By Joe Montero
Through Scott Morrison’s time as Prime Minister, the limited transparency of Australian government became even smaller. His inclinations towards secrecy, bullying, even in the party room and cabinet, the double cross, and more were legendary. We didn’t know just how far it all went. But the exposure of the committee of one, opened a window and let a light into a dark room.
Above all, it shows, this was a first move towards the installation of seriously secret, top down government as a lasting feature as an ongoing feature of the Australian political scene.
We know now, thanks to a mountain of revealed minutes that the committee had hundreds of meetings where decisions were made. known ministers, whose positions were usurped by the Prime Minster were sometimes allowed to participate, presumably as observers and to be briefed. But this always remained a committee of one, with one making the final decisions.
Scott Morrison has put it on the record that this was necessary to deal with the emergence and complex situation brought about by the Covid pandemic. This is a ruse. The committee of one, dates back to 2 July 2019, before the pandemic hit, and was tied to rewriting government policies. The official title of the committee was the Cabinet Office Policy Committee (COPC). Everything shows that he wanted to reshape the political landscape and believed the Liberal Party and its leaders were not up to the task.
But what might this intended new political landscape be? Morrison’s political leanings suggests this looks towards the far right, relying on top down authority and disregard for democratic norms. The committee of one is an expression of this sort of politics. We can presume that the re-writing of polices was to align them more closely to this ambition.
Furthermore, the method allowed him farm ore scope to meet secretly with leaders of corporations and senior public officials. The idea is that they would act as the real government behind the scenes.
Morrison added one further reason for doing what he did. In an interview with 4CA Radio he said he wanted to bypass freedom of information that would inform the public about what was going on.
Thankfully, it has backfired, and Morrison is no longer Prime Minister.
Nevertheless, something dangerous has been revealed, and this is how easily Australia’s machinery of government can be shifted to put an end to what have been considered democratic norms. Australia’s much claimed democracy proves to be a veneer covering the ability of those with power to shift between apparent democracy to rule through direct autocracy.
Scott Morrison the personality is not so important, as obnoxious as he has been to most people. Far more important is that his actions have alerted us to both the inadequacy of our political institutions and the need to do something about it. Morrison’s actions deserve to be denounced. But the real need is to start the process of answering the inadequacy of Australia’s political institutions by tasking steps towards an expansion of transparency and democracy.
A shift towards democracy can’t be limited to merely keeping things the way they were before Scott Morrison. The fact is that the existing laws and institutions paved the way for what he did. Both must be changed, and this is something that should be done democratically, involving the participation of everyone.