As a hot topic on #auspol, Grapeshot’s Deputy Editor, Jackson Robb, delves in detail on the implications of Morrison’s secret ministry on the Australian political landscape.
In the last year, the Australian Government has endured significant changes. However, between former Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro’s New York position scandal to former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s secret appointment to five additional positions, the state of the Australian Government is not to the standard the population expects or deserves. Both incidents have involved withholding information from the media and withholding information from the general public. The unstable nature of the Australian political landscape also takes away from issues Australia should be focusing on. This article will examine the current flaws in the Auspol climate and how reserving information from the media is creating a distrust between the Australian people and the government designed for them.
Whilst everyone can admit to taking on more work than they can handle, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison took this to a new level as it was revealed he was appointed to five additional ministerial roles during the COVID-19 crisis. Morrison’s time as PM can be labelled tumultuous from issues such as the delayed vaccine rollout to his holiday in Hawaii during the bushfire crisis, and the passing of the religious discrimination bill, all of which were extensively covered in various Australian media outlets. Morrison’s appointments were all legally valid, with Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue stating that appointments do not need to be publicised and recipients do not have to take an oath.  However, if Morrison took all necessary avenues to obtain these positions, why were the media not alerted of the responsibilities he carried for the nation? This evokes just one facet of the problematic nature the government maintains. Subsequently, the Solicitor-General commented that “it is impossible for parliament and the public to hold ministers accountable for the proper administration of particular departments if the identity of the ministers who have been appointed … is not publicised”.
Calls for Morrisons resignation have emerged from former cabinet members as his actions are deemed an “unprecedented trashing of our democracy” by current PM, Anthony Albanese.  Such acts which misled the parliament and the Australian people triggers a parliamentary inquiry, which will reveal exactly why Morrison believed his appointments were not worth sharing. For now, the public have Morrison’s Facebook statement to provide clarity on the situation. Morrison states that due to the uncertain nature the pandemic instilled in government, “The risk of Ministers becoming incapacitated, sick, hospitalised, incapable of doing their work at a critical hour or even fatality was very real.”  He continues, saying that to ensure specific departments could function despite the constant changes, it became necessary for him to be appointed to these positions, as a matter of national interest. Morrison labels these arrangements as a “‘break glass in case of emergency’ safeguard,” claiming that “thankfully it was not necessary for me to trigger use of any of these powers.” However, Morrison contradicted this point, stating, “I used such powers on one occasion only,” when deliberating in the PEP11 offshore gas decision.
Morrison claims he acted in the benefit of the country during a time of great uncertainty, which is valid to a certain extent. However, his inability to release any form of statement on his new appointments during a period where misinformation was very prevalent, proves why Australians distrust both politicians and the media. So as resources are used to determine why Scott Morrison appointed himself to these positions yet failed to alert the mass media, the government is directed away from other pressing issues of national concern. Such examples include the endangered status of the Australian Koala Population,  ensuring the healthcare system are well equipped to deal with the ageing population, and the revaluation of the net zero 2050 target and 2030 target which are currently in breach of the Paris Agreement,  just to name a few. Australia is suffering at the hands of negligent politicians who prioritise their self-interests over the ministerial roles they work for. Such evidence can be compiled from incidents over the past year, including the ICAC inquiry into former NSW Premier Gladys Berijiklian and the recent assault charges laid against former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro towards a member from Channel 7 media team.
The relationship between the government and the media is critical for a democracy to function as it advises the people about how government officials plan to operate the country. However, the Morrison job scandal is not the first instance of questionable activity occurring within the walls of Parliament House. The most recent example involves, yet again, former Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who was favoured for a New York trade position role, despite more qualified candidates being nominated.  Ministers are now denying their involvement as a parliamentary inquiry begins to understand the issue further. Mr Barilaro was favoured for the job over two qualified candidates, solicitor Kimberley Cole and former senior bureaucrat Jenny West, who had already been selected as the successful candidate last August before the offer was rescinded due to recruitment changes.  Mr Barilaro, who was facing a defamation case against youtuber, Friendly Jordies, last year, who responds to corruption within government, had stepped down from his position as Deputy Premier last October, claiming the intense scrutiny from the media was a contributing factor.  Despite Barilaro priding himself in his application letter for the position on his “energy, resilience and passion,”  he has since withdrawn from the New York position.
Such issues surrounding Morrison and Barilaro present worrying concerns over the current workplace culture of Parliament House; an institution designed to represent the people of Australia. While the media has a responsibility to fairly construct a narrative based on given information, this should not be an excuse for politicians to withhold information that the public has a right to be informed of. As inquiries reveal the background information to these issues, hopefully the government can establish trust within the nation and realign with their objective to represent Australians.
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