The Australian Labor Party Embraces the Authoritarianism of a Political System in Crisis

By John McGregor, a translator and political violence researcher

Australia is currently lurching from one revelation to another through a constitutional crisis that nobody near power will acknowledge the severity of. As it emerges that the former Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appropriated a number of ministerships for himself, the now-ruling Labor Party is protecting the institutions of power instead of acknowledging the terrifying precedent established by Morrison’s hidden maneuvers. Labor is not shy of adopting authoritarian powers itself, and would prefer to make political gains out of the situation than dismantle a dangerous system.

In the past week, it has emerged that the former Australian PM Scott Morrison contrived to hold five other federal ministries while leading the government without the public knowing. A member of the conservative Liberal Party, he was replaced as PM at the May 2022 election by the Australian Labor Party’s Anthony Albanese but continues to sit in parliament.

In March 2020, Morrison appointed himself to the Department of Health and the Department of Finance. In April 2021, he appointed himself Minister of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. In May 2021, Morrison appointed himself to the Treasury and Home Affairs ministries. In each case, the appointments were not made public, and the existing ministers were not removed. As such, there were periods when there were two ministers, each empowered to act: one known to the public, and the other secret.

In Australia, some of these ministries have extraordinary powers with very little to balance them. When Novak Djokovic contested Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to revoke his visa and remove him from Australia, the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia ruled in favor of Hawke.

This is because the Immigration Minister, alongside the Minister for Home Affairs, has incredible discretion to remove any visa holder they want from the country (as long as they are not acting irrationally in doing so).

Under the Biosecurity Act, when there is a human biosecurity emergency, the Minister for Health is granted extraordinary powers to respond to the emergency. On 18 March 2020, the Governor-General declared that there was such a human biosecurity emergency, granting the appointed Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, these powers, as well as PM Morrison, since he had also appointed himself to the Health ministry. Within days, these powers were used to ban Australian citizens and residents from leaving the country.

In April 2021, Morrison had himself appointed to the Ministry of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources alongside Keith Pitt. Morrison then used his position to reject a proposed gas project, Pep-11, that Pitt had been in favor of renewing. This appears to have been a tactical move to win voters, not a change of heart on the gas industry.

By making himself Minister of Home Affairs, Morrison granted himself the power to cancel visas and remove people from the country. By making himself Health Minister, Morrison gave himself the power to close the border. By making himself Minister of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Morrison gave himself control of Australia’s significant natural resources. That any elected government minister has such wide discretion is in itself outrageous, but that Morrison managed to accumulate all these powers without the public even knowing is a mockery of the entire system.

The Governor-General, as the representative of the Monarch in Australia, swears in the PM and other ministers. Morrison was able to appoint himself to these roles because of the convention that the Governor-General will follow the advice of the PM. This is the defense that Governor-General David Hurley has relied on to explain why he didn’t notify the parliament or the ministries in question, or keep a public record of Morrison’s additional appointments.

Before entering the world of ceremonial politics, Hurley served in the Australian Army, and was Chief of the Defence Force between 2011 and 2014. His appointment to Governor-General in 2019 was on the recommendation of Morrison’s government.

Last week, when public revelations of the appointments began, Hurley even claimed in a statement that he “had no reason to believe that the appointments would not be communicated.” This excuse may have passed muster for some brief time after the first appointment, but by the time of the later appointments it was abundantly clear that they hadn’t been, and wouldn’t be, made public. Furthermore, Hurley neglected to record the appointments in annual reports or his diaries.

Hurley’s defense that he was just following orders, which he was bound by constitutional convention and personality to do, should hold little value for the Labor Party, but instead Labor PM Anthony Albanese has refused to criticize the Governor-General, saving his attacks for Morrison. This ignores both the evidence of the current situation and long-standing Labor policy, itself a lesson from a previous Liberal extra-parliamentary power grab.

In 1975, Labor PM Gough Whitlam was removed from power by the then Governor-General John Kerr, who immediately appointed the Liberal Malcolm Fraser as caretaker PM. This conspiracy to remove the elected leader of the country flew in the face of constitutional convention and it is one of the key drivers of the movement for a republic in the Australian Labor Party.

