A new appreciation of our culture and heritage? I think so!

The death of Queen Elizabeth II and the beginning of the reign of King Charles III has been a revelation. Five million Australians watched the Queen’s funeral. Many more would have viewed the ongoing, multiple television station coverage of reporters on the ground everywhere it mattered over the full ten days of mourning. A Roy Morgan poll conducted after King Charles took the oath showed 60% of Australians want to retain our system of government. Once again, republican claims that we are not interested in our constitutional monarchy have been disproven.

Something more than the standard position against change, – the, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” argument – justifiable though that is, has occurred to us at the Queen’s passing. Something much bigger and altogether more basic. Something we thought lost in the decades since the Queen ascended the throne in 1952 and for which we have realised no republican model of government could replace. What it is, is the full majesty of our culture and heritage.

When the new King, Charles III, took his oath at Westminster Hall, in accordance with the law and the assent of the people, and with all the arcane language, traditional vestments, processions and many constitutional acts and religious ceremonies, which culminated in the Queen’s funeral service at Westminster Abbey and her procession to Windsor Castle for her interment, a thousand year history played out before us. And we were in awe because it was the nation’s history.

“The Fixer”

Over the past few days excerpts from Simon Benson’s and Geoff Chambers’ new book, Plagued, have appeared in the media. (Admission: I have only read the first excerpt, which appeared in the Weekend Australian, but since then through the media more details have emerged.)

What initially struck me about this first report was the reason given for the addition of the health portfolio to Scott Morrison’s then prime ministerial responsibilities, and the level of power, (and therefore risk to the nation), that section 475 of the Biosecurity Act could afford to the Federal Health Minister if invoked by the Governor General, (*though with the subsequent disclosures today in the press this aspect of what was going on in the previous government during the pandemic is being overtaken by events, but I will plug on).

Reported in the excerpt is that the first aspect to the change to the ministerial responsibilities of Scott Morrison as prime minister arises because the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Julian Rait, advised Minister Hunt that,

Hunt and the other political leaders of the day needed to draw some crucial lessons from the 1919 pandemic. Chief among them was how federalism almost collapsed when the politicians let themselves believe they were medical experts. They needed a mechanism that put the expert health advice at the apex of political decision making, along with a unified national approach from all levels of government. Hunt swiftly relayed Rait’s observations to Scott Morrison.

The second aspect to the change to Scott Morrison’s ministerial responsibilities arises the authors tell us because,

A declaration under section 475 gave Hunt as health minister exclusive and extraordinary powers. He, and only he, could personally make directives that overrode any other law and were not disallowable by parliament. He had authority to direct any citizen in the country to do something, or not do something, to prevent spread of the disease. Morrison knew that if he asked the Governor-General to invoke section 475, he effectively would be handing Hunt control of the country. If they were going to use them, Morrison wanted protocols set up as well as a formal process to impose constraints. The protocols required the minister to provide written medical advice and advance notice of his intentions to the national security cabinet.

Revealed, is that the Federal Government did indeed have extraordinary powers to control, direct or constrain what the state premiers were doing during the pandemic if s. 475 was invoked. And with the addition of protocols to provide written medical advice and to provide advance notice of the Federal Health Minister’s intentions to the national security cabinet, the control and direction during the pandemic did have the prime minister at the centre of that decision-making and far enough in front to be well beyond the premiers’ preview. Conversely, if s. 475 was not invoked, then why take this course of action?

But this revelation of the question of using s. 475 is at odds with what Morrison said at his February 1, 2022, National Press Club Address, and which I wrote about and quoted from on NewCat on February 5:

There, Morrison said:

‘The pandemic did not suspend the constitution or the federation. It did not change what the States and the Commonwealth have always been responsible for: they didn’t get any more powers they didn’t get any less; and I have always sought to put the national interest first by seeking to work together with the Premiers and the Chief Ministers through the National Cabinet and not engage in petty fights…my job was keep everybody together in the room working together…and I have sought to work together…’

When Scott Morrison made those remarks at the National Press Club on February 1, 2022, those words were not correct. S.475 did materially alter what the Commonwealth and the States were doing – and could do – during the two and half years of the pandemic and without the constraint of the constitution or the federation. Through the position of (“shadow”) Federal Health Minister and the powers of s. 475, to allow or disallow the state governments’ blanket vaccine mandates, police powers abuse, and the banning of healthy people from earning a living were entirely within his control.

