His use of the phrase was reminiscent of One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s failed attempt to have the Senate endorse a motion that “all lives matter” in 2019. As former Finance Minister Mathias Cormann noted at the time, “you have to consider things in their context”.
As a linguist, who has just published On The Offensive, a book about offensive language, “all lives matter” is a phrase that reveals prejudice.
So, where does the phrase “all lives matter” come from? And given it is of course true that all lives matter, why is the phrase so offensive in today’s context?
Black Lives Matter
“All lives matter” was born out of “Black Lives Matter”. This is a slogan and a social movement in response to racism and violence perpetuated against Black people, both historically and in the modern era.
This can be traced back to a tragic incident almost nine years ago. In February 2012, 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin was walking home in Florida, after buying Skittles at a convenience store.
Local resident George Zimmerman reported Martin to police as “suspicious”, then confronted the innocent young man and fatally shot him. Zimmerman claimed the act was in self-defence and was later acquitted.
After this, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began to appear on social media, in support of Martin and in protest against social and systemic racism — that is, racism in society and through institutions. This grew into a movement, co-founded by three Black community organisers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.
Concerns and anger about racism towards Black people was reinvigorated more recently after several high-profile, racially charged incidents in the US.
These include the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot while jogging in a south Georgia neighbourhood, and also the murder of George Floyd.
These tragic events inspired worldwide protests against institutional racism. In Australia, Black Lives Matter marches also called for justice for Indigenous people, including Aboriginal man David Dungay Jr, who died in custody in 2015. There have been more than 430 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991.
‘All lives matter’
What does it mean to say “all lives matter”?
When the Black Lives Matter motto arose, some people interpreted the phrase as confrontational and divisive. They took it to exclude other races. The phrase “all lives matter” sprang up in response, ostensibly to argue all lives are equal because we are all human beings.
However, Black Lives Matter was not intended to mean that other lives do not matter. In a world where Black people are stigmatised, marginalised, and discriminated against, Black Lives Matter simply recognises Black lives matter, too.
Not a straightforward phrase
Responding to “Black Lives Matter” with “all lives matter” derails the specific conversation about racism against Black people. The phrase is seen to dismiss, ignore, or deny these problems — it shuts down this important discussion.
Through its use, “all lives matter” has also become associated with white supremacy, far-right nationalism and racism.
A racist dog whistle
Black Lives Matter is intended to promote the peaceful protest of racism against Black people, not only in the US, but worldwide. It also calls for immediate action against systemic and social racism.
When used by Black people, “Black Lives Matter” is a declaration that Black lives do indeed matter. It is a call for protection and recognition.
When said by allies — supportive people outside of the racial group — “Black Lives Matter” acknowledges that Black lives do indeed matter, and says we stand in solidarity with members of Black and indigenous communities both locally, and globally.
So, “all lives matter” can be understood as a racist dog whistle — a direct push-back against the Black Lives Matter movement. It is far from an innocent term celebrating the worth of all humanity.
Boris Johnson has secured the prorogation of the British parliament, which means it will be prevented from sitting for much of the crucial period between now and the Brexit date of October 31.
So what options do those opposed to a no-deal Brexit now have in parliament to prevent it?
A cunningly placed and timed prorogation
If a majority of the House of Commons were opposed to a no-deal Brexit, two primary routes are open to it. One would be the enactment of legislation requiring the government to seek a further deferral of the Brexit date until after some circuit-breaking event could be held, such as a new referendum or general election. The other would be a vote of no-confidence in the government and an early general election.
Both would be extremely difficult to achieve within the now very tight parliamentary timeframes – which presumably was the point. This prorogation is cunningly timed and placed. The fact that parliament has not been prorogued for the entire period leading up to the Brexit date makes it harder to argue in the courts that the prorogation is unconstitutional.
The fact that Johnson gave prorogation advice to the queen before a court could decide on whether to issue an injunction to prevent the giving of such advice (with a hearing on the matter having been scheduled for September 6) also potentially stymies the use of the courts to prevent prorogation. This is because the main avenue for legal attack is in relation to the giving of the advice by ministers, rather than the action of the queen in giving effect to that advice. The latter would normally be regarded as “non-justiciable” – outside the appropriate exercise of judicial power.
