"Fuck your parliament and your constitution" - US President Lyndon B Johnson on Cyprus during meeting with the Greek Ambassador, June 1964. As quoted in "I Should Have Died".
Let’s talk coups for a moment.
Australia is not really a land that does coups. Sure, we have the Rum Rebellion but that’s ancient history and unlike the US, which can at least boast the Business Plot and January 6, Australia’s just not all that into “hard coups”. They’re a lot of work, and a lot of risk. Violence of any sort is messy and Australia is kind of hard to march across.
Our specialty has always been the “soft coup” — the kind of power play that is overly legalistic, deeply cynical and requires a bit of messing around, but doesn’t involve the military or violence and certainly won’t cost you a job in the private sector if it all goes belly up. This was the experience with the constitutional crisis that forced Gough Whitlam from office, though people of course like to quibble on details like exactly how much the Queen knew or whether the CIA was involved in some kind of anti-communist crusade.
It is hard to know where exactly to place the events of the last 48 hours on the soft-coup scale. If at one end there is the safe and legal like the rolling of a sitting Prime Minister during a leadership still, and at the other is Whitlam’s demise, it’s not yet clear where former Prime Minister Scott Morrison — man who had himself sworn in to multiple portfolios on a questionable legal basis — currently stands.
News of this situation broke with a headline over the weekend that a new book has revealed Scott Morrison himself had himself secretly sworn into the health portfolio during the pandemic. Things quickly escalated on Monday morning when the story was not only confirmed but the Australian public learned Morrison had done the same with the finance and resources ministries. As with most things involving the former PM, from there things only got worse. Not only had this “unorthodox” power-sharing arrangement — to borrow Bill Shorten’s phrasing — been kept hushed up, but apparently former Attorney General Christian Porter had given it his blessing and the Governor General had been quite happy to stay quiet about his role in the whole thing.
The involvement of the Governor General meant by Monday afternoon the situation was looking as if a minor constitutional crisis was brewing — and Morrison was not about to help clarify matters. When reporters at Sky News asked the former Prime Minister to explain himself, Morrison said he hadn’t heard about Anthony Albanese accusing him of running a “shadow government” that morning despite it being the headline story everywhere by noon.
“Since leaving the job I haven’t engaged in any day to day politics,’’ Morrison said.
It was a good line from a man who remains in parliament as a backbencher. Meanwhile, Morrison’s old inner circle have been moving quickly to disassociate themselves and deny all knowledge. Notably, those guys are only talking now, long after they lost the election. Every single one was quite happy to stay mum all the way to the finish line.
All of this, it is worth emphasising, is deeply funny. Between the mental image of an overworked Scott Morrison attempting to run cabinet alone while his ministers slam cocktails and check their investment portfolios, or the idea that Jenny Morrison is currently somewhere off camera waiting for the signal to take responsibility, it is hard not to laugh at the whole affair.
(Scott Morrison businessing, hard. Image source)
Still, there are some serious implications. Sage legal scholars like constitutional law professor Anne Twomey from University of Sydney have already provided the sober legal analysis about whether any of this was legit. The key lesson so far seems to be that, at a certain point up the social hierarchy, the country pretty runs on vibes. What these events show is just how easily the norms of government can be violated by someone incapable of feeling shame. The implication is that our democracy is vulnerable to the next demagogue down the line.
At the time of writing the story is still developing, so there will no doubt be more fun details to come — such as exactly how many portfolio’s Scott Morrison had also sworn himself into. Perhaps the most amazing thing so far is just how idiotic the whole thing appears. If they were worried a minister would get sick and be out of action during a global pandemic, why no say so? If those responsible weren’t doing anything wrong, why keep it a secret? If they were going to keep it a secret, did they not understand that at some point those detailed would be revealed? Did they think they were being clever by not talking about it in public? Do they feel clever now?
What it also does do is add a sepia hue to the Morrison era — and even the decade of Coalition government before it. You can rattle off any number of scandals from the last ten years that would make Richard Milhous Nixon blush — robodebt, the collapse of the aged care system, the failure to order vaccines, the decision to double down on fossil fuel production, the holiday in Hawaii, sports rorts, COVIDSafe (big rip) — and now, when looking back, how we interpret intent in those moments has changed. Suddenly, it feels more malevolent.
Of course, none of this is over yet. There will be more scandals yet to come, so just sit back, strap in and keep refreshing that Twitter feed for what promises to be one hell of a shitshow.
For the Fortnight: August 3 to August 16
Where I recap what I’ve been doing this last fortnight so you know I’m not just using your money to stimulate the local economy …
‘‘Car companies face pressure to leave Australian industry group after documents reveal its lobbying on emissions” (Guardian Australia, 8 August 2022).
220811 Submission to the SA Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee, Inquiry Into The Operation Of The Police Complaints And Discipline Act, 11 August 2022.
Save the date: I’ll be doing an author talk at Unley Library on September 22nd. More details to come.
