that’s even before we get to the countless birthdays, weddings, funerals and death-bed goodbyes that governments and their cheerleaders insisted you miss. You wouldn’t want a dying cancer patient to catch COVID a day before they passed as their loved ones held their hand for the last time.

READ ALSO Morrison’s secret power grab trashed the conventions that underpin our democracy

And don’t think about how many medical appointments were missed and surgeries postponed on the say-so of a far-off chief medical officer who wouldn’t know you or your needs from Adam.

So was what Morrison did weird? Sure, grab the Roget’s Thesaurus and go your hardest. Strange. Astonishing. Bizarre. Whatever.

But wouldn’t it have been great if those whiners who now have such great passion for rights and norms and traditions and the Constitution had the same energy and passion to stand up for the rights that were trampled over the past few years? Such as the right to free speech if you dared have some questions about the origin of the virus, or government “solutions” to “keep us safe”?

Instead, many in the media waved the flag and begged to be locked down harder, daddy, asked for masks to be compulsory (some still do) and for segregation by vaccination status.

If you’re sweating bricks now over what Morrison did, were you this upset when other norms were being trampled?

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HiddenDragon7:50 pm 30 Aug 22

Morrison’s covert swearings-in were a particularly spectacular example of a politician getting carried away with their own importance and indispensability.

Albanese’s response is a particularly spectacular example of an Australian politician plagiarizing from US politics – the rip-off will be complete when the AFP venture into the Shire and raid Shark-a-Lago in the hunt for smoking gun evidence…..

A lot has been made of ScoMo’s collection of Ministry Portfolios, but the vast majority of “norms” that we’re “trampled”, we’re done State Premiers.

It was no ‘assault on democracy’, just good operational procedure to appoint a second person to each ministry in case the nominal minister fell ill. But to not tell anyone was undemocratic in style. And it was arrogantly foolish to appoint just the one person as the backstop to all five. Presumably he thought that if more than one of the five was disabled, or all of them, God would help him do all six jobs at once, and also that God would save him from succumbing to the same fate as his ministers! Ridiculous.

But the comparison to the pandemic response is a bit silly. If we remove an unconscious stranger’s clothes to attach a defibrillator, without their consent, that is first aid, not the assault on their rights that it would be if it lacked the health justification. Same for Covid. Lockdown, masks and distancing were done on the best health advice available at the time, and saved lives. Fair enough. Get over it. Only loonies claim ‘rights’ to be stupid about vaccination, masks etc.

I get that The Riotact content can be about personal opinion and provoking thought, but some of the inane articles are getting ridiculous. There is a time for editors to jump in and ensure that writers aren’t just peddling their own ill-informed opinion because they feel the need to be heard.

This article is one of those times.

Yes, it has been funny to see the handwringing from Morrison’s opponents during this episode.

The venn diagram between the whingers here and those claiming that Morrison should have overridden state’s responsibilities during the 2019 bushfires to “take control”, along with those that were happy to hand over all their civil rights to the government during the pandemic looks like a circle.

But yes, it’s the “norms” of the Westminster system that are most important obviously.

First – The two aren’t even similar situations. One was in response to a global pandemic the other was secretive moves that stemmed from a need to have ‘control’.

In all honesty, all there was during the lockdowns were in the grand scheme of things just minor annoyances. Yes, it was annoying to get groceries, yes some people had some issues with work, yes some poorly run businesses that were on the precipice of going broke before the pandemic were pushed over.

That said there were no midnight raids by secret police to drag people off to re-education camps. Dan Andrews didn’t end up sending his shock troops and tanks to consolidate his iron grip on power, no one got sent to gulags to toil for years with no trial.

You live in a society and with that comes certain roles and responsibilities. You had to put up with minor inconveniences, how would you have deal with living in the UK with lighting restrictions, rationing and conscription. I doubt neighbors would have appreciated people behaving like entitled children.

* Living in the UK during the blitz.

The real issue we should all still be outraged about is the abrupt removal of our civil liberties during the panpanic. There were numerous abuses and excesses perpetrated unnecessarily and with alarming enthusiasm by the authorities. But what was most astonishing was the passive failure of most people to resist and oppose these abuses. Whether out of fear, cowardice or apathy most Australians just did what they were told. There should be a Royal Commission into how the authorities acted, to expose their incompetence and their abuses of power and to give better guidance for the next time. The Human Rights Commission and other bodies, even the media, should be held to account.

Obviously you wanted the freedom to spread Covid to others; we get it, but for most other people it was not “out of fear, cowardice or apathy”. It was out of responsibly. Fear was the silly, anti-vaxxers thing.

No, you are wrong. The preservation of our civil liberties, fought and struggled for over generations by our ancestors at great personal sacrifice, is paramount. Those who out of fear, cowardice or apathy would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Acton, do you realise that the general terms in your last sentence were first written by Benjamin Franklin in 1755 in support of government taxation power against private “liberty’, the right of the legislature to govern without interference by wealthy private interests?

Franklin was attacking the cowardice, apathy and fear that might cause legislators, the government, to surrender to the Penn family’s demands that by making a private contribution, it might be held free of the system of taxation for frontier defence and security, outside legal government control and taxation powers.


Acton, At the expense of the liberties of the majority. How selfish your view is.

Dear COVID denier: a pandemic is not a norm.

Dear Liberal Party propagandist: there was no compelling reason for ScoMo’s power grab. That was all about ScoMo going on a religious fundamentalist Mission From God to grab power from people who God deemed to be not using that power correctly. Which conveniently enough was everyone who wasn’t ScoMo.

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