In addition, slicing up the sitting period with prorogation in the middle, from September 10 to October 13, means it is now likely there is too little time to achieve all the procedural steps necessary to pass legislation or the resolutions necessary to secure a change in government.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the government largely controls the order of proceedings in the House of Commons and prorogation effectively wipes the parliamentary slate clean of any uncompleted action. Any partially completed action would have to start again once parliament resumes.
Confidence, fixed-term parliaments and an election
One alternative that has previously been raised is a vote of no confidence in the government and an early election. The UK has fixed five-year terms for its parliament. But an early election can be held if a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons votes for it, or if there is a vote of no confidence in the government and after 14 days there has been no vote of confidence in the government.
In either case, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 states that the election is to be held on a day appointed by the queen on the recommendation of the prime minister.
We have been very clear that if there’s a no-confidence vote, [the prime minister] won’t resign. We get to set an election date. We don’t want an election, but if we have to set a date, it’s going to be after 31 October.
What could be done to avoid that outcome?
The House of Commons could instead act to force the resignation of the prime minister, secure the appointment of a caretaker prime minister, bring about an early election and authorise the new prime minister to seek to defer Brexit until after the election was held so the people could make the ultimate decision on Brexit.
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act deals solely with issues of confidence in relation to the holding of an early election. It provides that only a resolution “that this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government” can cause an early election. It does not deal with other expressions of no confidence in the government.
This would have a “massive political effect but [would] not trigger the terms of the Act”.
So if, for example, the house expressed no confidence in Boris Johnson to hold the office of prime minister, he would be forced, by convention, to resign.
In addition to passing a vote of no confidence in a prime minister, the house may pass a “constructive motion of confidence”, which states that it has confidence in someone else to form a government.
This may be a compromise candidate who is trusted by both sides to run a caretaker government, which makes no significant policy decisions or appointments but simply undertakes necessary ordinary business until an election is held.
The formation of a caretaker government is consistent with British parliamentary practice. Winston Churchill formed one and popularised the “caretaker” term in 1945.
When a prime minister resigns, he or she might give advice to the queen as to whom to appoint as his or her successor. But the queen is not bound by this advice, as the outgoing prime minister ceases to be responsible to parliament for it.
Instead, the queen is obliged to appoint as prime minister the person most likely to hold the confidence of the House of Commons. If the House of Commons has declared, by resolution, who this person is, then the queen has clear evidence, so her appointment of that person cannot be questioned.
The next consideration is that a caretaker prime minister is by convention constrained in undertaking significant acts. If parliament wanted the prime minister to renegotiate the Brexit date so the people could decide on Brexit as a key policy in a general election, it would be prudent for a parliamentary resolution to authorise this action.
Finally, in the United Kingdom it has historically been the case that fundamental constitutional change has been put to the people in a general election. An example is the equally divisive debate over Home Rule for Ireland and the limitation of the powers of the House of Lords.
This means the House of Commons would need to pass a formal resolution that “this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”, referring to the government established by the new prime minister. This would allow an early election to be held.
In addition, to ensure the caretaker government was for the shortest possible time, the house could resolve that the prime minister should set a particular date for that election.
A series of resolutions could achieve this, but it would require a united front from those opposed to a no-deal Brexit and clever parliamentary tactics to achieve it within the very limited sitting time available.
It may prove that prorogation was the masterstroke to prevent this from occurring.
To no-one’s great surprise, Boris Johnson has been elected by the members of the Conservative Party to be the new leader, and by extension prime minister of the United Kingdom, taking over from Theresa May.
Such a turn of events seemed highly improbable a few months ago. Johnson is a polarising figure not just for the country at large but for his own party. An instantly recognisable figure with his unruly blonde mop, rotund Billy Bunteresque figure and fruity Etonian accent, Johnson is political Vegemite. He delights those who look for “authenticity” in their political leaders, often code for plain speaking, unscripted rudeness and lack of civility. He appals those who expect politicians to abide by some basic principles, uphold integrity in public life and seek to defend the common interest through negotiation and compromise.
Those who detect similar qualities in Johnson to those characterising Donald Trump would not be wrong. Both are noted for improbable haircuts, but beyond that they share a penchant for seeing politics in simplistic and antagonistic terms. Politics is a zero-sum game.
