27 November 2022
When Prime Minister Morrison gave himself 5 ministries without even bothering to tell the ministers who he was over-riding, the Governor-General merely allowed him to do so.
Whether this was due to the fuss that was made when Kerr dismissed Whitlam and the upshot is that Governors-General believe that they have no right to countermand Prime Ministers I am unsure. Perhaps G-G David Hurley thought this; perhaps he wanted the PM’s support for his $18million ‘leadership’ scheme , or perhaps being military, he did not rock the hierarchical boat.
But some of us assumed that the Governor-General is head of State in order to stop political antics which are not in the interest of the Australian people. Naturally all the possible types of antics are not defined, nor presumably can anyone craft a law which bans any possible eventuality.
One is reminded of the aging President Hindenburg, who after the Reichstag fire made Hitler Chancellor and put out the Reichstag Fire Decree which Hitler used to suppress his opponents and get absolute power, even though Hitler did not have a clear majority on the floor of the Reichstag. The fire created an ‘emergency’ which was blamed on the Communists, but it is quite possible that the Nazis did it to create a crisis and enable them to take extra-judicial actions.
It is quite simply not acceptable to have a Prime Minster able to over-ride the Cabinet and take whatever powers he likes. The fact that Morrison only used this to stop a fracking project in the NT that he knew would be unpopular with the elections coming is not relevant. He could have done anything, and Hurley did not stop him.
If there is a censure motion against Morrison, this is also irrelevant. Morrison may be embarrassed and may or may not resign, but this will not stop it happening again a few years ahead. Even if Albanese arranges a law to prohibit multiple ministries, this may not help- any law can be reversed by a new government. It might also be noted that immediately after the 1972 election Prime Minister Whitlam and his Deputy Lance Barnard divided all the ministries between them and started enacting the programme that the ALP had taken to the election, merely to save time until his full Cabinet was appointed. This was consistent with the election result and seemed not to arouse any constitutional issues.
If we are to continue with a head of State who is ‘above politics’ he or she needs to be able and willing to stop political excesses. We need to know that there is some mechanism to stop an individual Prime Minster giving himself or herself whatever powers he or she likes. If you think, ‘it could not happen here’ you are wrong. It just has. The powers of the Governor-General were either inadequate or unclear and were certainly not used when they should have been. I cannot see that anything other than a clarification of the Constitution will resolve the matter. It seems that Justice Bell has overlooked this issue.