The pandemic is not an excuse to close down the parliament, it is a vital reason to keep it going.
Parliament is coming back this week – but not as we know it.
For a single brief day a small number of members will be socially distanced around the two chambers, their job to rubber-stamp Scott Morrison’s JobKeeper package.
Any attempt to initiate other business will be regarded as a distraction, almost sabotage – and of course any opposition would be unconscionable. This is the time for sticking together, which for ScoMo means blindly obeying his slightest whim of caprice.
And once his legislation is nailed down, our elected representatives will be sent home to more or less self-isolate for more than the next three months. They are not required, let alone wanted;
Morrison will rule through his so-called National Cabinet by fiat, although this ad-hoc arrangement will have no constitutional authority. Or worse still he will hand control to his COVID-19 Commission of appointed cronies, unelected and unaccountable.
The justification for this descent into totalitarianism is the urgency of the crisis – we do not want any more dithering, we need immediate action and outcomes. Her Majesty’s loyal opposition is suspended for the duration of the emergency, and the same applies to any voices who dare question the government’s infallibility.
There will certainly be none from the Murdoch media, who have made it clear that even the most polite and constructive contributions from the Labor Party, and particularly from its leader Anthony Albanese, are akin to treason – a deliberate attack on Team Australia, by which, of course, they mean Scott Morrison. Patriotism is paramount.
This is hypocrisy verging on derangement – these are the commentators who never rest from piling onto Labor governments in good times or bad, with the claim that they themselves are the ones demanding accountability.
And there are some brave politicians and journalists who are still willing to ask questions, to demand if not transparency, a little more coherence in the often dubious rationale behind the edicts. But this is not what democracy entails; we need a more formal and considered critique.
And it is needed more than ever in the frantic surge of restrictions, orders, and decisions emanating daily from our leader: the pandemic is not an excuse to close down the parliament, it is a vital reason to keep it going.
Some have suggested compromise; a panel of former judges believe that scrutiny can be maintained through an all-party select committee along the lines implemented in New Zealand. And it would be better than nothing. But really, why does parliament have to be closed down at all?
If protecting the members from infection is really the reason, surely I would not be beyond the wit of our bureaucrats to devise a method by which they can meet on line – to continue their work at home. This, after all, is what a very large section of the Australian workforce is expected to do.
Parliamentarians are sufficiently privileged and cossetted as it is – they should be prepared to put up with minor inconveniences to justify their lurks and perks when the rest of the country is being told to suffer tough but necessary measures to keep the place going until we can snap back – in Morrison’s optimistic view it will only be three months anyway, so a few days of remote sittings would be all that was needed to reassure the public that their representatives are as committed as they are to seeing things through.
Morrison has told us that all workers are essential. Well, okay ScoMo – time to put your members where your mouth is.
Mungo MacCallum is a former senior journalist in the Canberra Press Gallery.