The Politics    Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Taking full irresponsibility

By Rachel Withers

Image of Scott Morrison. © Flavio Brancaleone / AAP Images

Former prime minister Scott Morrison, August 17, 2022. © Flavio Brancaleone / AAP Images

Morrison and co are already undermining the inquiry into how he undermined responsible government

Scott Morrison was quick to get out one of his long, unapologetic Facebook posts yesterday, following the release of the solicitor-general’s scathing advice into his secret ministerial appointments. Unsurprisingly, the former PM claimed vindication for the fact his appointments were found to be “valid” (in the legal sense, if not the reasonable sense), but made no mention of the fact that he had also been found to have “fundamentally undermined” the principles of responsible government. Turning to the newly confirmed inquiry into his actions, he announced he would assist “any genuine process to learn the lessons from the pandemic”, adding that “any credible processes” would also include looking at the states and territories – turning what was meant to be an investigation into his conduct into a broader pandemic review, and throwing doubt over the credibility of the inquiry at hand. His clear implication was that any probe that just looked into his actions would be illegitimate and politically motivated – a witch-hunt, if you will. Morrison, it seems, won’t be cooperating; he isn’t done undermining our systems of government just yet.

Morrison isn’t the only one – this time he has co-conspirators (though arguably, he also did last time, with former PM Malcolm Turnbull today demanding that any inquiry also look into the staffers and public servants who enabled him). The Australian has today quoted “senior Coalition sources” who suggest the government’s inquiry, which will be led by an eminent legal person, is “clearly a political witch-hunt”. Those sources likely include key Morrison ally Stuart “Brother Stuey” Robert, who popped up on RN this morning to make the Trumpian claim. Robert said deputy PM Richard Marles’ comments – that Morrison must face consequences – “scream of a political witch-hunt”, and he questioned the government’s “motives”. When host Patricia Karvelas asked whether Morrison should pay a price for undermining responsible government, Robert replied, “A little witch-hunty there, Patricia!” and pointed out, again, that Morrison hadn’t broken the law.

But even Robert’s less-shameless colleagues have gotten in on the illegitimising action. Liberal Senate leader (and leading moderate) Simon Birmingham told ABC News Breakfast that Morrison should take part “as long as it is a fair inquiry”, while Senator Jane Hume told Sky News that a “political circus … does nobody any good,” and “it doesn’t need to be a witch-hunt …” Several newspaper columnists, meanwhile, have today come out to declare that there are wider questions for a COVID-19 inquiry, seemingly backing Morrison’s calls that it not just look into him, even though his bizarre behaviour is the topic at hand. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who has now taken the lead on the inquiry messaging, this morning pushed back against Morrison’s “blame shifting” attempt to make this a broader pandemic probe, telling News Breakfast that “he shouldn’t be hiding behind the pandemic and he shouldn’t be pointing the finger at states and territories”.

It’s clear what Morrison and co are doing here. It would be “indefensible” for them not to cooperate with an inquiry into what happened, as Guardian Australia’s Paul Karp noted yesterday. So they are instead doing everything they can to undermine it – to turn what the government is seeking to make a calm, judicial process (Labor even rejected a bid to take this to the more political privileges committee) into a “political circus”, one that is not credible or genuine because it doesn’t fit some expanded parameters they have created. It’s surely only a matter of time before we hear the term “kangaroo court”, a Morrison favourite. All throughout this saga, the Trumpian parallels have been hard to ignore. But there is something especially concerning about a former leader seeking to delegitimise an investigation into his conduct, and a once-legitimate party that is more than happy to enable him.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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