I trust you mate

Dr Matthew Birchall
Insights Newsletter
26 August, 2022

We can learn a lot from Australia. Routinely ranked among the best places in the world to call home, the lucky country has a climate to die for, a robust economy, and a culture that celebrates winning.

It is also at the forefront of attempts to reinvent parliamentary democracy.

Last week, it was revealed that former Prime Minister Scott Morrison had secretly appointed himself to five portfolios during the coronavirus pandemic: home affairs, treasury, health, finance, and resources. Mathias Cormann, who can be forgiven for thinking that he was the only Minister of Finance in Canberra, reportedly had ‘no idea’ that he shared the role with ScoMo.

At least Greg Hunt was kept in the loop. ‘I trust you mate but I’m swearing myself in as health minister too’. How wonderful to have such a hands-on and engaged boss.

Critics have been quick to denounce Morrison’s power grab. A crack in the fortress of democracy was how the veteran Australian broadcaster Stan Grant put it.

Yet maybe Morrison was on to something. After all, what better way to transform government than to rewrite the rules? Don’t like the sound of a gas-drilling plant off the coast of New South Wales? Easy, appoint yourself resources minister and be done with it.

Just as interesting is the global reaction to Morrison’s travails. Here’s my take on what transpired in foreign chancelleries.

Hungary and Poland greeted the news from down under with glee. Another victory for illiberal democracy trumpeted Viktor Orbán. No one quite knows what Putin thinks, but there’s a good chance he nodded along in approval. Constitutional backsliding is one of his specialities.

Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China failed to see what all the fuss was about. Wasn’t Morrison the People’s Leader? The pressing question in Beijing was why he relinquished power after losing an election.

Joe Biden couldn’t remember who Scott Morrison was, although he noted that his good pal seemed very agreeable when they last spoke. He reminded international observers that Americans like their constitution.

The idea also struck a chord with politicians at home. For some, the prospect of combining all decision-making powers in one person was the big appeal. For others, it was the opportunity to better micromanage the economy.

Who cares about constitutional niceties in any case?

Just trust me, mate, I’m a good bloke.

Stay in the loop: Subscribe to updates