Scott Morrison’s secret self-appointments point to an insidious weakening of the guardrails of Australia’s democracy

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Democracy doesn’t die only in war. Democracy can die at the ballot box.

Those we elect can steal our democracy. Like a cancer they may silently infect the body politic, steadily growing, until it is all too late. 

It is happening all around the world. Democracy is in peril. This week in Australia we have been reminded that it can happen here too.

It has been revealed that Scott Morrison secretly had himself appointed to five additional ministries, and failed to inform his government, the parliament and the Australian people of his crucial governing decisions.

As prime minister, Morrison was running a parallel, hidden mini-cabinet. A government of one. The Governor General David Hurley had sworn Morrison into multiple portfolios, yet many of the PM’s supposedly most trusted colleagues knew nothing about it.

Scott Morrison signs a paper as David Hurley watches on in the senate
Former prime minister Scott Morrison and Governor-General David Hurley at the opening of the 46th Parliament in July 2019.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Morrison has defended his actions while issuing the faintest of apologies to those who may have been upset. He and the current prime minister, Anthony Albanese, have absolved the Governor General. 

Hurley, they say, was acting properly on the advice of the Prime Minister. But the Governor General is the head of state, the last line of defence to protect citizens from the excesses of power. Critics have argued he should have questioned Morrison’s requests more vigorously and advised him the appointments should be publicly disclosed. 

The Governor General is meant to be our democracy’s fail safe. 

Secrecy poisons democracy

Was it illegal? The Solicitor General will determine that. Was it undemocratic? Plenty say yes.

It is undemocratic because democracy doesn’t end when we vote. It isn’t just about representation. It is about accountability. 

Secrecy poisons democracy. Harvard University Professors in Government, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their book, How Democracies Die, warned of the dangerous creep of executive powers.

“Presidents or Prime Ministers,” they write, “who subvert the very process that brought them to power.”



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