By Jim Hayes
On the one hand, the ongoing saga of Scott Morrison’s secret ministries is a distraction from the many important issues Australia faces. On the other, it shines a light onto the way Scot Morrison operated as leader of the Liberal party and in his role as Prime Minister.
Australia would be best served by dealing with the matter as speedily as possible and paying attention to the inadequacies revealed about the Australian political system.
The advice of the Solicitor General is that Morrison acted within the letter of the law when secretly taking up multiple ministries. At the same time, the advice attacks the former Prime Minister for damaging democracy for doing it. The question that should be asked is why does the law permit it in the first place?
Morrison acted reprehensibly for doing what he did. It showed a horrible lack of transparency, disrespect for his own ministers. Collation partners, and his own party. Even worse is the contempt shown for Australians as a whole. But the worst of it is that it is a symptom of an ongoing shift towards authoritarianism in Australia, which has been creeping along from before Morrison became the leader of the government.
The Australian constitution, law, and political institutions have allowed this. It goes to show there is an inbuilt flexibility, allowing notions of democracy to be curtailed when they prove to be inconvenient. This deserves a hell of a lot more attention than it is getting.
Isolating what Morrison is being accused of carries the danger of burying the context that allowed and encouraged it. Morrison should be held to account. There is no doubt about it. Anthony Albanese is right to be considering an inquiry. It’s just that sight of the deeper issue must not be lost by pretending the only problem is Scott Morrison.
Attention must turn to a frank debate on what is wrong with the political system and finding ways to create the democracy that Australia should have. If this means talking about the constitution, laws, and political institutions to create much more transparency sand revers the creep towards authoritarianism, so be it.
These might be huge questions. This does not mean they should be ignored. Finding the answers will be a drawn-out process. All the more reason now is a good time to begin it.
Morrison’s legacy will then be that he provided a warning that pushed Australia into action. If the opportunity is wasted, Australia is likely to continue down the road towards growing authoritarianism.