For some to win, others must lose, and those others invariably include every shade of minority identity, whether it be Muslims, homosexuals, immigrants or otherwise feckless folk who need to try harder, do more, speak better English or in some other way accommodate themselves to the dominant majority.
For all of her faults (and there were many), Theresa May at least stood for a certain even-handedness, a recognition of the need for a centre-right party to build a coalition across disadvantage as well as advantage, and to respect differences. That accommodating rhetoric is likely to disappear with the end of her premiership.
But Johnson will succeed or fail on the back of the single dominant issue that dominates British politics: Brexit. How will his approach differ from that of his immediate predecessor?
Johnson has promised throughout his campaign to be leader of the Conservative Party that he will bring Britain out of the European Union by October 31, “do or die”. No going back to the withdrawal agreement. No compromise with the Northern Ireland backstop or with many other elements that so irritate the “hard Brexit” wing of the party.
So much for the rhetoric. The reality is that the EU is not going to change the withdrawal agreement. Nor will the House of Commons permit a no-deal Brexit. Only last week an amendment was passed that effectively demonstrated the strength of the anti-no deal majority in parliament.
This leaves very little room to manoeuvre. If Johnson remains true to the no deal rhetoric then we can expect a vote of no-confidence quite quickly in parliament, leading to elections perhaps as soon as November.
If, as seems more likely, Johnson manages to get the EU to change some words in the political declaration, such as the non-binding part of the withdrawal agreement, then he may seek to re-present what in essence was May’s deal back to the house in the hope that enough Labour MPs can be persuaded to join with the bulk of the Conservative Party (though not the hard-core European Research Group wing) to get it over the line. But this also seems improbable, likely leading again to an election.
A third possibility is that he recognises the intractability of the situation, and also the perils of calling an election as far as the prospects for his own party and premiership are concerned, and seeks a further period of negotiation with the EU. This might be for six months, a year or even more. Given Johnson’s well-documented desire to exercise power, such a scenario should not be ruled out.
But there is also fourth possibility, and this is the one that is exercising the greater speculation among the chattering classes in the UK. This is that recognising the lack of a majority for a no-deal Brexit in parliament, Johnson decides to “prorogue” parliament, a fancy term for suspending parliament in order to ram through an agreement on an executive basis.
In effect, this is using the idea of “the will of the people” to overturn parliamentary democracy. The last time it was used in the UK was in the 1940s in order to undertake much-needed constitutional change to the status of the House of Lords.
The worry here, of course, is that this looks much more like the kind of “putsch”-style politics we are accustomed to seeing in banana republics than in one of the oldest democracies in the world.
So what many are wondering is whether behind the carefully confected image of a bumbling, playful figure so beloved of a certain wing of the conservative electorate, lies a neo-fascist figure willing and perhaps able to sacrifice democracy on the altar of English, as opposed to British, nationalism.
Scott Morrison has appointed his one-time chief of staff Phil Gaetjens to head the prime minister’s department. He replaces Martin Parkinson, who finds himself out of a top public service job for the second time under the Coalition government.
Gaetjens has most recently been secretary of the Treasury, a position to which he was appointed when Morrison was treasurer.
Morrison told a news conference: “Following the election, the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet and I have agreed that it is an opportune time for new leadership of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet”.
Parkinson, a highly respected career public servant, was sacked as Treasury secretary by the Abbott government, and brought back to the public service as head of the prime minister’s department by Malcolm Turnbull. His current contract ran until early 2021.
He said in a statement to departmental staff on Thursday: “This timing works for me personally and allows the PM to make a transition to a secretary who will be able to support him through the full parliamentary term”.
He was quoted in Thursday’s The Australian as saying, “Absolutely I would not want anyone to think there was anything about my relationship with the Prime Minister that was leading me to leave”.
Although prime ministerial sources dispute that Parkinson was pushed, it had been rumoured since the election that Morrison wanted a change at the top of his department.
Gaetjens’ public service career appeared doomed only months ago when a Labor government seemed likely. Then-shadow treasurer Chris Bowen had criticised his appointment as political and made it clear he would be removed under a Shorten government.