When the Albanese government was elected just months ago it included an assistant minister for the republic, Matt Thistlethwaite, who claimed that Australia would be ready for a referendum on the issue by a second Labor term (the public will spend the first term deciding on a referendum to include an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the constitution).

In light of this history, and the 2021 Labor national platform promising to work toward a republic, the revelation that the former PM, through the Governor-General, managed to secretly accumulate unchecked powers should spur an immediate and desperate push for a republic. Albanese has made no such push; even Thistlethwaite didn’t criticize Hurley, he expressed a vague hope that with an Australian head of state “maybe then we can get more transparency and accountability in decisions such as this”.

As more revelations emerge about the many Morrison ministries, and more questions are asked about the practical realities of this system, it becomes clearer that many in the media (in particular the Murdoch media) and both major parties must have known something.

Labor’s hesitancy, despite its current position of power, to attempt any major reforms is due to its own desire for authoritarian powers. During 2020 and 2021, as Scott Morrison accumulated ministries at the federal level, Labor state premiers exercised wide-ranging emergency powers to implement some of the most draconian lockdown measures on the planet.

Melbourne, under Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews, endured one of the longest lockdowns on the planet. In an island nation, state premiers were also able to effectively shut the national border by ordering the airports closed. When union workers protested against vaccine mandates in the construction industry in Victoria, Andrews simply ordered the industry shut down.

Throughout its entire existence, the Australian Labor Party has failed to adequately stand up against the interests of capital. As early as 1913, Lenin noted that the Australian Labor Party was actually a liberal-bourgeois party. He predicted that it would eventually make way for a socialist Labor Party.

Instead, as the capitalist order in Australia has confronted the crises of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Australian Labor Party has transformed into an increasingly authoritarian tool of this same capitalist system. Despite claiming to represent working Australians, the Labor Party is more interested in how it can take power over them. Scott Morrison has now shown how easy it is in the Australian political structures to seize almost dictatorial powers, and the Labor Party has no interest in dismantling such a powerful system of control over the population.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. ambrit

    All this in a country with an international reputation for fostering “rugged individualists.”
    A stark example of the divergence between “Public Relations” and “Institutional Imperatives.”
    America is no stranger to this. We have had Administrations run from behind the scenes too. Once, the nation was guided by the stars. Another time, the firm but ‘gentle’ hand of a Titan of Business managed the strings that animated the puppet. Today, we watch bemusedly as one of the walking dead shambles through the motions of being President, like some mangy performing Great Seal.
    I have grown old learning that, at every turn, I have not been cynical enough.
    Stay safe adjacent, y’all.

    1. St Jacques

      If people think Oz was ever about “individualism”, rugged or otherwise, then they are clueless about Oz. I was not at all shocked by the Morrison revelations, they simply confirmed for me his “behind the back” modus operandi I suspected him of having, and of the great sleazebag of a party the Liberals (Oz’s “conservatives”) have become since Honest John Howard (a title of sarcasm in Oz) was PM.

  2. Ignacio

    Isn’t it ashtonishing? The degradation of Western Democracies is gaining momentum. And let’s face the reality: there is not labour socialist or progressives any more, at least in some countries.

  3. JBird4049

    Aside from asking just how one man managed to get so much power without almost anyone knowing, I would think that becoming a republic would not solve anything and only getting rid of the corruption will work. Just how to do that, I do not know. It is one of the reasons I don’t support a Constitutional Convention as the Kochtopus and its allies have their plans already prepared for hijacking the convention and installing or creating an extremely American libertarian constitution. That this would destroy the Constitution’s creditability and likely start a second civil war does not seem to have occurred to them. Any changes in the Constitution has occurred after a lot of debate nationwide. Enough debate that made the losers accept the changes.

    No, I don’t know what is going to happen especially as really do not know anything about Australia, but I suspect that the long term blowback is going to be epic and not what those in power will expect. Credibility is needed for acceptance, which is needed for the necessary legitimacy without which almost no government can survive.

