Yes, “rules are rules” Scott, you invent them, break them, subvert them and ignore them

by | Jan 14, 2022 | Government

PM Scott Morrison came out strongly against Novak Djokovic again this week, claiming “rules are rules … no one is above these rules”. Yet the list of this government’s broken rules is prolific. From sports rorts, au pairs, parliamentary entitlements, environmental standards, action on climate to Christian Porter. Callum Foote and Michael West on brazen hypocrisy.

“Rules are rules, and there are no special cases. Rules are rules,” opined Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the air of a regretful headmaster. 

And most of us standing in the quadrangle for assembly remember the next bit left unsaid: “And I didn’t make the rules. Christine … You can go!”

Of course those in class who’d been paying attention, immediately thought of the myriad times the “rules” have been invented, broken, subverted or just plain ignored by this Coalition Government in the years since it was elected in 2013.

Sports rorts, au pairs, parliamentary entitlements,environmental standards, action on climate change and…Christian Porter. The list is a long one.

Perhaps one of the dozens of refugees held in Melbourne’s Park Hotel –  the “prison hotel”, Novak Djokovic’s residence for four nights – may have liked to put his hand up to point out that this Government has been repeatedly found to have breached international human rights laws.

In 2015 this Government, under PM Tony Abbott, was found to be systematically violating the United Nations Convention Against Torture. 

Since then the “rules” have been changed at the Government’s whim. Most recently with the Migrant Amendment Bill 2021 that gives the Government the power to indefinitely detain refugees, potentially for the rest of their lives.

Djokovic case – an attack on rule of law

So, rules are not rules. Just as the old Castrol GTX ad proclaimed in the 80s: “Oils ain’t oils!”

In the high-profile case of Novak Djokovic, the one benefit of this slow-rolling farce is that it trains the spotlight on a deeper concern that the rule of law in Australia is being eroded by our elected officials. 

In the last minutes of Djokovic’s trial, which can be seen here, the counsel for the Government informs Judge Kelly that the Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke, may step in and use his personal executive powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa. 

That’s despite the consent orders to set the tennis star free. Effectively overturning the court’s decision. 

The judge takes a moment, first thanks the Counsel for the Government for this information, stating that if he was to learn of this development after the Court was out of session he would be “incandescent” (read: really pissed off). 

Kelly amends the order he has just given to reflect the new information and then says:

“There then arises a very real question of what might be seen more broadly as the administration of the interests of justice.”  

Kelly also refers to Tait v Queen (1962), a case where one of Australia’s most eminent Chief Justices orders that a convicted, sentenced and mentally ill man be spared the gallows. Kelly alludes that he is prepared to act in a similar manner – to step in to override, or at least forestall the Government’s plan B. If he’s asked, that is.

PM Morrison came out strongly against the Serb again this week on Twitter. “Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules.” 

Rules are rules, except for rulers

The Headmaster, in  social media mode, was well and truly scorched by his detractors, but found favour with many more. There are still many votes in it for the Headmaster on unforgiving border “rules”. Never underestimate that. The Government doesn’t. 

In recent years, Australians have seen democratic institutions weakened. Those in power ignore established administrative and legal proceedings in order to silence opposition. The clear and present aim is to keep decision making opaque and weaken certain executive bodies.

Let’s go now to former Attorney General Christian Porter. Remember him?

Even before he was accused of rape and Morrison eschewed establish practice by protecting Christian Porter from scrutiny over his declaration that a  “blind trust” had paid millions in legal fees, Porter had been responsible for serial breaches of the law.

The former Attorney General Christian Porter failed to disclose his use of controversial National Security Information (NSI) orders in criminal proceedings, blaming an “administrative oversight”.

Despite the Attorney General being required by law to table his use of NSI orders to Federal Parliament each year, Christian Porter had failed to do so ever since he was appointed to the role in 2017.

NSI orders confer on the Attorney General some of the most extreme powers imaginable in a justice system. Under the orders, evidence used in a prosecution can be withheld – not just from the public – but also from the accused, the defence team and witnesses for the defence.

Few are the avenues of domestic and foreign affairs where the Coalition is yet to subvert the rules. It has even violated its own Arms Trade Treaty, a brainchild of former foreign minister Julie Bishop who brought the idea to the United Nations to curtail the escalation in weapons sales.

In another instance (of many) late last year, the Senate Privileges Committee, chaired by Labor’s Senator Deborah O’Neill  decided to uphold Australian Tax Office (ATO) Commissioner Chris Jordan’s refusal of a Senate Order to release the names of companies with a turnover above $10 million which received JobKeeper payments. 

In August 2021, Senator Rex Patrick – along with his fellow cross-benchers and Greens Senators – had been pushing to have the identities of large companies who got JobKeeper revealed.The Government wanted to keep their identities suppressed, and Labor capitulated.

The tennis match being played by the Morrison Government with Novak Djokovic may look like it’s being played on centre court. In reality, it’s a side game to a much more important battle : Australian Government vs. Australian Citizens.   

What’s the score so far, do you reckon?   

Callum Foote a journalist and Revolving Doors editor for Michael West Media.
Callum has studied the impact of undue corporate influence over Australian policy decisions and the impact this has on popular interests.

Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.

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