As a patriotic and civically minded Australian citizen, tonight I am incandescent with rage. I expect that my anger is shared by many of my fellow citizens. Therefore please excuse me if I launch into uncharacteristically ad hominem attacks in this post.
The news that in his recently ended term, our then Prime Minister Scott ‘Scummo’ Morrison secretly arranged to have himself commissioned as a portfolio minister for roles held by five of his senior cabinet ministers (four without their knowledge) fills me with great disgust.
This secretive conduct betrays not only the conventions of the Westminster system of government, but undermines our democracy.
Let’s start with a long standing joke to illustrate my point. During the Abbott Prime Ministership, his autocratic and highly unpopular Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, was allowed to sit in on Cabinet meetings, a violation of the convention that only cabinet ministers (elected representatives of the people rather than their hirelings) should make the decisions on how the nation is governed.
This was a very unpopular move, and contributed greatly to the fall of Abbott in a leadership spill after just under 2 years.
I have read jokes which state quite confidently that Peta Credlin was Prime Minister of Australia from 2013 to 2015.
But let’s now look at what is in the Australian Constitution and what Morrison’s violation of Westminster conventions, when put together, could mean in relation to this joke.
Section 64 of the Australian Constitution requires that no Minister of State can hold office for no more than 3 months without sitting in either of the Houses of Parliament. In early 1968, when John Gorton was first commissioned as Prime Minister, he briefly, after resigning from the Senate in order to contest the lower house seat of Higgins in a by-election, did not hold a seat in Parliament.
Now imagine, if, as is legally possible under Section 64, that Tony Abbott had secretly arranged for Peta Credlin to be commissioned to hold the office of Prime Minister in tandem with himself.
Of course there would be outrage.
What Scott Morrison did, behind the backs of his cabinet colleagues and the public, in secretly enabling himself to serve as Treasurer, and in four other senior ministries which were not vacant, was a serious affront to our democracy.
People who know me well will know that I have long disliked Morrison. His penchant for retrospective legislation from his early days as a minister, combined with his tendency for highly ruthless behind the scenes machinations, and his technocratic contempt for the Rule of Law, normal democratic conventions, and his own rank and file party members alike, showed him unfit to be a leader in an Anglophonic democracy.
Long ago, I observed that he was better suited to a ministerial post in a third world dictatorship (and not the actual position of dictator).
Now we see how awful he really was. He not only was totally consumed by the pursuit of power and desire to win at all costs, but he was a sneak who did not even confide in his colleagues, but sought to undermine them utterly.
‘Scummo’ is too kind a nickname for him. ‘Gollum’ is far more apt (apologies to the Tolkien Estate for any copyright infringements).