Australia’s establishment in cover-up mode over ex-PM’s secret cabinet posts

In the days following the revelation that former Prime Minister Scott Morrison had secretly appointed himself to five key ministerial portfolios in 2020 and 2021, Australia’s political and media establishment has desperately sought to conceal the political significance of the measures, which represented nothing less than preparations for a Prime Minister’s dictatorship.

Scott Morrison and David Hurley (Photos: AP/Kiyoshi Ota, Office of the Governor General of Australia)

The official press almost universally portrays the cabinet scandal as an expression of Morrison’s personal inclinations and psychology as an individual. His ministerial self-appointments are described as unnecessary excess.

Morrison himself defiantly posted Facebook memes late last week, trying to prank the case. Senior Labor politicians have hurled glib phrases at Morrison and his government as ‘incompetent’ and ‘unable to do their job’.

The aim is to bury any discussion of the relationship between ministerial appointments and a broader shift to authoritarian measures by the entire political establishment during the pandemic. This included the bipartisan proclamation of an extraconstitutional “National Cabinet,” in March 2020, to manage the pandemic response in secrecy and by fiat.

Equally obscured is the link between this dictatorial turn and the policies pursued by every government in the country, Liberal-National and Labour, all of which are part of the “National Cabinet”.

Anti-democratic forms have gone hand in hand with the pandemic response, based on bailing out big banks and big business, inflicting sweeping attacks on working-class jobs, conditions and social rights, and undermining health care. public at every turn, to ensure fully lucrative activities continued.

The positions Morrison appointed himself to included the major levers of state power. In March 2020, Morrison was appointed as the second Minister of Health and Finance. This was when federal and state governments were preoccupied with fighting public health measures that would impact profits and securing the fortunes of corporations and the ultra-wealthy, amid of a major financial crisis.

Morrison assumed sweeping powers amid major fears within the ruling elite of a social explosion, sparked by massive queues at unemployment offices and anger at official policies allowing the virus to spread. . As Morrison said last week: “The prospect of civil unrest, mass death and economic collapse was real.”

The WSWS warned at the time that the anti-democratic measures used at the start of the pandemic set a precedent for further attacks on civil liberties. In April 2021, Morrison appointed himself super portfolio minister for industry, science, energy and resources. In May of that year, he became a secret chief of the Interior Ministry. Inspired by the US Department of Homeland Security, it controls all federal intelligence and police agencies in the country. The same month, Morrison became a secret treasurer, jointly controlling all government spending.

A key part of the official cover-up is the claim that Morrison acted almost alone. Liberal MPs, who never opposed a single attack on democratic rights, claimed they were kept in the dark about ministerial appointments.

But reports continue to trickle indicating that Morrison’s appointments were a political conspiracy inevitably involving a wide range of co-conspirators.

The two veteran Liberal MPs who are credited with knowing about the appointments from the start, then Attorney General Christian Porter and Health Minister Greg Hunt, facilitated them without objection.

Last week, former National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce admitted to being aware in 2021 of Morrison taking over the resources portfolio. National Party MP and then Resources Minister Keith Pitt admitted Morrison told him he would jointly take over the portfolio. Pitt said he or Morrison informed Michael McCormack, who was the leader of the National Party at the start of 2021.

Governor General David Hurley signed all ministerial appointments. Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, along with every political figure in the country, rushed to defend Hurley, insisting he was little more than an innocent bystander. Hurley claimed he was unaware that Morrison would keep the dates a secret, although no announcement was ever made.

The clear objective is to protect the office of Governor-General, a central position in the capitalist state which, under the undemocratic 1901 Constitution, is the representative of the British Queen, as head of the Australian state. The Governor-General wields broad powers, including to dismiss governments, as happened in the 1975 Canberra coup.

The cover-up of Hurley’s role was undermined by a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this morning, noting that the Governor-General maintains a public online diary. This includes Hurley’s meetings with government ministers, including phone calls and private chats.

The ministerial appointments are listed for 2020 and 2021 but Morrison’s accession to the five ministries is not mentioned anywhere. These appointments are also concealed in the last two annual reports of the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor General, a supposedly independent government body, although all other ministerial appointments are listed.

This morning the Australian and the Saturday newspaper both revealed that Morrison’s assumption of the health portfolio was reported, at the time, to the cabinet’s National Security Committee. This committee includes the government’s top cabinet ministers, as well as the heads of the military and intelligence, blowing their claims of being kept in the dark out of the water.

Murdoch’s media itself knew about Morrison’s nominations from the start, but kept them a secret from the public until now. Morrison informed at the same time Australian political journalists Simon Benson and Geoff Chambers as they worked on the newly released book, titled plagued.

In other words, Morrison’s moves, which amounted to a creeping internal coup, were an open secret throughout the political and media establishment.

Obvious questions arise. What discussions have taken place over Morrison’s appointments with the British monarchy and US intelligence agencies, both of which play the most active role in Australian politics? What was the role of the Australian state and government agencies?

How come National Party leaders knew about at least one of the appointments, but current Liberal Party leader and then Defense Minister Peter Dutton supposedly did not? If the appointments were widely discussed in political and journalistic circles, how could Albanese and other Labor Party leaders not know?

All of these questions are buried, as are the larger political questions raised by the case. A column this morning by the AustralianEditor Paul Kelly absurdly attributed these developments to an “ego trip” by Morrison as an individual, which had “undermined democratic principle, public trust and cabinet government”.

Kelly continued: “Morrison engaged in an unprecedented, covert and unacceptable use of the Prime Minister’s power which must not be repeated, but activity where no harm was done to any member of the public.”

Who does Kelly think he’s kidding? Morrison, with support from sections of government and the state apparatus, secretly assumed vast powers, laying the groundwork for dictatorial and emergency forms of government. The extent to which these powers were used remains unknown, the only evidence currently in the public arena consisting of Morrison’s self-serving claim that he once used them as Minister of Resources.

While Morrison was secretly finance minister, the government engineered one of the largest transfers of wealth to the corporate and financial elite in history. The health portfolio, which he also controlled, was a key lever, along with the bipartisan National Cabinet, in the rejection of a COVID elimination strategy and, in December 2021, the open adoption of “ drop” which have claimed more than 11,000 lives this year and caused some nine million infections.

Fear of mass social opposition, which underpinned Morrison’s ministerial grip and the formation of the National Cabinet, is also driving the current cover-up and series of articles, like Kelly’s, downplaying this that happened. In today’s column, Kelly accused Albanese of ‘political overkill’ and warned that if he released the documents by which the Governor General installed Morrison in the five ministries, ‘this saga will likely take another damaging turn’ .

The ruling class genuinely fears that any further exposure of the workings of the capitalist state apparatus, behind the fig leaf of parliamentary rule, will deepen the public disaffection and hostility shown in the May federal election, when the combined vote for the two main parties of the capitalist regime – the Labor Party and the Liberal-National Coalition – fell to an all-time low.

This attempted cover-up, encompassing Labour, the unions and the entire political establishment, is in itself a warning to the working class. The ruling elite and all of its political representatives are increasingly abandoning democratic forms of government amid an unprecedented global crisis of capitalism, the catastrophe of the pandemic, war and the growing social and political struggles of the working class.

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