    1. Deak

      ” I would think that becoming a republic would not solve anything and only getting rid of the corruption will work.”

      I could not agree with you more. I’ve spent most of my life supporting the idea of an Australian Republic, but in the last five years I’ve come to realise that would not really solve any of the issues our country faces. Indeed, I could even see it making them worse if we were to adopt presidential electoral politics similar to those we see in the United States. As a result I would actually vote against a Republic in a referendum, despite being extremely far from being a monarchist. The whole republican debate thing seems like Labor fixating on a discussion from 20 years ago rather than noticing there are far far more important matters in the world today.

      I also have no idea what’s going to happen but support for both the liberal party and Labor parties is already at an extremely low ebb, and you’d have to think this will only accelerate the move away from them

      1. Foy

        Yep, I’ve always thought the whole make Australia a Republic thing was just another way to divide and conquer the masses and distract from what was really needed to be changed and done to help the general public. Identity politics in another form, just on a national scale. The last thing we need is a US style President. I’m yet to be convinced that the whole process wont be used for nefarious purposes.

        Australia being a Republic has a ‘Brexit’ problem, many would agree that it is probably a good idea, no one can agree on what it should look like and how it should be done. Therefore it’s prime for bread and circuses to distract the masses and for concentrating power even further if it ever succeeds.

    1. Earl Erland

      Hard to see Innuit embracing Imperialism. Bigger challenges are rising quickly.

      Are nuclear submarines part of Bro Culture?

  4. flora

    Labor party(s) running on brand fumes? Who could’a guessed? (see also France, US, Canada, UK, etc.)

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      Sad but true. They all gave into the “third way” … cozying up to big business as a way to grow the economy while abandoning the bargaining power of labour (work disruption). Top down as opposed to bottom up.

      1. skippy

        Julia Gillard actions made that quite clear, first act post whacking Rudd was to front an industry/business leader conference to tell them she was their gal – concerns about populism or anti business views were put to bed … phew …

        All of which makes the sing song about “Rudd the evil totalitarian” in the Murdoch or other corporate MSM just as clear.

  5. ewmayer

    As I wrote to an Aussie friend when the scandal first broke:

    Please don’t take offense, but as long as Oz has a governor-general who reports to the British sovereign, it is still a colony. Recall that in the aftermath of the 1975 Gough Whitlam affair and constitutional crisis, essentially nothing changed – Wikipedia:

    The events of the Dismissal led to only minor constitutional change. The Senate retained its power to block supply, and the Governor-General the power to dismiss government ministers. However, these powers have not since been used to force a government from office.

    LOL at the deliberately anodyne “have not since been used” … but they *could*, and as the above shows, the governor-general retains other autocratic powers.

  6. Savita

    Australian here. The thing that surprised me the most, actually the only thing that surprised me. Was the public bollocking ( To use a Malcolm Tucker-ism) of Morrison by Albanese. I listened to the speeches made by the frail slow speaking man. Over and over he put the boot into Morrison and was careful to single out his peers in the Liberal party as being equally responsible. Its so unusual in Australian politics for a politician to heap dirt upon another politician. Maybe thats a good thing except it always smacks of cowardice to me. The rotten are never called out.

    There was already a Referendum for a Republic. Surprised
    the author did not comment. Around the year 2000 from memory. The people voted against it. I personally am utterly against a Republic. Why? Because of the protections in law for the people afforded by the Commonwealth Constitution of Australia. I refer the original and true Constitution however. Turn this country into a Republic and ‘all bets are off’ as they say. Its a fast downhill slide.