The new head of Treasury will be Steven Kennedy, who is now secretary of the infrastructure department.
Earlier Kennedy was a deputy secretary in the prime minister’s department. In that position, he was in charge of innovation and transformation, as well as leading work on cities, regulatory reform, public data and digital innovation. He also served in the office of Julia Gillard when she was prime minister, seconded as the director of cabinet and government business and senior economic adviser.
Morrison pointed out both Gaetjens – who was also Peter Costello’s chief of staff – and Kennedy had had experience in the political realm, noting that while Gaetjens had worked on the Coalition side Kennedy had worked on the Labor side.
The PM was ready for a question suggesting the choice of Gaetjens would be seen as politicisation of the public service, reeling off appointments Labor had made of people who had worked in the political arena.
Morrison left the way open for further shake ups at the top of the service. “I will always reserve that right to make further changes where I believe they are necessary. I think these are the ones that are necessary right now”. There will be an acting secretary in the Infrastructure department for the time being.
Morrison is Minister for the Public Service and has strong ideas on how it should operate. At his news conference he once again stressed the emphasis he is placing on its responsibility for efficient implementation.
He summed up his attitude: “When it comes to the public service, my view is to respect and expect”.
Asked about the service’s role in giving advice, he said, “It is the job of the public service to advise you of the challenges that may present to a government in implementing its agenda. That is the advisory role of the public service. […] But the government sets policy. The government is the one that goes to the people and sets out an agenda, as we have”.
Parkinson in his statement to his departmental staff told them: “I want to continue to encourage you to have a view, be curious, understand what is happening at the forefront of policy and policy-related research, engage widely with stakeholders from all parts of the community, and be resolutely committed to advocating for truly evidence-based policy”.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape is visiting Australia this week, his first overseas trip since he was elevated to that office in June this year. And it’s the first time Scott Morrison has hosted an international leader in Australia since he was re-elected as prime minister in May.
This week’s visit has been positioned as the first of what will be an annual meeting between the leaders. It indicates a stepped up relationship, one that adds to Morrison’s growing focus on building personal relationships throughout the region: in Vanuatu, Fiji and Solomon Islands.
There are many things the two leaders have to discuss, from a naval base development to asylum seekers on Manus Island. But on arrival, Marape was clear that he did not plan to discuss his country’s relationship with China.
Marape restated PNG’s overall position on foreign policy: that of being “friends to all and enemies to none”. But that didn’t prevent the Australian media asking Marape questions about China during a joint press conference on Monday.
One journalist asked if Marape was concerned about potential governance problems associated with increased Chinese investment in his country. His response could not have been more straightforward:
Every businessman and woman is welcome in our country, and the Chinese investors will not receive any special treatment and preference, just like Australian investors will not receive any special favour or treatment.
Many in the Australian media and policy community would like to know much more about the relationship between PNG and China, as they wonder how it will affect Australia’s influence with their nearest neighbour.
Belt and Road Initiative
As we have seen elsewhere in the region, the relationship between PNG and China has become more developed in recent years.
In any case, one thing Marape has made very clear during this visit to Australia is that he’s looking for opportunities to diversify the PNG economy beyond the resources sector. He is particularly focused on growing the agricultural sector, which will require additional investment in infrastructure to supply domestic and export markets adequately.
It’s not always easy to determine the extent of Chinese aid, investment and loans to countries like PNG. But Sarah O’Dowd, an Australian National University researcher, has calculated that at the end of 2018, PNG owed approximate A$588 million in external debt to China. This represented 23.7% of the total external debt.
Australia provides the largest amount of aid and investment into PNG in the world. But the perception in Canberra remains that Australia’s influence in its nearest neighbour is being diluted, and that this needs to be addressed for strategic purposes.
Asylum seekers and a naval base on Manus Island
Given the nature and importance of the relationship between Australia and PNG, it’s not surprising this bilateral meeting has been prioritised ahead of next month’s Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu. Their meeting allows for Morrison and Marape spend some time getting to know each other before they meet with a larger group of Pacific leaders.
Of the various announcements made on Monday, not much was new. There was a dollar commitment (A$250 million) to last year’s joint announcement by PNG, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Japan to bring electricity to 70% of Papua New Guinean people by 2030.
