Our government is stable despite our Constitution

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MORRISON’S MULTIPLE MINISTRIES

Our government is stable despite our Constitution
It is quite extraordinary, as Tony Wright points out, that the Australian Constitution makes no mention of the prime minister (“Bizarre, audacious but constitutionally valid”, The Age, 16/8). Even more extraordinary, I find, is that the Constitution gives no guidance on how a government is formed.

In fact, when it comes to executive government the document is more autocratic than democratic. For example, ministers are appointed by the governor-general and “hold office during his pleasure” (section 64) and the governor-general has the “command in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth” (section 68).

In many ways, good and stable government has persisted in Australia in spite of the Constitution rather than because of it. The Westminster system, the basis of our parliamentary system and not mentioned in the Constitution, relies almost entirely on convention. Thankfully these conventions have been respected by both sides of the political aisle except, of course, on rare occasions such as 1975.
Rod Evans, Parkville

This flies in the face of ‘responsible’ government
As a barrister and solicitor with a doctorate in political and constitutional history, let me be unequivocal: Scott Morrison’s secret power grab was blatantly unconstitutional.

On many occasions, the High Court has stated that “responsible” government is implied in the Australian Constitution. The concept of “responsible government” is particularly embodied in the requirement that a minister of state must be – or become within three months of appointment – a member of parliament, and therefore be answerable to (i.e. “responsible” to) the parliament for ministerial actions and decisions. When a minister’s portfolio is secret, this cannot occur.
Dennis Dodd, Wangaratta

The secrecy is what alarms the most
David Crowe’s article “Power grab turns system into farce” (The Age, 16/8) further illustrates the fragility of our democracy.

While as yet the constitutional legality is to be decided, most alarming about Scott Morrison’s actions is the secrecy in which he appointed himself to other ministries. The very fact that some of his ministers were not told, is yet another indictment about his lack of propriety and honesty.

At a time when the trust in politicians is at such a low ebb, such actions by Scott Morrison only reinforce that lack of trust.
Judith Morrison, Nunawading

What happens when they disagree?
As Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie has pointed out, the question is not whether you could appoint two different people to do the same job, but what happens if they don’t agree.

We had the original minister proposing to exercise his constitutional authority to give a permit for a project, and another minister, who had his own job but had also been given authority in other ministries, wanting to prevent this. What would a court say? Does constitutional law allow for two different people to exercise authority – and if they disagree, whose opinion prevails?
Hal Colebatch, Hawthorn

This is simply not democratic
Whether or not Scott Morrison’s self appointment to extra ministries was constitutionally or administratively correct is important, but almost beside the point.

The single most important principle is that any minister’s exercise of power is answerable to parliament and to the people they represent. Hiding the holding of ministerial power from them is therefore simply not democratic and should be treated as a major parliamentary offence.
Julia Thornton, Surrey Hills

THE FORUM

Summit must look at TAFE
The upcoming federal Jobs and Skills Summit must lead to dramatically improved efficiency in our TAFE system, in which current arrangements are based on the attractive-sounding, but remarkably outdated idea of “competency based training”, which was introduced by the Hawke government at a time when a talking brick mobile phone was a communications marvel.

If we are to keep up with our national income expectations and make progress on international personal wellbeing indexes, it’s time to have vastly more vocational education content areas, accessible at many more levels of complexity.

TAFEs must continue to provide the core skills of vocational education, but this must be augmented by giving students access to a wide choice of online or virtual classrooms, and top-quality interactive learning resources. Having Australia-wide vocational education networks in TAFE will cut waste and give efficiencies in the development of new, far more effective vocational education programs.

The most important task for next month’s Jobs and Skills summiteers must be to create a green-field thinking site, unencumbered by vested interests, on which to plan and build a national New TAFE.
Neil Hauxwell, Moe

Listen to the teachers
The teacher crisis indeed calls for a comprehensive plan (Editorial, The Age, 15/8).
The first thing that ministers and commentators must do is listen to the teachers. They are telling us loud and clear if anyone bothers to listen. Survey after survey is all about workload and respect.

Teachers more and more are expected to provide for what society, parents and the community fail to do and to compensate for those failings. And then teachers are blamed for not providing the basic skills to their students.