    Oh, clever trick of Labor to make preparation for a referendum now with an utterly useless
    ‘minister’ (champagne drinker at functions) but only deliver if voters promise to vote them in again! Someone was actually thinking . Most people don’t know Australia has two Constitutions. The second one was a bait and switch, an an attempt to override Constitutional protections. In 1973.Entrenched by the removal of the Queen of England via the Australia Act in 1986. Prime Minister Bob Hawke tricked Queen Elizabeth into this. Swapping her for the ficticious legal entity ‘Queen of Australia’. Its a bit
    complex but one reason a Republic is desired to permanently enshrine the Australia Act as a principal power.The website Constitution Watch (by a practicing Constitutional lawyer) has a lot written on the subject

    1. Basil Pesto

      I personally am utterly against a Republic. Why? Because of the protections in law for the people afforded by the Commonwealth Constitution of Australia. I refer the original and true Constitution however. Turn this country into a Republic and ‘all bets are off’ as they say. Its a fast downhill slide.

      1999 was the last vote for a republic. Considering the C’th constitution doesn’t have a Bill of Rights to protects its citizens that’s a curious claim. That’s one of the outstanding questions of a Republican constitution – whether any such bill of rights would be included. Otherwise I suspect the constitution of an Australian republic would be pretty similar to the Commonwealth constitution, differing mainly in terms of how the government is structured (whatever that might look like). It’s not really clear how a new constitution would mean “all bets are off”.

      Oh, clever trick of Labor to make preparation for a referendum now […] but only deliver if voters promise to vote them in again!

      I suspect they are in part hoping that the queen carks it, as she is quite a popular/well-liked figure. Even if she doesn’t, as more time goes by, demographics will probably shift in the Republican side’s favour as well.

      Most people don’t know Australia has two Constitutions.

      Is your submission that the Australia Act is actually a ‘second constitution’? And that this instrument of decolonisation, complicated though it may be, was actually an instrument of removing “protections” from the Australian people? That is… far fetched, if not entirely made up. As best I can tell, thinking along these lines tends to congeal around certain varieties of unhinged nonsense

  7. Anon

    I’m watching all these changes emerge, and feeling mighty insecure… but that said, who truly believes that global democracy and liberalism are what will carry us through the climate crisis?

    It has been my experience, that people will never trade luxury for discomfort willingly. Even environmentalists go home to air conditioning… I gather none of us yet appreciate what is coming.

    Oz is a prime, and disappointing example.

  8. ddt

    It’s amazing all these constitutional positions coming outa the woodwork… The Governor-General, the senate parliamentarian. Wondering what other interesting roles will surface that allow tptb to screw us proles.

  9. alsoannonee

    digi_owl said “So Australia and Canada seem hell bent on following USA and UK down the drain now?”

    Yep. To gain power Labour abandoned a full set of sensible policies from proir election.

    And so we ‘may’ follow USA & UK down the drain.

    Some are challenging the (fox) drain;

    “The Lachlan Murdoch letters

    “Fox News helped bring Donald Trump to power. Then when he lost office, it articulated and amplified the Big Lie that the 2020 election had been “stolen”. But what of the family who owns and runs Fox? Nearly two months ago, Crikey dared to mention the word Murdoch in relation to Trump, Fox News and the fatal January 6 2021 raid on the US Capitol. That was sufficient for Lachlan Murdoch to threaten to sue us. Now we call his bluff.”


    The Morrison Saga is the best support fir a Republic. Silver lining.

    1. Earl Erland

      USians had to die for a Republic. Some wag wondered if it could be kept. Of course it’s always been a manner of slight adjustment, and keeping the kleptos in check.

        1. Daniil Adamov

          That’s the one, thanks. Honestly, to me, that just underlines the point made elsewhere in the comments about the republic being pure distraction.

    2. digi_owl

      I suspect replacing the governor-general with a president will change little in the long run.

  10. Valerie

    The biggest problem – other than what should be illegal behaviour on the part of Scott Morrison – is that the Governor General is not accountable to the public for knowing about the anti-democratic behaviour of the Prime Minister and having no official obligation to make this information public.

    My last two choices when voting were Labour/Albanese and (dead last) Liberal/Morrison because the two major parties are the Australian versions of the Democratic and Republican duopoly. When we moved to Australia ten years ago, I really hoped it would be better than the U.S. but I have a bad feeling of deja vu. I see no difference in foreign policy and unlike the courageous leadership of Obrador, Albanese is happy to throw an Australian citizen, Julian Assange, to the wolves.