(*The revelation today that using the same administrative instrument that circumvented the requirement to be sworn in by the Governor General, Scott Morrison also became the Finance Minister alongside Matthias Cormann and, later, Energy Minister alongside Angus Taylor and Resources Minister alongside Keith Pitt, and without the knowledge of these ministers, or seemingly the remainder of the Cabinet, the Coalition, the Parliament or the people.)

An Independent Review

Yesterday, the new federal health minister, Mark Butler, announced a government inquiry with Jane Halton in charge into the Australian Government covid-19 vaccine contracts, pricing and existing supplies of vaccines. This inquiry, he advised, will be a forward looking review: a “where to from here” examination of what will be needed in the next 12-18 months including ‘likely developments in vaccines this year and into 2023’ (abc.net.au 30/6/22). The inquiry will be undertaken very soon and report quickly rather than referencing the last two years of the country’s pandemic response. However, the Minister was quick not to rule out a more fulsome examination such as a Royal Commission at a later date, although no timeframe was announced.

I note two things about this announcement, 1) the choice of Jane Halton as the head of the inquiry, and 2) what I hope is not a deliberate attempt to refocus attention away from what Labor had promised during the election: the release of “National Cabinet” documents and the move away from the secrecy provisions used by Scott Morrison in his dealings with the State Premiers and Chief Ministers – and which Anthony Albanese advised in a press conference after his first “National Cabinet” meeting two Friday’s ago, that the Commonwealth had not rescinded the confidentiality provisions. According to the Guardian, Mr Albanese refused to answer questions on the matter (The Guardian, 17/6/22).

To the second point first, and what should be of the utmost importance, I will only say that were a Royal Commission, or inquiry of similar standing, to be announced then all items of evidence should be examined, including everything that transpired between the previous Coalition Government through its leader, the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, his Covid “Supremo” Lieutenant General John Frewin and the Premiers and Chief Ministers much of which originated inside the “National Cabinet”. These items of evidence should include all “National Cabinet” documents for the period of the National Pandemic Response, without which the country can never hope to truly learn from these last two years.

On the first point, when asked why the Dept of Health would not carry out the inquiry, according to the ABC, Butler ‘…defended the decision to have the review done by Ms Halton and not the health department, saying he did not think it was out of the ordinary that the new government would want an independent opinion on deals done while it was in opposition.’

I make no inference about the choice of Jane Halton – Mr Butler himself has noted her independence – to undertake this review, simply I refer to Ms Halton’s Wikipedia page, which notes her previous position in government as departmental head of the Australian Department of Finance (as well as in many other significant positions in government over the years), which she resigned from in October, 2016. Subsequent to her resignation, and after joining a couple of boards (ANZ Bank and Vault Systems), she became the chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

From Wikipedia: (quote) ‘The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is a foundation that takes donations from public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisations, to finance independent research projects to develop vaccines against emerging infectious diseases (EID).[4][5]

CEPI is focused on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “blueprint priority diseases”, which include: the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the Nipah virus, the Lassa fever virus, and the Rift Valley fever virus, as well as the Chikungunya virus and the hypothetical, unknown pathogen “Disease X”.[6][5] CEPI investment also requires “equitable access” to the vaccines during outbreaks, although subsequent CEPI policy changes may have compromised this criterion.[7]

CEPI was conceived in 2015 and formally launched in 2017 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. It was co-founded and co-funded with US$460 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust,[3] and the governments of India and Norway, and was later joined by the European Union (2019) and the United Kingdom (2020).[3][5] CEPI is headquartered in Oslo, Norway.[4]…