There was a passing reference to the joint redevelopment of the Lombrum naval base on Manus island by PNG, Australia and the USA, also announced last year at the APEC meeting held in Port Moresby.
It’s significant that the PNG delegation includes Charlie Benjamin, who is governor of the Manus province. He has already expressed strong reservations about this proposed redevelopment of the naval base. And he is not alone, with other commentators noting that such a development doesn’t necessarily sit well with PNG’s non-aligned status.
The development also provoked criticism from Beijing, which had apparently been seeking an agreement from the PNG government to develop the site.
Benjamin has a powerful voice, and he made good use of it during his own impromptu press conference on Monday.
He used the opportunity to hammer home what has been the biggest thrust of the PNG message to Australia during the visit so far: the ongoing presence of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and elsewhere in PNG.
Benjamin has made it clear that the time has come for Australia to “step up” and resettle the refugees in his province to another country.
While Marape may feel he has secured some sort of commitment from Morrison to establish a timetable for bringing this bit of the “Pacific Solution” to an end, the lack of detail about what that timetable is may prove a tricky sell back home.
When Malcom Turnbull was challenged by Peter Dutton in August 2018 for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and ultimately the prime ministership, Turnbull apparently asserted that the governor-general would not appoint a person whose eligibility to hold the office was in doubt.
His attorney-general, Christian Porter, reportedly replied that Turnbull was “wrong in law” and that the governor-general could only have regard to issues of confidence.
Who was right, and what might have happened if Dutton had been chosen as leader of the Liberal Party?
Not a choice between Dutton and Turnbull
The governor-general can only act to fill a vacancy in the prime ministership if there is one. If Dutton had defeated Turnbull in a leadership challenge, this would not itself have vacated the office of prime minister. Turnbull would have continued as prime minister until he resigned (or in extreme circumstances, was dismissed). So the governor-general would not have faced the question of whether or not to appoint Dutton as prime minister until Turnbull had indicated he was going to resign.
The choice would then have been between Dutton and whoever else the governor-general considered was most likely to hold the confidence of the house. It would be unlikely that the governor-general would seek to reappoint the prime minister who had just resigned, unless he was the only person who could hold the confidence of the lower house.
This would seem most unlikely in the circumstances.
What if Turnbull had advised the governor-general to appoint someone else?
The more plausible scenario would have been that Turnbull resigned as prime minister but advised the governor-general to appoint someone other than Dutton, such as Julie Bishop, due to concerns about Dutton’s possible disqualification under section 44 of the Constitution. This raises the question of whether the advice of an outgoing prime minister about who should be his or her successor is conventionally binding on the governor-general.
Ordinarily, the principle of responsible government requires the governor-general to act on the advice of ministers who are responsible for that advice to parliament, and through parliament to the people.
But that principle only works when the minister continues to be responsible for that advice. An outgoing prime minister necessarily ceases to be responsible to parliament for advice about his or her successor. The governor-general is instead obliged, by convention, to appoint as prime minister the person who is most likely to command the confidence of the lower house, regardless of what the outgoing prime minister advises.
While this is the orthodox constitutional position, there is still some controversy about it. When Kevin Rudd defeated Julia Gillard for the leadership of the Labor Party in 2013, it was not clear whether the crossbenchers who supported the minority Gillard government would support Rudd.
The then governor-general, Quentin Bryce, sought advice from the acting solicitor-general as to whether to appoint Rudd as prime minister on the basis of Gillard’s advice. The acting solicitor-general advised that the governor-general should do so, and appeared to take the view that the outgoing prime minister’s advice was conventionally binding.
He did not advise the governor-general that her sole consideration should be who held the confidence of the house.
Who advises the governor-general on legal issues?
If, in 2018, the governor-general had sought legal advice about his powers and the conventions that govern them, two questions would have arisen. First, who should provide the advice? Should it be the solicitor-general, the attorney-general, or the even the prime minister?
In 1975, when the governor-general asked for legal advice, the prime minister, Gough Whitlam, said it could only come through him. The attorney-general and the solicitor-general prepared a joint draft advice, but it was not provided promptly.