  11. The Rev Kev

    This whole saga is staring to resemble an onion with layer after layer the deeper you go. Apparently it started with an audit that found that the Health Minister had nigh on supreme powers but what if, in the middle of a pandemic, he should get sick or kark it. So this dodgy mechanism was thought up where Scotty would have his portfolio too. But once you give Scotty any power, he wants to run with it so ended grabbing a total of five portfolios and hardly anybody knew as it was all a big secret, not even the Ministers that had those five portfolios. The Attorney-General has come and said that what he did was not technically illegal but implied that it cannot be left to stand in case somebody else down the track wanted to do it. The thing is like a ticking bomb that could be used again and all parties recognize the dangers.

    Scotty is coming under pressure to resign his seat but he is making out that he did nothing wrong and I think that people are finally seeing what he is all about. But the Governor-General – David Hurley – is coming under very heavy pressure for keeping those five appointments secret. At first the senior politicians of both parties were initially supporting him but are backing away now. The guy has an Official Diary where everything that he does gets noted so if he goes to a school fete, it is noted. But they have gone through it and there is zip on any of those five appointments which means he kept it off the record. The guy is saying that he left it up to Scotty to tell the government what he was doing but that does not explain why there is no mention of each of those appointments not being in the official record. And being once the Chief of the Defence Force here, he certainly knows better than most about lines of command and communication. But I found this curious note on his Wikipedia page and it is very strange-

    ‘During his tenure, he promoted a leadership program to then Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The program—Australian Future Leaders Foundation Limited—was given $18 million in funding, despite having no office, online website or staff.’

    1. CallMeTeach (retired)

      Could it be argued that since it isn’t in the official record, it never really happened and thus void? Granted that would take some spine for a politician to speak aloud, but I wonder if it’s possible?

    2. Valerie from Australia

      There is something dirty about the Governor General. Both he and Morrison should be forced to resign. Most Australians I know aren’t very interested in the specifics of politics but I hope there is a public outcry. This doesn’t pass the “pub test.”

  12. OliverN

    I will say I have a blanket disappointment as this article criticises the Governer General, the Labour Party, Albo, “the Australian political structures”, but has no criticism of the actual man who did the deed, ex-Prime Minister Scott Morrison??

    First you criticise the Governer General for the convention of “doing what he’s told by the PM”, but then you give an example of when a Govener General dismissed a PM. Sooooooo…. do you want a GG that meddles in Aussie politics or do you not want a GG that meddles in Aussie politics? (correct answer: no meddling)

    “Labor state premiers exercised wide-ranging emergency powers to implement some of the most draconian lockdown measures on the planet.” This sure sounds bad without any context, doesn’t it! Sure, let’s use the example of actions taken by a government during a ONCE IN A LIFETIME PANDEMIC and never again as an example of a “draconian” measure. Are attempts to control an infectious disease with a 5% fatality rate, no vaccine and limited+misinformation (use your 2020 knowledge, not your 2022 knowledge) really an example of “excessively harsh and severe” measures, or are we just devaluing the meaning of words? Dandrews is up for election in November, let’s see how “draconian” he really is.

    “Throughout its entire existence, the Australian Labor Party has failed to adequately stand up against the interests of capital. As early as 1913…” . A political party is made up of the people who are currently in it. Let’s not smear Albo with an opinion published a hundred years ago.

    “Scott Morrison has now shown how easy it is in the Australian political structures to seize almost dictatorial powers, and the Labor Party has no interest in dismantling such a powerful system of control over the population.”
    “No Interest”? Really? So why has Albo
    a) made this entire debacle public, instead of keeping it secret and using it for his own benefit
    b) Used it to attack Scomo, thus taking a stance that using power in this way is immoral
    c) Obtained and released advice from the solicitor general that granting ministerial positions in this way, while not illegal specifically, is inconsistent with the principle of responsible government in the constitution?
    d) ordered an inquiry into the example you gave about Scomo’s abuse of powers, the gas project?

