Can Scott Morrison be trusted in America?

Jun 4, 2024
Scott Morrison 2022

Try to imagine for a moment a time not long past when Scott Morrison was Australian Prime Minister and Joe Hockey was the Australian Ambassador to the United States. A former Labor Party leader – say Paul Keating, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd or Bill Shorten – has written a book for an American audience and wants Ambassador Hockey to graciously host the book’s launch at the embassy in Washington DC. Guests include Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Needless to say, there is no universe in which such a fantasy would have transpired. The extent of Morrison’s graciousness was evident at a ceremonial event during his term in power. The ceremony was commemorating the beginning of a parliamentary year and Morrison was unwilling to even shake the offered hand of Bill Shorten.

That said, on 15 May 2024, former Prime Minister Morrison was given access by the Albanese Government to the Australian embassy in Washington DC. Access included the generous services of Australia’s Ambassador Kevin Rudd as host and speaker. The occasion was to launch Morrison’s recently released book with an ostensibly religious theme, arguably written with American evangelicals in mind rather than Australian readers, as suggested by its title Plans For Your Good: A Prime Minister’s Testimony of God’s Faithfulness.

Crikey reported that a month after its release Morrison’s book had sold 1,991 paperback copies, compared with sales of Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir, A Bigger Picture, a month after publication (33,373 copies), Julia Gillard’s My Story (31,856), John Howard’s Lazarus Rising (25,115). Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame has no prime ministerial credentials, but her 2021 book The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner, had sold 13,138 hardback copies in its first month. Morrison’s hardback sales amounted to a mere 181 copies four weeks after the book’s release.

Those sales figures suggest book readers have not been falling over themselves to get their hands on a memoir that reportedly includes verbatim exchanges between Morrison and the Almighty, with whom the author is seemingly on speaking terms.

The question that presents itself is what possessed decision makers within the Albanese Government to approve the Morrison book launch with Australia’s blessing? You might be excused for thinking they are the same decision makers who approved the appointment of the co-author of Robodebt, Kathryn Campbell, into a plum $900,000 job advising on AUKUS matters in the Defence Department. Or who allowed the appointment of Peter Dutton’s ‘drums of war’ Secretary Mike Pezzullo to roll over his job as Home Affairs Secretary with the change of government in May 2022. Or who decided to give Ita Buttrose two more years as Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to continue doing the task Morrison personally tapped her to do. Or the same advisers who enabled the promotion of Stephanie Foster to replace Pezzullo, despite her public service mentors being the Institute of Public Affairs’ industrial relations warrior John Lloyd and Morrison’s personal political fixer Philip Gaetjens.

Senior appointments at secretary level tend to be officially made by public service panels of peers but they require the endorsement of the prime minister, mindful that when John Howard took power in March 1996 he fired six public service heads immediately and replaced them with people of his own choosing. It might be a questionable practice on numerous counts, including loss of corporate memory, but making decisions such as Howard made means that an incoming prime minister can be reasonably sure that his department secretaries and agency heads are working for his government rather than his outgoing predecessor.

Unlike Howard, the Albanese Government has largely distinguished itself on the high ground of probity with respect to senior appointments, but it has been at a cost that has yet to be measured. Unlike Morrison, for example, who rejected the independent panel’s nomination for chair of the ABC and instead tapped Buttrose for the job in 2018, Albanese this year appointed the panel’s recommendation, Kim Williams, a former chief executive of Murdoch’s News Ltd and Foxtel, who on paper does not scrub up as someone whose commercial media credentials would make him ideal to run a public broadcaster.

The historical record will be best placed to pass judgement on Albanese as either a gallant standard bearer for rectitude on process in making appointments as the caretaker of Australia’s key institutions, or as a naïve fool who has been conned into allowing fast talking foxes to guard the nation’s henhouse.

When a conman works his magic and bends the fool to his will, there is no guarantee that the trickster will behave well. Hence, having wheedled his way into the Australian embassy in the US capital with fellow American Rapturers Mike Pence and Mike Pomeo in tow, Morrison had the hide to meet with former President Donald Trump and post on Twitter (X) a photograph of their meeting together with a comment lamenting the ‘pile on’ which Trump was suffering in the US court system.

Morrison’s X commentary also mentioned that Trump had some nice things to say about AUKUS. Within a day or two of Morrison’s post, the ‘pile on’ had transformed into 34 felony convictions in a Manhattan court, making Trump the first ever US President to be convicted of a crime.

The strategy behind Morrison writing a book that few people will ever read and brazenly launching it in the American capital on the Australian dime with tacit Australian Government endorsement, are shrouded in his trademark opaqueness. Whatever his reasons, the occasion has given him a platform as a former Prime Minister to absolve the former President of the United States from any obligation to observe the rule of law in his own land. And in the same breath he has somehow claimed to have implicated the potential future US President in approving of the $368 billion splash of Australian cash that comes with the Albanese Government’s AUKUS defence arrangement, a policy legacy from Morrison that is contested by many among Albanese’s base.

For a person given to secrecy in the way he operates, Morrison has given away enough about his activities in the US to suggest they involve giving high-level input on defence and security related matters. One role is as an Adviser with the respected think tank Centre for a New American Security. The chief executive Richard Fontaine welcomed him “as the newest member of the CNAS Board of Advisors (where) his insights and expertise will strengthen the centre’s research and work. We look forward to his contributions.” His other role is as Non-Executive Vice-Chairman with American Global Strategies, headed up by former Trump National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien and former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It takes little stretch of the imagination to conclude that a man who is on record as showing little to no regard for the rule of law as it applies to Trump’s indictments, and who has a high-level role in a foreign country that could pay him well for information that he possesses as “the architect and founder of the landmark trilateral AUKUS defence agreement” might be tempted to leverage whatever classified information he has to assist his new associates.

If Albanese were able to trust his heads of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Mike Burgess, and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Reece Kershaw, to monitor the activities of Morrison in America for breaches of Australian law, he could rest easy knowing that Australia’s national security is not imperilled by a loose cannon with strong connections to the Trump world operating unrestrained in US defence and security circles.

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