When a frustrated governor-general, Sir John Kerr, called in the attorney-general to get the advice, he was presented with a draft that the attorney-general apparently said he had not carefully read and did not necessarily reflect his views. Kerr later, controversially, sought the advice of the chief justice, Sir Garfield Barwick.
In more recent times, the solicitor-general has provided advice to the governor-general, as occurred in 2013. Even then, that advice was controversial, as it addressed how the governor-general “should” act, rather than simply advising on the powers and conventions that applied and leaving the governor-general to decide how to apply them.
There is currently no clear position in Australia on who should provide legal advice to the governor-general and the constraints upon the type of advice that should be given. This needs to be addressed in the future.
What happens when advice conflicts?
The second question is how the governor-general should deal with conflicting advice, which in 2018 was a real possibility.
For example, the solicitor-general could have taken the same view as the previous acting solicitor-general – that the advice of the outgoing prime minister is binding. The attorney-general, Christian Porter, apparently took the view that it was not binding, and that the governor-general should only consider who held the confidence of the house.
The prime minister is likely to have taken the view that the governor-general was bound to act on his advice not to appoint Dutton as prime minister, or that if the governor-general had a discretion, he should take into account the doubts about legal eligibility and refuse to appoint a person who might be disqualified from parliament.
There is no rule book that tells the governor-general how to deal with conflicting legal and ministerial advice. Ultimately, in this case, it was a reserve power that was in question and the discretion was a matter for the governor-general to exercise.
Confidence and eligibility when appointing a prime minister
Assuming the governor-general accepted the orthodox view that the appointment of a prime minister is a reserve power governed by the convention that the prime minister should hold the confidence of the lower house, what should he have done in this scenario?
The first issue is one of confidence. It is not certain that even if Dutton had been appointed leader of the Liberal Party, he would have held the confidence of the house. There may well have been defections that altered the balance of power.
Hence the governor-general, as occurred in 2013, could have required an assurance to be given by the prospective prime minister that he would immediately face the house to allow it to determine confidence.
The second issue concerns eligibility. The governor-general is obliged to obey the Constitution. If the Constitution plainly prohibits action, such as appointing a prime minister in certain circumstances, the governor-general is obliged to obey it.
But where the legal question is contestable, it is not up to the governor-general to determine it. In this case, the Constitution and the law confer the power on the relevant house, or the High Court acting as the Court of Disputed Returns, to determine disqualification from parliament.
Further, the Constitution allows a person to be a minister, without holding a seat in parliament, for up to three months. So the governor-general could legally have appointed Dutton as prime minister, but might first have required his assurance that he would ensure his eligibility was resolved by a reference to the High Court.
In this way, the governor-general would have protected the Constitution and the rule of law while still complying with the principle of responsible government. Of course, he may have had some difficulty persuading Dutton to give those assurances. But this is precisely why we appoint as governor-general people with the authority and gravitas to ensure that the Constitution is respected and upheld.
Malcolm Turnbull has accused Attorney-General Christian Porter of providing advice to him that was constitutional “nonsense”, as the divisive events around the former prime minister’s removal are revisited.
Turnbull launched his acerbic Twitter attack following reports that the day before he was deposed last August, he clashed with Porter over trying to involve Governor-General Peter Cosgrove in the leadership crisis. Turnbull was seeking to ensure Peter Dutton did not become prime minister if he won the leadership.
Meantime, Dutton has revealed that before the May election he removed himself from involvement in a family trust – an involvement that last term had raised doubts about his eligibility to sit in parliament. The trust received money from his wife’s child care business, and child care receives government subsidy.
Dutton always maintained he was on safe constitutional ground and his spokeswoman on Thursday reaffirmed that he had had legal opinions saying he was not in breach of section 44. During the leadership crisis the Solicitor-General provided advice, taking the view Dutton was eligible, though he left some doubt.
“Nonetheless, to silence those who are politically motivated and continue to raise this; prior to the minister’s nomination at the May election, he formally renounced any interest in the trust in question,” she said.
Accounts of the contretemps between Turnbull and Porter were published in Thursday’s Australian and by Nine newspapers.
Turnbull argued Cosgrove should refuse to commission Dutton, if he won the leadership, on the grounds he might be constitutionally ineligible to sit in parliament.