    Or are we just going to say that “both parties are as bad as each other”

    I will say that there is a common-sense legislative answer to this. Albo can easily pass (with the support of the crossbench) a law saying that ministers appointed to portfolios in secret can’t exercise their powers until the portfolios are made public. Or whatever. The answer is not to ditch the monarchy.

    1. John McGregor

      I think Scott Morrison deserves a fair chunk of the blame for what has already happened but to treat the issue as a historic problem of Morrison alone ignores the current and future systemic danger.

      I don’t think it is fair to class Hurley’s actions in this affair as ‘not meddling’. As I noted, his explanation that he had no idea that the appointments wouldn’t be notified makes little sense at a time when he does in fact know that the appointments weren’t notified. Additionally, he made a decision not to include the Morrison appointments in his public diaries and records, but to include the other, public ministerial appointments (and all manner of daily activities).

      But more importantly, official Labor policy doesn’t want the G-G at all. Albanese has attacked Morrison over the appointments, published the S-G’s advice that attacks Morrison but absolves the G-G, initiated an inquiry, and started a process to have future appointments of ministers published (I think this last one would be an important change if it eventually comes about). The answer to the current crisis isn’t necessarily ditching the monarchy, but this Labor focus on investigating and tweaking the system is at odds with its claimed plan of transforming Australia into a republic in the near future. For any party that genuinely wants to do away with the Governor-General, the events of the last few years should be fuel for an immediate attempt to dismantle the institution.

      If only the measures taken by Labor premiers were ‘never again’. They continue to attend the inappropriately named National Cabinet, and now Albanese is also refusing to release the documents from these meetings, as Morrison did before him.

      Opposing labor is the sole purpose that the Liberal Party has for existing and it will continue to trample working people in service of its corporate backers whenever and wherever it can gain power. But the Labor Party, itself no stranger to trampling workers, is currently in power and is engaging in minor alterations, or making no changes at all, to the very anti-democratic structures that were recently employed against Australians by the Liberals.

  13. digi_owl

    “Apparently it started with an audit that found that the Health Minister had nigh on supreme powers but what if, in the middle of a pandemic, he should get sick or kark it.”

    My first expectation would be for a deputy minister to take over, but then it seems like them British off-shots (and i consider USA among them) have all kinds of odd solutions to things.

  14. John Bloomfield

    I have seen no mention in MSM as to whether Morrison claimed additional remuneration.
    A ‘Ministerial Officeholder’ salary is normally attached to each ministerial position.
    Australian members of Fed parliament receive an annual base allowance of around $211,000 AUD (2020) – officeholders receive ‘additional salary’ – the amount of which is calculated as percent of the base allowance.
    ‘Other Ministers in Cabinet'(per 2009 document) receive an additional 72.5% x $211K = $153K.
    If Morrison received additional salary for all those 5 positions he would annually receive $765k on top of his (160% x base) PM salary. ie 211K + 337k + 765k = approx. $1.3mil pa.

    Those on social security prosecuted under Morrison’s illegal Robodebt scheme must be ropable.

  15. Savita

    Thanks for mentioning the prospect of ScMoFo’s renumeration. It was the first thing I thought of and it’s on my to-do list to make enquiries about. And a thankyou to Rev Kev for pointing out the very WEF sounding future leaders voodoo cult pushed by Hurley; another enquiry follow up! I totally disagree Rev that people are finally seeing what ScMoFo is like. I feel everyone has always seen what he is like. I think this is a rare case of everyone not forgetting the previous prime minister, when a new one is voted in. I think everyones kept him firmly in their memory as they wish for political or legal revenge to catch up with him.
    I’ve just tried to find a single youtube video with live footage of the guys incompetence but there are just too many! One memorable one is his statement prior to the election ‘ I have never lied in public office’
    I need to reiterate that doing away with the Queen of England is a really dangerous outcome. It really reminds me of Brexit. Ask someone why Australia should be a Republic. ‘ Oh, no foreign meddling. Be sovereign’. It’s tokenism, idealism, with no concrete benefits and one seriously fatal downside: losing all the protections inherent in the Constitution and creating a wild west situation where the US can finally decide it’s the legal authority in Australia and whatever.
    One other observation. The idea is for the Original peoples of Terra Australis to finally receive their due recognition in the Commonwealth Constitution of Australia. Why they need a referendum for this is because its the only way the Constitution can be altered. Note, this is in contrast to the Liberal party who only offered legislative recognition for the Original peoples of Terra Australis. However! If the Labor party proceed with a a Referendum for a Republic in their second term and obtain this – no more Constitutional recognition of Original peoples!??