Here’s some ideas; reduce teacher workload and remove administrivia, provide adequate funding and resources to at least the Schooling Resource Standard for all schools, not just the non-government ones, stop blaming schools and teachers for an apparent drop in international rankings, and treat the profession with the respect that it deserves.
David Zyngier, School of Education, Southern Cross University

Strategic disinformation
We were not at the top of the list for vaccines. We were told “It’s not a race, it’s not a competition”. Not meeting climate change goals “at a trot” but limping along, with honest evaluations of how critical the environmental impact and change is unreleased among a game of smoke and mirrors. We are buying tanks and submarines … but really, the timelines leave us wondering why we are bothering.

We just couldn’t work out why we just were not getting essential things done in any sort of logical or timely way during a pandemic.

It’s not an oversight when pivotal portfolios are being juggled in back rooms, hidden from cabinet colleagues and balls are repeatedly dropped. Recent preaching to not trust governments makes more sense in light of Scott Morrison’s quite bizarre steps.

It is strategic obfuscation of facts for the general public, who pay the prime minister’s wage and who hope that the person in the role has insight, morals and leadership. What false hope, what ridiculous egoistic betrayal.

Our children and their futures deserve better.
Lisa Dooley, South Melbourne

Opportunity knocks
Scott Morrison has given Anthony Albanese both a challenge and a wonderful opportunity.

By running on open, transparent, reasonable, collective, fair government he’ll have the chance to bury the disastrous memory of the Coalition government just deposed, and restore our faith in the Australian institutions that have been so much abused lately.

It is clear now that it is only the respect that all of us, governments included, have in our institutions that can keep the country on the path to a successful society.
George Fernandez, Eltham North

Not my experience
I have been a commuter on public transport from the Dandenongs to the city since the age of 15. I’m now 78 and still going.

I don’t know where your columnist travels, but my experience, spanning 63 years, varies drastically from hers (“In the rail world, civilisation collapses”, Comment, 15/8). In all my time, there have been maybe six or seven incidents.

My experiences while cycling have been much, much worse. Maybe I live in a different universe
Gerrit Linde, Mount Dandenong

Stop the poaching
Your correspondent (“Responsibility to the community is ignored”, 16/8) makes an excellent point, in that Australia “poaching” skilled workers from overseas is obviously morally questionable.

In fact, it closely parallels the British colonial attitude that any resources in the world are there for the taking by the strong or technologically advanced and this is perfectly acceptable. It speaks very poorly to our sense of decency and must stop.
Ian Usman Lewis, Kentucky, NSW

ABC misses a trick
I, too, am surprised that the ABC has chosen Fran Kelly to host its new Friday night chat show when ithas the perfect host in waiting, Tony Armstrong (“It seems Aunty has abandoned the kids”, Comment, 16/8).

With his contagious enthusiasm, delightful personality, obvious passion for life and have a go at anything thrown at him nature, he would be perfect.
Samantha Keir, Brighton East

An exciting vision
How inspiring to read of the conversion of semi-trailer trucks from diesel to electric power by Janus Electric (“Big trucks shifting gear to electric”, Business, 16/8).

But the program is about more than conversion, the business plan is based on innovative use of battery changeover instead of on-site recharging.

What a relief to hear of such exciting vision. It shows what opportunities arise once business and industry can be clear about a supportive political environment. So much for the previous government’s misinformation and lack of foresight around anything innovative relating to EVs – such wasted years.
Greg Hardham, Albury, NSW

A productive exercise
Ross Gittins has written recently about the price-setting powers of Australian companies given the non-competitive structure of many Australian industries (The Age, 13/8 and 15/8) and refers to “the few huge firms dominating a particular market reaching a tacit agreement to keep prices high and stable”.

The government could commission a review by the Productivity Commission of whether the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s capacities to address tacit collusion could be enhanced. In the meantime, as suggested by former ACCC chair Rod Sims, a federal entity could publicise the price margins enjoyed by large Australian companies.

The current upturn in the inflation rate is largely driven by temporary factors, and scary descriptions of it only give more scope for non-competitive companies to push up prices.

