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Michael Bradley

Does Scott Morrison’s censure mean anything?

Scott Morrison has been censured by the House of Representatives. But are there any real-world consequences for the former prime minister?

There are several answers to that question depending on your perspective. To Morrison himself, if his self-gratifying speech on the censure motion — not so much a defence as an audible raspberry — is any guide, it’s just another minor sling/arrow to shrug off his broad Christian shoulders as he continues along his shambling path to divine rapture.

For the social media generation, it must all seem oddly pointless. Does he get punished? No. Kicked out of Parliament? No. Lose some salary? No. On the contrary, he’ll be back on Facebook tomorrow, still pulling public money and promoting his wares as a globalisation genius while facing zero consequences.

The Coalition, apart from Bridget Archer, performatively agreed on its futility. A stunt, they labelled it, although why they felt it necessary to underline their collective amorality by going up to Morrison and shaking his hand, I don’t know. Perhaps they think there are still some votes that he hasn’t lost them yet and they want to complete the set.

The reality is that Morrison’s censure is a nothing-burger. Parliament regulates itself but gave up the power to expel its members long ago. A censure is symbolic and has no legal consequence, and won’t even affect his credit rating — though it will definitely improve his chances of a gig on Sky after dark.

In earlier times, it would have meant more. When the national discourse was led, fed and watered by the traditional media, when we learnt what we needed to know from the morning papers and the evening news, this story would have run for days. Not quite at “The King is dead” or “Bradman’s out” levels, but it would have been significant. That notion is quaint now. Plus, most of the population won’t even be aware that Morrison has been censured, or what for, or care much if they find out.

However, it’s still sensible to take a longer view of this moment’s significance. He is the first former prime minister of this country to be censured by his own house of Parliament. Losing a 86-50 vote, against the entire crossbench and one from their own party, the Coalition voted to avoid, en bloc, against a motion that was unarguably right. The House has always had the power, and incoming governments have always had the numbers, to do this to their predecessors. Yet never before have they taken the extraordinary step against a former prime minister. I mean, not even Tony Abbott did it.

So that’s how the record will stand. What Morrison did to warrant censure was unprecedented, a gross assault on the conventions of responsible government and a shattering of principles that had worked comfortably for 120 years. It was an act of constitutional vandalism, one that has forced Parliament to implement new laws to prevent it happening again.

History will also reflect that Morrison didn’t care when he was caught red-handed, instead continuing to lie, deflect and gaslight in the face of his self-inflicted humiliation. And it will note that his colleagues voted for party instead of the national interest.

Most importantly, though, history will record that Morrison was called a disgrace by the chamber he once led. His legacy is, appropriately and fairly, stained by the mark of condemnation and it always will be.

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