  16. Basil Pesto

    Labor’s hesitancy, despite its current position of power, to attempt any major reforms is due to its own desire for authoritarian powers. During 2020 and 2021, as Scott Morrison accumulated ministries at the federal level, Labor state premiers exercised wide-ranging emergency powers to implement some of the most draconian lockdown measures on the planet.

    Melbourne, under Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews, endured one of the longest lockdowns on the planet. In an island nation, state premiers were also able to effectively shut the national border by ordering the airports closed.

    Whatever about the rest of the article, this is worthy of criticism. Equivocating Morrison’s self-centred nonsense with successful public health measures – albeit ones that had to paper over prior public health failures – is beyond silly.

    Keep in mind that from the beginning, Morrison wanted to go with the (intensely pro-capital and anti-worker, as it happens, though they of course claim to be the opposite) Great Barrington Declaration-style Let Er Rip policy of the UK, and it was the national cabinet which effectively stopped him from doing so (even if only up until December 2021), saving thousands of lives.

    Andrews is a vacuous nothing and I have been critical of him on many occasions.

    But the idea that the Victorian lockdown of 2020 was the exercise of authoritarian power for its own sake is veering into Murdockian ‘Dictator Dan’ childishness.

    The need for a lockdown in Vic in 2020 was of course a fault of Andrews’ government itself due to their hotel-quarantine cock-ups – using private security to run the hotel quarantines for example. Had they been more diligent the lockdown requirements of Victoria would have been virtually the same as the rest of the country – that is to say, between the national lockdown of March-May 2020 and the disgraceful “lockdown to vaccinate” in NSW/Vic/ACT of May/June – Nov 2021, virtually nil (one week snap-lockdowns here and there, about as much time, possibly less, as we can expect to be kept out of action by Covid every year)

    Moreover, the lockdown could have been much shorter than it ultimately proved to be, if a) it had been implemented sooner and b) if mass pool testing had been used.

    However, having let it in, that subsequent elimination campaign – without any ambiguity or doubt – saved thousands of lives. From a relatively limited number of cases in Victoria that year, we had over 900 deaths. Tens of thousands would have died if it spread uncontained with the herd immunity-chasing abandon that Morrison had initially wanted to spread it. If it had spread beyond Victoria, which is not out of the question, then Australia would have joined the rest of the western world in its atrocious early-pandemic mortality. If it hadn’t spread beyond Victoria, then this de facto would have entailed Victoria being cut off from the rest of the country until such a time as a national Let Er Rip policy was enacted. All of these consequences apparently represent, to Mr McGregor, the non-Draconian solution.

    Instead Victorians, once the virus was defeated in Nov 2020 joined the rest of the country in enjoying a relatively normal, Covid-free lifestyle and being able to travel freely interstate, including the ability to enjoy Christmas 2020 when Covid was causing untold misery in most of the rest of the world (to say nothing of escaping the ravages of Delta, for the most part, in April/May 2021). The main imposition for Australian residents during this time was on overseas travel, which is of course for the most part a luxury (of course, more should have been done to facilitate the safe repatriation of Australians overseas and vice-versa, most obviously the construction of bespoke, air-gapped quarantine facilities).

    The idea that the Victorian and state Labor parties did this for its own sake (by implementing that notable long term people pleaser that all governments just yearn to implement: unprecedented severe restrictions on human intercourse for four months?) instead of, in actuality, meaningfully rising to the occasion and earning ordinary Australians of all stripes meaningful protection from the ravages of the SARS pandemic for a time, is daft. That we have since thrown all this collective effort and solidaristic spirit of 2020 away for nothing (as I’ve put it before, we had the choice between making overseas travel hard and making everything hard, and we chose the latter), I don’t know if you’d call it authoritarian, but it is a real travesty.