Porter insisted Turnbull’s suggested course would be “wrong in law” – that the eligibility issue was not a matter for the governor-general – and threatened to repudiate Turnbull’s position if he advanced it publicly at an imminent news conference.
The Attorney-General had a letter of resignation with him, in case he needed to provide it.
The events of last year will be extensively raked over in coming weeks in books by journalists Niki Savva and David Crowe. They featured in a Sky documentary this week.
Turnbull refought his battle with Porter on Thursday, tweeting: “The discretion to swear in a person as PM is vested in the Governor General. The proposition advanced by Mr Porter that it is none of the GG’s business whether the would be PM is constitutionally eligible is nonsense. The GG is not a constitutional cypher.
“During the week of 24 August 2018 there was advice from leading constitutional lawyers Bret Walker that Dutton was ineligible to sit in the Parliament and thus ineligible to be a Minister, let alone Prime Minister. I ensured we sought the advice of the Solicitor General.
“I took the responsible course of action, obtained the necessary advice, published it and the Party Room was informed when it made its decision to elect Mr Morrison, rather than Mr Dutton, as leader.”
Porter, speaking on radio on Thursday, confirmed the accuracy of the media reports, including the tense nature of the meeting. “Sometimes meetings in government aren’t all potpourri and roses,” he said.
Porter said an attorney-general’s role was to provide advice they considered accurate and legally correct.
“Sometimes that advice is not always what people want to hear. But I’ve always taken very seriously the role and the fact that the role requires to give advice to the best of your legal knowledge and ability you think is accurate and correct.
“And that’s what I’ve always tried to do, that’s what I did during the course of that very difficult week.”
Scott Morrison travels to Europe for D-Day commemorations next week. While there, he may also hold talks with leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the G20 meeting in Japan in June.
With the UK and US in the midst of internal and international repositioning –otherwise known as turmoil – and with China continuing to flex and grow, safeguarding Australia’s strategic and commercial interests has rarely been more complicated, nor more of a singular Australian responsibility.
Somewhat perversely, this may explain why Morrison’s first stop as a freshly re-elected prime minister will not be London or Washington, or even Berlin, but rather, the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.
That is significant. Whoever won the May 18 election, the regional “backyard” was set to become a renewed priority for Australia.
Attention now turns to small and micro nations, who suffer in varying degrees from the effects of remoteness, narrow economies, endemic poverty, poor infrastructure, and, most existentially, rising sea levels. These countries are eager for assistance in securing their futures, whether sourced from old friends like the US and Australia, or new enthusiasts like China.
Labor’s new deputy, Richard Marles, has long championed improved development aid and other assistance to Australia’s nearest neighbours, arguing it is Australia’s moral responsibility. That’s a given, but so is the strategic case for a renewed presence. Namely, the expanding diplomatic and strategic reach of Beijing.
Morrison is alive to it too.
China’s influence across the region – particularly as an infrastructure and project financier – is growing. This is seen in Canberra as a serious threat, with both major parties looking for ways to strengthen ties with Pacific nations that had been allowed to fray.
Darwin-based Labor MP Luke Gosling told me he would make the Northern Territory capital the official base for Australia’s renewed regional extension.
“Whether it is responding to earthquake, cyclone, tsunami, or terrorist attack – it should be the hub for humanitarian, emergency and disaster assistance to the region, but more importantly involved in capacity building with our regional neighbours,” he said.
Valid though this is, success will turn not so much on a change of arrangements internally, as a whole new basis to Australia’s regional pitch.
Experts say the key to closer relations is talking to smaller countries about their concerns, rather than the tendency we’ve had to date to talk about ours.
For Morrison, that is a political challenge with distinct domestic characteristics. It means acknowledging the contemporaneous real-world effects of global warming, including the direct contribution to carbon emissions from mining and burning coal.
For low-lying island countries including Kiribati, with a population of just 110,000, and Fiji, this is no abstract debate but rather one of life and death, here and now.
“It’s their top security priority,” Michael Wesley, Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, told Sky News “whereas our top security priority in the Pacific is China”.
“Pacific leaders have made it very clear that they don’t see China in the Pacific as a threat, so we’ve got an immediate mismatch of what we perceive to be the problems between us and the Pacific Islanders.”
Wesley described global warming as an existential concern “happening to them right now”.
