Brown Study

Brown study

7 December 2019

9:00 AM

7 December 2019

9:00 AM

I don’t like writing in support of politicians. It only encourages them. But Scott Morrison has been subjected to such an avalanche of ignorant criticism for telephoning the Chief Commissioner of Police in NSW that I feel compelled to say a few words in his defence. In fact, the criticism has been given such a false aura of pseudo-constitutional principle that I thought it might be useful for readers to have a bit of reality thrown into the mix by someone who at least knows a few of the principles involved and how they work. (I once took a constitutional case to the High Court, against all advice and won 5-nil, with costs, so there).The result is that there has been no breach of any constitutional principle and, if anything, Morrison’s critics themselves have been playing fast and loose with propriety and convention by dragging the police chief into the case and using him to pursue a purely political agenda.

It all started with one of the PM’s ministers, Angus Taylor, getting himself into hot water by alleging that Clover Moore, a well-known leftie and Mayor of Sydney, could do a lot more on climate change if she and her municipal acolytes stopped flying around the world at vast expense to the ratepayers, a proposition that Taylor supported by quoting from the council’s own figures that were set out on its website. Unfortunately for the minister, the figures he quoted were wildly inflated and the real costs were trifling. Several questions immediately arose: how did the minister come to use such dodgy figures; how did they come to be on the council website; and did he know they were false when he published them? Immediately, the Labor party jumped on the issue, ‘referred’ it to the NSW police and demanded that they ‘investigate’ the minister. Of course, they then added their real claim, which was a purely political one: the minister should be stood down because he had been accused of committing a fraud. Yes, of course he had, but only by the ALP!

Enter the Prime Minister, who wanted to know if there really was a police investigation underway, apart from the Labor party’s politically contrived one, before he decided to stand the minister down or not. So, he telephoned the police chief to ask him that very question. Big deal. How else would he find out?

There was no impropriety in doing so. If you want to know the answer to a question, it is a pretty good working rule to ask the person who is likely to know the answer. That was all that the PM did and it was legitimate for him to do so. He clearly did not go beyond asking about that simple matter of fact and certainly made no attempt, successful or otherwise, to find out what the police knew from their own inquiries or to influence the outcome of the police investigation. Moreover, the PM had an important governmental function to perform, namely to decide if he should stand down a minister, and he was entitled to get the facts he needed to make that decision. It is simply absurd to suggest, as the instant experts are now suggesting, that the PM should have had someone else contact the police chief and make do with a second-hand version of the facts, based on hearsay, to make his decision on the minister’s future and the structure of his government. In fact, he was entitled to, and probably obliged to, make his own judgment on the facts as he found them to be.

Accordingly, the PM had to decide whether to stand his minister down or not. To decide that question, he had to know if the police had initiated their investigation in the usual way and whether there was enough to start it off. If they had done so, there may well have been a case for standing the minister down and it could well have been the proper and conventional thing to do. If on the other hand, he found from his simple inquiry to the police chief, that the investigation was the result of another ‘referral’ from the Labor party, another politically motivated call for an ‘investigation’, he was entitled to treat it as part of the political game, as it clearly was, and let the minister continue in office until the ‘referral’ had run its course. He was entitled to ask the police chief which of these it was. There is no constitutional principle that stops a PM from obtaining the facts. Finally, it is true that in a twisted sort of way, there actually is a constitutional issue here.  But it is not the one that the ALP and its camp followers have concocted. The real question is whether a political party should be allowed to get away with taking a partisan political issue, dressing it up as law enforcement, trying to manipulate a public official for political ends with clichés about ‘referrals’ and ‘investigations’ and using public resources to achieve a purely political objective.

In other news, you may not know that The Spectator Australia has had a remarkable victory in our relentless two-year campaign to save the ABC from itself. We objected to its main radio station in Melbourne sacking the popular Red Symons in 2018 and taking on the entirely unsuited Pakistani comedian Sami Shah and his offsider Jacinta Parsons. They have been a disaster and the ratings have been in the doldrums ever since. But we have always believed in miracles here and one has arrived, just in time for Christmas. Sami and Jacinta are off to pursue other broadcasting opportunities. We will not gloat, of course, but one hopes the ABC brass have now learned, first, that you don’t mess with The Speccie and, second, that the public do not want the ABC turned into some sort of Radio Karachi.

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