To bring down Australia’s inflation rate, the government should concentrate on alleviating labour shortages through immigration, allowing pensioners to work longer hours and giving all asylum seekers and refugees the right to work.

The government should also encourage new entrants to the renewable energy sector to disrupt the current wholesale electricity oligopoly and to introduce cheaper power into the market.
Andrew Trembath, Blackburn

The more things change …
The then principal of my high school announced his retirement in the first school newsletter of my first year back in 1987.

Going back to read his piece recently, it was striking in its rawness and lack of spin. He cited the strain of a busy school and wrote that the demands need to be realistic and not overwhelming.

He said that schools require “loving care” to maintain and improve quality education for students, and dare I say for staff to impart that onto students.

A great deal has changed in the world over the past 35 years, but it seems not enough in education.
Simon Williamson, West Footscray

Barking up the wrong tree
Surely the misguided people protesting outside the Royal Children’s Hospital must be some of the most selfish on earth. They are entitled to their views, but should not be upsetting parents of children who are in hospital – in itself a singularly stressful situation.

We are incredibly fortunate polio, whooping cough, German measles, smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, measles and mumps (and others) have more or less disappeared from our lives, while shingles can be beaten by vaccination.

As one who had polio in the days when it was still called infantile paralysis, I can assure the anti-vaxxers that they are barking up the wrong tree – and certainly in totally the wrong place.
Peter Valder, Toorak

Why is he still there?
Scott Morrison, the once secret minister, has been quoted as saying “since leaving the job [as prime minister] I haven’t engaged in any day-to-day politics”.

It raises the obvious question: if not engaged in any day-to-day politics, why is he still in parliament?
Harry Kowalski, Ivanhoe

They both should go
Yes Scott Morrison should resign. He has overridden all cabinet conventions, and broken trust with his cabinet colleagues, the parliament and the public.

By the same token, the Governor-General must also resign. Allowing the prime minister to secretly bypass all normal processes he has undermined the independence and integrity of the position. His role in this disgraceful episode makes his continuing in the role untenable.
Simon Westfold, Bittern

He made an impact on me
Nice to hear from you, Jeff Hourigan. Glad your professional life went well. (“Perks of not teaching”, Letters, 16/8). I agree, the corporate world has more benefits than an education career.

However, don’t forget the powerful impact of a teacher and the personal satisfaction that can bring. I remember the impact of your class 47 years ago like it was yesterday.
Rosslyn Jennings, North Melbourne

AND ANOTHER THING

Reinventing the wheel
What to do with the observation wheel no one wants to buy? Invest just a little more money in it, to finish it off; I mean, how much could a pair of big white ears and a big white trunk cost?
Barry Miller, Kyneton

Credit:

Scott Morrison
I had thought Scott Morrison was the fifth Marx brother. Turns out he was all of them.
Peter Campbell, Newport

Perhaps Scott Morrison should have concentrated on doing a reasonable job as prime minister before taking on extra ministerial roles.
Annie Wilson, Inverloch

Scott Morrison for head of ICAC. He knows all the tricks.
Tony Lenten, Glen Waverley

Maybe Scott Morrison took on all those extra portfolios because his frontbench was so bereft of talent.
Tim Douglas, Blairgowrie

Politics
The Australian public have just been made aware of the real third chamber of the Australian parliament. Denis Evans, Coburg

One would have thought governors-general would have learnt not to get involved in secret arrangements with the Liberal Party.
Monty Arnhold, Port Melbourne

The looming tax cuts are ludicrous in the current state of affairs. You don’t try to save a sinking ship by putting more holes in it. Scrap the cuts for heaven’s sake.
Beverley Martin, Langwarrin

I think the outcome of the state election might be a Matt finish.
Sandra Torpey, Hawthorn

The Coalition government was so bad that it’s going to be a long, long time before we’ll no longer need to be saying, “I didn’t see that coming.”
Ross Crawford, Frankston

Finally
This government wants to increase immigration (“Skilled migration push to ease worker shortage”, The Sunday Age, 14/8). Where are they going to live? We already have people here who have to live in tents because they cannot even get a rental.
Doug Springall, Yarragon

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