We’re going on the road to Narrabri! More details to come.
You Hate To See It
A dyspeptic, snark-ridden and highly ironic round-up of the news from our shared hellscape…
God’s Tears Are Poison
It was an easy headline to miss in a week where Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort home was raided by the FBI because he may have been holding onto nuclear secrets and Liz Truss — who will absolutely get us all killed — seems to be the favourite to take over the Tory leadership. News that there are now so many “forever” chemicals in the skies above it that is no longer safe to drink was exactly the kind of dispiriting reminder we don’t need, but then one of the lead authors on the study was not about to coddle us when they summarised their findings thus: "We have made the planet inhospitable to human life by irreversibly contaminating it now so that nothing is clean anymore. And to the point that's it's not clean enough to be safe.”
Singing In The Dust
It may be poison but western Europe would kill for some of that cancer-causing sky water right now. Satellite images of Britain make it look like an Australian Savannah, the French have declared a state of emergency as their rivers run dry and boats are being left high and dry on the Rhine in the Netherlands — potentially another dilemma for Jeff Bezos, the modern Pharaoh who whose plans for a luxury pleasure yacht continue to be stifled.
At least here in Australian people are getting down to business with the newly elected Labor government passing its climate bill through the lower house with Green support. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese might be busy kissing babies to celebrate the achievement on what counts as the single biggest class issue of our lifetime but then let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Albanese is also the same guy that once said with a straight face that coal mining could continue past 2050 in a net zero world.
dirt addict @gun_toucher@jbouie https://t.co/D95H6yhJer
Ask Not, Want Not
The price of housing is through the roof and lettuce costs $11 or more but don’t worry the Commonwealth bank is doing find after posting a $9.6bn annual profit. He might be swimming in $1 and $2 coins like Scrooge McDuck but Commonwealth bank CEO Matt Comyn — what was he doing during the Banking Royal Commission again? — warned the public that all this sweet, sweet profit was also at risk from uppity workers demanding a bigger hare of the pie. On that score his interests align nicely with Andrew Duggan a Queensland landlord and owner of seven properties who insists he is not a slumlord. "As far as I can see,” Duggan told the ABC, “landlords have next to no rights and tenants have all the rights.” The situation is so bad, Duggan claims, he is now considering selling up.
The Kids Are Alright
Speaking of business, First Nations students at Kepnock State High School in Bundaberg have been enrolled in a special program to teach them the mysterious art of businessing. During the program the students are divided into groups where they are “taught about entrepreneurship and planning businesses that connect them to their identity, country and culture.” The aim of this program is to encourage them to “discuss ideas that have the potential to make them the next Elon Musk, and celebrate 60,000 years of their culture”. Unfortunately for the students of Kepnock State High School, the heights reached by Musk may be out of reach given how he got his start thanks to daddy’s Zambian emerald mine, government grants and a burning hatred of public transit. But, as usual, it seems the kids in this case know better than the adults. When asked about whether the program had inspired them to become feted Small Business Owners, several students said they were actually planning to become nurses or doctors.
At this point in Victorian political history it’s difficult to parse the idea the Victorian Liberal Party as anything other than a group of deep cover Labor staffers doing performance art given how often they manage to make Daniel Andrews seem cool.
Where we recognise and celebrate the true stupidity of the rich, powerful and influential…
It’s not every day we here at Raising Hell’s satire unit focus our attentions on the comrades in our own profession, but then the National Press Cub’s annual list of sponsors was released and boy-howdy, is it a good. You know everything’s right when when Johnson-Johnson (company which makes talcum powder that gives people cancer) is among the least-worst on the list. Who could be worse, you ask? Well, fossil fuel companies Woodside and Shell for one, along with lobbyists Hawker Britton which represents Equinor and Blue Energy. Nothing like an off-the-record party sponsored by the fossil fuel industry to really get you in the mood for some accountability journalism.
Good Reads, Good Times
To share the love, here are some of the best or more interesting reads from the last fortnight…
Here’s a Twitter thread from an Ukrainian excoriating the western left for its equivocation.
COVIDSafe is dead! As one Raising Hell subscriber, the final report in its operation tabled in parliament paints an inglorious picture of the app that was supposed to save the world. Good news though: the spirit of the app lives on in the Points Based Activation System recently rolled out for those on social security — because in this country no one learns a thing.
No words, just a good photo:
Before You Go (Go)…
Are you a public sector bureaucrat whose tyrannical boss is behaving badly? Have you recently come into possession of documents showing some rich guy is trying to move their ill-gotten-gains to Curacao? Did you take a low-paying job with an evil corporation registered in Delaware that is burying toxic waste under playgrounds? If your conscience is keeping you up at night, or you’d just plain like to see some wrong-doers cast into the sea, we here at Raising Hell can suggest a course of action: leak! You can securely make contact through Signal or through encrypted message Wickr Me on my account: rorok1990. Alternatively you can send us your hard copies to: PO Box 134, Welland SA 5007
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