Scott Morrison loves to keep a secret. It has become a trademark of his government and is known to manifest itself long before he snatched the keys to The Lodge. It serves him and the functioning of our democracy badly.
As immigration minister, it was “affairs on the water” that covered Morrison’s refusal to disclose how Australia rejects refugee boats while still staying under international law. We still do not know the answer to this question.
The secrecy continued over the weekend. As New South Wales and ACT both struggled through the lockdown, the Prime Minister snuck out of Canberra on his private jet to be with his daughters on Father’s Day.
Without plane-spotting enthusiasts using one of the flight tracking apps we never knew that the RAAF Dassault Falcon 7x, which is regularly used by the Prime Minister, was making the return voyage from Sydney to Canberra. The cost was about $ 6,000, according to the Defense Department’s manifesto. All of them were belatedly confirmed by the Prime Minister’s office, rather than initially denied, as was the case with Morrison’s controversial Hawaii vacation in 2019.
The Prime Minister says there was no cover-up attempt. His flight to Sydney was under federal policy, but his return to Canberra on Monday required special permission. On Sky News, he advocated important work commitments in the capital and pointed out the need to be personally present in a secure room for briefings. This seems a little difficult as ministers use secure videoconferencing all the time.
Morrison accused Labor’s Bill Shorten of “cheap shot” for accusing him of “poor judgment”. Shorten said, “If people do it hard, you have to do it hard too”. Labor leader Anthony Albanese wasn’t too quick to criticize Morrison for wanting to be with his kids, but if vox-pops on the television news is a clue, a lot of people have been less lenient. It didn’t help that Morrison’s unannounced trip coincided with scenes of families along the NSW / Queensland border reaching over barricades to touch their loved ones.
There is some indication that Morrison was aware of that Family reunions could put him above the rules. The picture he posted on social media to mark Father’s Day had a caption indicating that it was taken earlier and gave the impression that he couldn’t be with his family. It wasn’t hard to find out how Morrison and his daughters released a pigeon in January at a memorial to the children of Abdallah tragically killed by a ruthless driver – a strange image that should be reused.
Morrison’s Father’s Day secrecy would not even have been necessary if he had followed the example of all but one prime minister and lived and worked in Canberra in the taxpayer-provided residence. John Howard began living in the government guest house in Kirribilli for the benefit of his family. It was an example not followed by Brisbane-based Kevin Rudd, whose teenage son was enrolled in a school in Canberra to continue his education while living with his parents at The Lodge.
What “safe” Whenever meetings brought the Prime Minister to Canberra on Monday, there was another event he was very much eager to be seen at elaborated and benevolent of his feelings for the cause of women’s equality and personal security. He said it was “up to all of us” to end the culture that “excuses and justifies, ignores or condones gender inequality”. He even admitted that there had been abuse in the Parliament building – that “in this place, even in this place where I will speak to you from today, you are not always safe”. He said, “There is no excuse and excuse is not enough.”
Morrison was clearly referring to the brave candor of ex-Liberal worker Brittany Higgins who claims she was raped in a ministerial office. Higgins was not invited by the federal government to attend the summit, and the ACT government took it upon itself to make her one of its delegates.
Higgins tweeted a stinging assessment of the prime minister’s efforts. She respected his “ambitious spirit” but said she could “not compare the actions of this government to the platitudes and warm feelings that they all exude today”.
Tanya Plibersek of Labor said the speech was “okay” – however, she wondered “are we really reconciling the Prime Minister’s words today with real actions in the future”. Plibersek said it was alarming that Australia’s ranking on economic opportunities for women had fallen by nearly 60 places in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. The country’s ranking for women’s health and safety has fallen by 30 places.
Australian of the Year Grace Tame criticized the Prime Minister’s failure to combine words with action. She criticized the government for implementing only six of the 55 recommendations in the Respect @ Work report into legislation. The government, through Minister for Women’s Economic Security Jane Hume, argues that the issue is complex and needs more time, despite the fact that it received the report a year ago. Unlike secrecy, urgency is not a must for the Morrison administration, which is once again shown in emails detailing their complacency in dealing with Pfizer in vaccine delivery.
Tame believes the government is ” does not understand ”when it comes to a contemporary understanding of women’s issues. She shudders when Attorney General Michaelia Cash appoints former Liberal candidate Lorraine Finlay to the key position of Australian Commissioner for Human Rights.
Tame told RN Breakfast that the nomination was “a step backwards”. She said Finlay publicly supported Bettina Arndt, a male rights activist, who gave a platform to “the twice convicted pedophile who abused me.” The Commissioner-designate has also said she opposes proposed consent laws that require a person to specifically seek and obtain permission before engaging in sexual relations. So much for the government’s deep commitment to the safety of women.
The Finlay appointment was further tarnished by the clandestine way in which Cash went about it. The position was not advertised and the appointment was made in a press release on a Sunday afternoon. Cash himself missed an opportunity to defend her on ABC.
Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus says Cash has appointed someone to the position who has voiced views on various subjects that contradict human rights ideals. Finlay has argued that Section 18C of the Human Rights Act, which prohibits hate speech, should be repealed. She is against an indigenous voice in parliament that she calls “political segregation”.
Dreyfus is not alone in his concerns about the secrecy of the appeal process. Human Rights Centre’s executive director Hugh de Kretser says the process does not meet international standards that require a clear, transparent and participatory appointment process. He says Australia advocates strong national human rights institutions on the international stage, but has undermined that here. “The Morrison government,” says de Kretser, “has to live up to these standards at home.”
Accountability and transparency keep governments honest. They help measure their actions against their words and produce optimal results for the nation. Independent Senator Rex Patrick has given up everything that this government can meaningfully accomplish. He’s frustrated with the way the Liberals fought demands from him, Labor, the Greens, and Senator Jacqui Lambie to name and shame the 157,000 companies that received $ 13 billion in JobKeeper payments they received didn’t need.
Over the weekend, Patrick said he was “done with the government”. He accused the prime minister of “giving hard-earned taxpayers’ money to his business partners and donors” and said this made Morrison the “most shameless and unethical prime minister of all time.” Purge Australian politics and government – and the creation of an independent federal commission against corruption was a start.
Mid-week, Mark Dreyfus marked 1000 days since Scott Morrison promised an integrity commission would be set up during that term. Polls in four constituencies across the country, conducted for the Australia Institute, found overwhelming public support for a commission with strong powers and genuine independence.
But of all the Prime Minister’s secrets, one thing is very poorly guarded: such an Integrity Commission is the last thing Scott Morrison wants.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on. released
09/11/2021 as “The Secret Life of Scott Morrison”.
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is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30-year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.