“We have to be extremely sensitive about how things like the Adani coal mine, [and] a new coal-fired power plant perhaps being opened, will play out in the Pacific, it goes down like a lead balloon.”
As with Mr Morrison’s visit to Honiara, the order of things matter when communicating internationally.
Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was among the first to congratulate Morrison on his surprise election win. The pair had struck up a warm relationship when they met earlier this year. But now, as then, the Fijian used the opportunity to seek stronger climate leadership from the region’s wealthiest economy.
His longer post on Facebook provided the kicker:
In Australia, you have defied all expectations; let us take the same underdog attitude that inspired your parliamentary victory to the global fight against climate change. By working closely together, we can turn the tides in this battle – the most urgent crisis facing not only the Pacific, but the world. Together, we can ensure that we are earthly stewards of Fiji, Australia, and the ocean that unites us. Together, we can pass down a planet that our children are proud to inherit.
It was a similar message from Samoa, where Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi welcomed the election result, but noted in an interview with The Guardian that “[Australia] has been lagging behind,” regarding the need for action on the climate emergency.
And it’s a fair bet the content will be the same in Honiara.
The finer points of diplomacy have not been a strength of Morrison, who, even after his recent electoral endorsement, is still less than a year in the top job.
A plainly cynical suggestion made during the Wentworth byelection of moving the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem caused nothing but embarrassment. More recent comments depicting the US as our friend and China as merely our client raised eyebrows in Beijing.
But a desire to succeed, a personable nature, and an avowedly conservative disposition, suggest the Australian prime minister does not envisage significant direction changes in Australia’s stance on either regional or global affairs. That is a reality likely to prove disappointing to Pacific Island leaders looking for a lot more than kind words as their citizens face inundation.
Scott Morrison has announced a major change in Liberal party rules to
ensure a prime minister who wins an election serves the full term,
unless two thirds of the party decides otherwise.
Morrison said the Liberal party had heard the public and was responding.
The entire party understood “the frustration and the disappointment
that Australians have felt when governments and prime ministers that
they have elected, under their authority, under their power, have been
taken from them through the actions of politicians here in Canberra,”
he said at a joint news conference with Liberal deputy Josh Frydenberg
on Monday night.
This had happened with the Liberal party as well as Labor, Morrison
said. “We acknowledge it and we take responsibility for it.”
The Australian people were “sick of it and we’re sick of it and it has to stop,” he said.
The Liberal party was “willingly and enthusiastically putting this
constraint to return the power of these decisions about who is prime
minister in this country to the Australian people.”
Morrison described the rule change as historic and the biggest in the
74 years of the party’s history.
Frydenberg said: “The changes in Australian prime ministers over the
last decade has diminished the parliament and its representatives in
the eyes of the public. The Liberal party has listened to the
Australian people and the Liberal parliamentary party has responded
Earlier, Liberal members of the ministry approved the new rule, before
it went to an evening special meeting of the Liberal parliamentarians.
Morrison discussed the proposed change with former prime minister John
Howard, but not with Malcolm Turnbull.
He briefed Tony Abbott who was the first speaker from the floor.
Strongly supporting the proposal, Abbott – who lost the prime
ministership before he had served a full term – thanked Morrison for
bringing him into his confidence.
Morrison said the change was carried by consensus. He declined to be
drawn on differences expressed within the meeting.
He said he had asked the party whips, Nola Marino and David Bushby, to
work up a proposal. He’d had a view for some time that something
needed to be done.
The party meeting discussed whether the threshold should be two thirds
or three quarters. There was some questioning about the position of a PM who had the weight of the party against them but was just under the threshold for change.
But speakers who had differences on the detail made it clear they would swing in behind what was finally decided.
The Labor party already has rules that restrain leadership changes
including of an opposition leader, although they could be altered by a
simple majority of caucus.
In August after the ousting of Turnbull, Kevin Rudd urged the Liberals to
follow Labor’s example “to prevent rolling political chaos.”
Howard said then “I don’t think changing the rules is a good idea”, adding “What’s the point of bringing in rules if, in any event, they can be set aside?”
Morrison said the Liberal rule on prime ministers was tougher because
it would take a two thirds majority to alter it. But it does not cover