CEPI was formally launched at the 2017 WEF in Davos, with an initial investment of US$460 million by a consortium that included the governments of Norway, Japan, and Germany, The Wellcome Trust, and the Gates Foundation;[10][3] India joined a short time afterwards.[11][12] In a launch interview with the Financial Times (FT), Gates said that a key goal was to reduce the time to develop vaccines from 10 years to less than 12 months.[3]…

In 2020, CEPI was identified by several media outlets as a “key player in the race to develop a vaccine” for coronavirus disease 2019.[4][19][15]’ (end of quote)

Australia, Belgium, Canada and the UK have also contributed funding. Total funding by February 2020, according to Bloomberg News, (via Wikipedia) was US$760 million.

Knowing Hiding where the bodies are buried

Moving to a “post pandemic world,” two Australian states – Queensland and Western Australia – have made two of their most senior pandemic response public servants – QLD’s former CHO Jeanette Young and W.A.’s Commissioner of Police, State Emergency Co-ordinator and previously its Vaccine Commander, Chris Dawson – their respective state’s new vice-regal appointees. In doing so it would seem both governments have created an insurmountable obstacle against these previous “servants of the people” being required to give evidence at any future, formal inquiry into the pandemic.

Will some of the other States move also to stymie the airing of what really happened over these last two and a bit years and utilise as well a “vice regal strategy”? In the case of Victoria, the sidelining of certain minions must be tempting for Daniel Andrews, given the debasing of individual liberty and the abuse of citizens’ rights, including the shooting in the back with plastic bullets of innocent people at The Shrine.

In Victoria, Linda Dessau, the current governor, has been in place since July 2015, while in NSW Margaret Beazley has held the vice regal position since May 2019. It would not be inconceivable therefore for either Premier soon to announce a change to their state’s vice-regal position.

So will we see Victoria’s CHO, Brett Sutton, or their Police Commissioner, Shane Patton, get elbowed upwards? Rather than giving evidence before a Royal Commission, what are the odds for Kerry Chant becoming the next NSW Governor? At the federal level, could we expect Dr Brendan Murphy, our previous CMO and now head of the Federal Department of Health, or Adjunct Professor Skerritt, the current head of the TGA, being re-moved up and away to a “safe haven” in the not too distant future?

But any hope for a formal inquiry will be up against it and what would be examined should one actually be announced. Reported yesterday by the ABC was changes to the W. A. State’s Emergency Management Act (2005), which enables the government to declare an emergency, thereby enabling the government access to the emergency powers, including the declaring of a pandemic, which first requires the State’s Emergency Coordinator, currently Police Commissioner Dawson, provide that advice to the Emergency Services Minister who then makes a declaration every two weeks. In moving to extend W.A.’s pandemic powers until January 2023 in State Parliament on Tuesday, the Emergency Services Minister, Stephen Dawson (no relation to Chris Dawson it would seem) revealed that the fortnightly advice from the Emergency Coordinator was given verbally at each fortnightly meeting. With no formal written advice to examine, evidence taken under oath from W.A.’s Emergency Coordinator (Police Commissioner Dawson) would be central to an examination of how decisions were made in that State during these two long years.

One thing is clear: no one at any level of government is even slightly interested in examining formally how Australia came almost within a hair’s breadth of dictatorial government and the mandating of vaccinations despite our constitutional limitations, if Scott Morrison is to be relied on to announce such an investigation. When asked on the campaign trail about a Royal Commission into the pandemic, Morrison responded that “the pandemic was not over” so an examination of the last two years, he said, could not be had. Yet some days earlier in relation to the Reserve Bank increasing interest rates, his spin was that this move amounted to the “strengthening of the economy,” because we were “through the pandemic.”

Throughout this election campaign there have been few questions from any quarter on what the government did or allowed to be done to citizens during the pandemic, apart from whether the vaccine roll-out was too slow. In fact, the PM has only really conceded on that one point, saying at the leaders debate on Nine last Sunday night, and in response to a question from the Opposition Leader, that “it really was a race.” Thus showing that neither the media or the Opposition is really interested in what happened.

