Politics Opinion

Secret ministerial makeover smacks of rule by divine right

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

By ruling in secret, the Morrison Government was not being responsible to the parliament and was not accountable to the people — who are the basis of its legitimacy, writes Bilal Cleland.

THE STRUGGLE to establish just and compassionate systems of government has a long history.

While in Australia we have inherited a system based on the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – a compromise which overturned the evil of divine-right monarchy – it is obviously imperfect and reliant upon the observance of conventions which protect us from tyranny.

Today, we assume that we are subject to the laws of the land stemming from Acts of parliament. We assume we have a government, based on a majority of members in the lower house, which is both representative of the electorate and responsible to that electorate.

Forming government

Under the Westminster system, the people’s house – the lower house – dominates. In Britain, the upper house is the House of Lords, which has been to some extent democratised. In Australia, it is the States House — the Senate.

The government, which chooses the prime minister, must be based on a majority in the lower house. The monarch or the representative of the monarch, the governor-general, is expected to adhere to the advice of the government of the day.

It has long been recognised that any attempt to limit the right to vote or the right to stand for parliament is a step towards tyranny. Past rulers have sought to nullify the power of the parliament – like King Charles I who lost his head for that crime – or have sought to limit the vote to property owners, older people or just men.

Responsible government

Alongside this need for representative government is the necessity for responsible government. That means that the government of the day must be accountable for its actions to the representatives of the people, the parliament.

A government which rules in secret is not being responsible to the parliament and is not accountable to the people — who are the basis of its legitimacy.

That is why there has been such an outcry against the "secret shadow government" established under the Liberal-National Coalition led by former PM Morrison.

As Laura Tingle pointed out on ABC's 7.30 Report:

“While Scott Morrison had been appointed to five different ministries, that actually gave him crossover power to a total of 23 different roles.”

One commentator to be taken very seriously on this matter is Jenny Hocking, Emeritus Professor at Monash University, Distinguished Whitlam Fellow at the Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney University and award-winning biographer of Gough Whitlam.

Hocking writes that the swearing-in of Morrison in five ministerial positions:

'... was done in secret by the Governor-General, David Hurley, on the advice of the Prime Minister, without any notification of this unprecedented ministerial duplication either to the Parliament or even – with the exception of Health Minister Greg Hunt – the other ministers.'

She maintains:

'If "responsible government" is to mean anything at all, you cannot have a second "minister" appointed in secret, who can at any point step in and override the decision of the first – and only publicly acknowledged – minister.'

Given past procedures, Hocking says, it is quite possible that the Queen knew of these 'duplicate appointments' before the parliament at the time or the Australian people.

Democracy under threat

In early 2020, social researcher and ethical government advocate Steve Davies wrote:

The zeal with which the Morrison Government is pursuing its agenda and the agenda of the Government itself, are a reflection of the Extreme World Makeover... based on the ideology of dominionism. Evangelicals, including Pentecostals who subscribe to that ideology believe that Christians should shape societies and nations by taking control of key institutions (Seven Mountains).

 

Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions... family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government.

We have long been rid of the dangers of the divine right of kings, with the tyranny which that involved.

We will not tolerate a return to rule by divine right based on the aforementioned "seven mountains" or denizens of the Parliament House prayer room.

The protection of representative government and responsible government is our duty.

The wisdom of Caliph Ali

Morrison would have done well to consider the wisdom of Caliph Ali — as seen in the Caliph's letter to the governor of Egypt, 658 CE.

Caliph Ali advised:

Do not say: “I am your overlord and dictator and that you should, therefore, bow to my commands”, as that will corrupt your heart, weaken your faith in religion and create disorder in the state. Should you be elated by power, ever feel in your mind the slightest symptoms of pride and arrogance, then look at the power and majesty of the divine governance of the universe over which you have absolutely no control.

 

Maintain justice in administration and impose it on your own self and seek the consent of the people.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. You can follow Bilal on Twitter @BilalCleland.

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