Solicitor-General Stephen Donoghue QC was asked to answer a fairly straightforward question – was Morrison validly appointed to administer the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources in April 2021 – and his answer was equally straightforward: yes.
“The Governor-General, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, has power under s.64 of the Constitution to appoint an existing minister of state, including the Prime Minister, to administer an additional department of state.
“The Governor-General has discretion to refuse to accept the Prime Minister’s advice in relation to such an appointment. Nor is there any constitutional or legislative requirement for notification of such an appointment as a condition of its validity.”
Thus the G-G is in the clear, but while Morrison might claim to be, the solicitor-general had a head-smackingly obvious further point to make: if we don’t know who’s in charge, how on earth can we hold the people in charge accountable?
Insofar as the public and the ministers themselves weren’t informed, the appointments were “inconsistent with the conventions and practices” that form part of our system of responsible government.
Morrison still hasn’t really conceded it.
On Facebook on Tuesday, the former PM had another go at contrition, saying he had “reflected further on these matters over the past week”, appreciated the concerns raised, and regretted the offence caused.
Not that he enumerated any specific insights as an outcome of this reflection, mind.
He’s sticking to the idea that he tried his best in tough circumstances – but also seems to harbour the Messiah complex that he alone was responsible for steering the ship of state.
After last week’s press conference surely not a soul expected a Damascene conversion, but really, the only question left is how to ensure this exceptionally unusual approach is not repeated.
You would think the change required is simple: one minister at a time, and announce all appointments.
But Albanese claims a further inquiry is necessary. Cabinet will decide on its form when it will be held.
Riding high in the polls, very much in his honeymoon period (and sculling beers at a Gang of Youths concert) it might seem there’s not much to be lost in kicking a vanquished, down and out opponent.
But he’d do well to give political carriage of this issue to someone else, like his attorney-general, lest it look like he’s more interested in settling old scores against a vanquished opponent rather than looking forward to the considerable challenges in the nation’s future.
Morrison was self-interested again when he promised to cooperate in any inquiry that examines the roles of all levels of government in the pandemic management – as that’s not what Albanese proposed on Tuesday.
But as loopy as Morrison’s conduct was in this case, he has a point about the countless other examples of “extraordinary” government actions justified by extraordinary circumstances in the last two years that need to be properly examined.
You will have your own list but you could start with the why Commonwealth and state governments deviated so radically from long-prepared pandemic influenza plans; whether the widespread mandate policies were justified; whether future pandemics can be managed outside the framework of draconian and long-lasting states of emergency; whether the locking of Australians overseas out from their homeland, or away from their states’ of residence were reasonable.
Here’s another one.
A 26-year-old call centre operator for a company contracted by Victoria’s Department of Health was jailed for 3½ years yesterday.
He turned up at the home of a woman he’d spoken to on the phone in the line of his work earlier that day as a contact tracer; she was in isolation.
He made note of her address and called her after his shift, pretending he needed to inspect her home to comply with COVID protocols.
He told the woman, an international student, that he would have her deported unless she performed a sex act on him.
Once inside her home, he typed a message on a translation app that read: “You make me happy and I will lie for you. And no one needs to know and you will be protected.”
The victim is now scared to walk the streets, struggles to sleep, and wakes up with nightmares.
The offender has a criminal history of trying to coerce women, threatening to distribute images of a female friend when she used his phone to access her Facebook account but never logged out, and has admitted to problems with cocaine and other drugs.
Yet he was working on behalf of a government agency, dealing with the most sensitive of private and personal information.
Extraordinary times indeed. Let’s have an inquiry into that.
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