So we sit and we wait for the truth to be revealed, which will happen, sooner or later. And as we wait, our level of trust in government is at an all-time low, which is why the right-of-centre minor parties it would seem have gained momentum.

It’s Hiding in Plain Sight.

On Saturday, the Marshall Government went the way of the dodo with a significant swing to Labor on the 2pp. Interestingly, both Liberal and Labor commenters, Nicolle Flint (Lib-SA) and Amanda Rishworth (Lab-SA), on the Sky News post election analysis agreed with each other that it was the loss of the V8 Supercars to Adelaide in 2020, which was the dominant and deciding factor. On his show on Sunday night, Paul Murray also agreed – “it was the Supercars wot dun it,” he asserted.

I could not help but be a tad sceptical that a car race, which in its final year (2020) had attracted only 206,000 fans over the four days made all the difference, considering what the entire country, including South Australia, had been through in the last two years.

To me, the rationale for the election loss seems all too convenient and, besides, if Marshall’s polling through the last two years could be put down to one issue, surely he would have had enough nous to do a back flip and ensure the race returned to Adelaide post pandemic? Was this issue, as Murray and those South Australian HoRs were contending, really front and centre in this election?

InDaily, an Adelaide independent on-line news site reported 7/9/21 that a statewide poll conducted by Dynata, an on-line market research company, in July, for The Australia Institute – an organisation not known for leaning “right” – had the Liberals in front 51-49 on the 2pp, with health reported as the ‘…dominant issue of the campaign’ and noted that the polling ‘…mirror[ed] the last statewide poll taken in SA, a Sunday Mail-YouGov poll published in March.’

Nowhere in the polling reported by InDaily did the V8 Supercars decision make it as a concern of electors. In fact, InDaily noted that ‘[T]he Australia Institute’s SA Director Noah Schulz-Byard said the polling suggested “voters can expect a strong campaign with a focus on health [38%], the economy [24%] and climate change [(12%] over the next six months…In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, health is shaping up as the key political battleground in South Australia.”‘

Continue reading “It’s Hiding in Plain Sight.”

The Prime Minister’s mea culpa?

What did we learn from Scott Morrison’s mea culpa and precis of his Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic at the National Press Club on Tuesday?

While referring to the up-ending of lives and livelihoods and how exhausting ‘…financially, emotionally and psychologically’ the last two years have been for Australians. Primarily, the decisions made, he said, were about ‘…getting the balance right [between the] twin goals to save lives and to save livelihoods, [and to] balance health objectives with our broader societal and economic wellbeing.’ What seemed the only concession was that ‘decisions are made in real time but with hindsight the view does change.’

Continue reading “The Prime Minister’s mea culpa?”

It’s all about unifying the community

At the beginning of November, and after former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had announced previously that on 1 December unvaccinated residents of NSW would be able to re-join the social fabric of the State, the new Premier, Dominic Perrottet, reneged, saying that the date would be changed to 15 December. In doing so, Perrottet explained that the delay was designed to ‘Unify the Community.’  The Government’s reasoning was that in certain LGAs/geographical areas vaccination rates were not as high as it wanted them to be. I remember thinking at the time that if some people had decided against being vaccinated – and had held out until then – what difference would another 15 days of F…ing them over make to get them to change their minds, apart from reducing to ten days their Christmas celebrations’ organising.  Basically, the decision seemed both petty and desperate to me. And, I thought, if a reasonable minority of residents of one LGA had made the decision not to be vaccinated, why would their vaccinated neighbours or perhaps another LGA’s residents see their decision as being anything like a Continue reading “It’s all about unifying the community”

Scott Morrison’s fig leaf

On Friday in the Federal Court of Australia, and after CoB, the Minister for Immigration, the Hon. Alex Hawke, cancelled Novak Djokovic’s Visa for a second time after the defending Australian Open Champion had earlier in the week won his case against the Government cancellation of his Visa for denial of procedural fairness.

Continue reading “Scott Morrison’s fig leaf”