    In other words, we had solved the problem. We should have been an example for the rest of the world to follow: Covid is a solved problem – get back to normal by getting your proverbial shit together and working together with common purpose to solve the problem. That’s what we did. It worked. Instead the public around the world were lied to, told it was impossible because reasons, that they had to learn to live with the virus etc. Again, if you’re going to bring the ‘institutions of capital’ framing into this, it was precisely global capital that lead us to this place, with top-to-bottom propagandising all around the world. As far as I know, at no stage of the pandemic have they supported using the various techniques at our disposal to bring about elimination. Australia’s erstwhile successful strategy is now referred to as draconian and undemocratic. Okay. I mean, it’s a wholly unconvincing position in the first place, but if democracy means not implementing the known solutions to serious problems, how much of a damn is it even worth in the first place?

    It is completely generic feature of modern democracies that governments be able to exercise emergency powers – often resulting in derogation from legal norms – in times of emergencies including, but not limited to a) war, and b) pandemics and other natural disasters. This of course does not give political leaders carte blanche to do whatever it is they would like, and does not mean that they cannot be exploited, but nor does it mean that every emergency is a Reichstag fire. It does mean that regardless of whether we are in the current constitutional order or working under some hypothetical republican constitution, as far as the remit to implement lockdowns of the sort we experienced goes, nothing would change in either case. Constitutions and rights instruments allow for emergency exceptions in principle as a matter of course, for mind-numbingly obvious reasons.

    The NSW/Vic/ACT surrender lockdown from June 2021 is a different issue as it was not a lockdown to eliminate but a lockdown to get people vaccinated before letting Delta (at the time; Omicron subsequently) rip – with JobKeeper no longer in place, it bears pointing out (lockdowns are of course intrinsically difficult for the population as a whole. Social support should be maximised. It’s telling that even the slight support provided by JobKeeper was flicked before the implementation of the big 2021 pseudo-lockdown). Some of us of course were pointing out that this was a huge mistake, that the vaccines would not preclude transmission, that this was not going to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The results of that speak for themselves. Beyond the dead, many thousands more (mostly workers, as has been the trend worldwide) have now been immiserated as a consequence of the disease. Whether it was out of the goodness of ALP’s heart or not, I doubt it, but the fact remains that under Australia’s now-abandoned containment policy, these workers were protected from the ravages of the disease. And they have no idea what’s waiting for them in the future in terms of subsequent phenotypes, which could put us back to something approaching square one, except this time Australia will not bother to re-adopt its containment policy, which has since been publicly sabotaged and propagandised against.

    To put it another way, the Australian governments have learnt this year that they can kill more than 10,000 citizens in less than a year, with plenty more to come, through their own negligence and with absolutely no consequence, but the real democratic/authoritarian concern is not this, but proven techniques of disease control that precluded this outcome? What?

    And again, if we’re going to play the “capitalist order” card, it is absolutely worth pointing out that it was Australia’s capitalist institutions that lobbied hardest for the abandonment of containment. They got their wish, and what we have to show for it is joining the world in a new age of sickness where we’ll all die younger and live more unpleasant, trying lives as a consequence. But staving that off – even for just a couple of years until we surrendered to those exact capitalist pressures – was somehow anti-labour? Huh?

    Much as authoritarian overreach may be a genuinely held concern all around the world right now for various legitimate reasons, the idea that using long-extant instruments of democracy to meaningfully solve the problems that face us is, in fact, incipient authoritarianism and inherently undemocratic betrays a tenuous grasp of the legal organisation of democracies themselves, and is also in itself deeply troubling; a kind of laissez-faire democratic nihilism.

  17. Lambert Strether

    > To put it another way, the Australian governments have learnt this year that they can kill more than 10,000 citizens in less than a year, with plenty more to come

    Pikers. We killed a million!

Comments are closed.