Late last night, the Australian Labor government unveiled yet another desperate attempt to quell public outcry over the secret and unprecedented appointment of then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison as Governor General to the five most powerful ministerial portfolios in 2020 and 2021.
Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a deliberately narrow “non-political” three-month investigation to be conducted behind closed doors by a confidant of a former High Court judge. Albanese was open about the purpose of the investigation, saying it was “important so that people can trust our parliamentary democracy.”
In other words, even before the investigation began, Albanese insisted that it should result in instilling public “confidence” in the decaying façade of capitalist democracy, which was further discredited in the eyes of millions by revelations of a rapid transition by the entire political establishment, not just Morrison and governor general, to extra-parliamentary methods of government as soon as the COVID-19 catastrophe began.
Already from what is still only partially revealed about the events of 2020 and 2021, it is clear that any genuine investigation carried out by the working class will lead to the opposite conclusion: the need to have no confidence in the fig leaf of Parliament or any part of the capitalist ruling class. to protect fundamental democratic rights.
Behind the backs of the populace, Morrison was appointed dual Secretary of State for Health, Finance, Industry and Resources, Treasury and Home Affairs. This created a centralized authority that could be quickly exercised through ordinances and other decrees regarding pandemic response, public spending, industry and the federal police, intelligence, and the border apparatus.
Albanese said Labor’s request was “not about politics” and not about an official response to the pandemic. This is a deliberate and absurd attempt to separate the unprecedented shift to authoritarian methods from why it happened politically.
The Labor investigation is designed to cover up the full scale of what happened, as well as the broader political implications. Therefore, no one will be forced to testify.
Virginia Bell, the former judge who led the Labor Party investigation, will not have the power to call witnesses or compel the production of documents. Albanese also indicated that there would be no public hearing. Instead, as he told the media yesterday, “Virginia Bell will talk to the people.”
Albanese said the government has decided not to convene a royal commission that will hold public hearings and may require witnesses to testify under oath. According to Albanese, this decision was made to “strike the right balance”.
This “balance” is in line with the warnings given to the Labor government in the corporate media, especially Murdoch’s flagship, Australianand Australian Financial Reviewto stifle the case as quickly as possible in order to avoid further unspoken “damage” to the political system.
Among those who got rid of affidavits, Morrison, Governor General David Hurley, members of Morrison’s National Security Committee, all agreed with the prime minister’s takeover. It also includes Albanese and other Labor leaders who have been bipartisan in every major decision taken by Morrison’s Liberal National government during the pandemic. The same applies to all leaders of the Labor government of the states and territories. They played a central role in Morrison’s “National Cabinet”, a de facto coalition regime which the Labor government maintained as an equally secret mechanism of government.
The investigation is designed to preserve the core powers of the state apparatus, including the potentially dictatorial role of the prime minister and governor general, for use by the current government and any future government, as they allow the pandemic to continue devastating the health and lives of workers, intensify decades of crackdown on wages and working conditions workers, and accelerate preparations for a disastrous US-led war against China.
According to Albanese’s statement, the Labor government’s terms of reference for the investigation stipulate that it must report on the implications of the revelations for “public confidence in the government”.
Likewise, when asked if the investigation would include the Governor General’s role in Morrison’s covert appointment to five ministries, Albanese emphasized his government’s already stated intention to exonerate Hurley of any responsibility. “The governor general made it clear that his actions were taken on the advice of the government,” he insisted.
Accordingly, the terms of reference of the inquiry do not mention the role of Hurley and the Office of the Governor General. This is backed up by the indication that Bell “will take into account the opinion of the Solicitor General in respect of the legality of the appointment of Mr. Morrison as Head of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.”
This “Opinion”, published last week, was the government’s first fictitious attempt to bury the furore. The government instructed Solicitor General Stephen Donahue to report on only one individual appointment, not the entire power grab.
The Opinion argued that the appointment of Hurley Morrison to this portfolio was perfectly constitutional and legal under the anti-democratic colonial Constitution of 1901, which gives the Governor General, the representative of the British monarchy, the supreme power to appoint ministers.
At the same time, Donahue exonerated Hurley by stating that the Governor General “has no right to refuse to accept the Prime Minister’s advice regarding such an appointment.”
Hurley’s key role in this political crisis is very sensitive. First, this is because, as a former chief of the defense forces, he apparently had close ties at the highest level with the military and intelligence apparatus and their counterparts in the US and UK. This means that key figures in all these networks, including in London and Washington, had to be aware of these processes and support them.
Secondly, the governor-general, as the official head of state, occupies a key position in the capitalist state apparatus. As a representative of the British Crown, the Governor-General has dictatorial powers that can be used in political crises, including the removal of governments, as happened during the 1975 Canberra coup when the Whitlam Labor government was overthrown after it failed to contain the turbulent Labor movement. working class in the global boom 1968–1975
There is real concern within the ruling class, reflected in media warnings, that any further exposure of the inner workings of the capitalist state will exacerbate the public discontent and hostility shown in the May federal elections, when the combined vote for the two main parties of capitalist rule – Labor and the Liberal National Coalition have fallen to historic lows.
Although Bell’s investigation is portrayed as “independent,” it would be conducted under the auspices of the Attorney General’s Office, whose top officials were to be involved in drafting documents prepared by then Attorney General Christian Porter for Morrison’s appointment. his many posts. Obviously, Bell will not have an independent secretariat, and access to information and resources will depend on the government.
Appointed to the High Court in 2009 by the previous Labor government, Bell is regarded as a reliable pair of hands having served on the Supreme Court for 12 years. Australian Editor-in-Chief Paul Kelly today called her appointment “flawless” to ensure “a proper, impartial investigation that the public can trust.”
Despite all efforts to bury the revelations, explosive political and legal issues remain. Despite the “opinion” of the Solicitor General, the very legality of the Morrison-Hurley operation has been questioned by several constitutional experts. They pointed out that even if Morrison was “rightfully” appointed to these five offices, his use of these ministerial powers, the scope of which is still unknown, may not have been authorized by the Constitution.
First of all, none of the burning political questions got answered: When and why did Morrison ask the Governor General to secretly start and continue making these appointments? When and how were these ministerial powers actually used? How extensive was the complicity of the political establishment, including Labor leaders and their union partners, in these covert actions?
What is already known from Morrison’s own audacious defense of his actions is that he and everyone involved feared unrest and opposition in the working class when the pandemic hit, and governments were keen to keep schools and workplaces open despite the obvious danger of massive protests. . infections and deaths, for the sake of business profits.
Morrison insisted that his covert appropriation of vast powers was necessary because of “the prospect of civil unrest, numerous casualties and economic collapse” in the country’s “biggest post-war crisis”.
This should be a warning, as the WSWS explained throughout this historic political crisis, of the ruling class’s willingness to eviscerate basic democratic rights and turn to dictatorial methods of government when working class struggles break out. This “perspective” is only getting stronger as the Labor government pursues its program of further cutting real wages amid soaring inflation, the continuation of the “make it all mess” pandemic offensive, and increased forward engagement in Washington’s provocative actions and war plans against China.