Western Australia’s Premier, Mark McGowan, recently launched a war of words on Peter Dutton after being asked by the media about his leadership aspirations. At the time, Dutton had been selected for the Liberal Party leadership after Scott Morrison confirmed he would resign following his government’s election loss.
McGowan said the former Defence Minister was an ‘extremist’ who does not fit with ‘modern Australia’. He also said:
‘[Dutton] doesn’t seem to listen and he’s extremely conservative. I actually don’t think he’s that smart. I don’t pick up that Peter Dutton is fit to be Prime Minister’.
This is one of the most disgraceful things a state leader has said about a high-ranking member of Federal Parliament. However, this is not the first time McGowan has made similar outbursts.
Consider for instance what the WA Premier said on January 6: ‘If you’re asked to show your proof of [Covid] vaccination, don’t be a dropkick’. Dropkick is Australian slang for a stupid or worthless person.
According to him: ‘If you choose to remain unvaccinated … you’re choosing to put yourself at risk, you’re choosing to put the people around you at risk, and you’re choosing to increase the burden on our health staff.’
McGowan contends that these segregationist state policies allow the fully vaccinated to be more confident they are ‘only mixing with other vaccinated people’.
The need for segregation has long been debunked. As the best research available demonstrates, the fully vaccinated are actually getting infected at the same rate and to the same degree as the unvaccinated, and they are transmitting the virus to others at exactly the same rate, too.
Regardless of this, McGowan publicly stated that the unvaccinated are ‘demented, deranged, wacky, nutty, dangerous’ individuals who ‘need to grow a brain’.
Is this the way the most powerful person in the state should be speaking about the most powerless persons under his control?
I am deeply disturbed by the ungracious and inaccurate way the WA Premier is speaking about those who have well-founded concerns about the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines.
‘They’re a pack of drongos, idiots, morons, absolute cretins’, he says.
These are examples of dehumanising words which are deployed by unsavoury regimes, yet they have been adopted by the Premier of Western Australia. This sort of offensive language has no place in a tolerant and pluralistic society, and certainly no place in a truly functional democracy.
Talking about democracy, McGowan has used his parliamentary majority to overhaul the state electoral laws.
After the passage of the Constitutional and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Equality) Bill, the six Legislative Council Regions in the state Upper House were replaced by a monolithic electorate comprising the whole territory of Western Australia. As a result, the vote of everyone living outside a major metropolitan area was reduced to nothing. Devoid of regional representation, the Upper House has become less able to reject or amend any bill introduced by the government.
Another example of undemocratic legislation is the Iron Ore Processing Amendment Act 2020 (WA), which provides the Premier broad exemptions from criminal and civil liabilities. This legislation bans certain matters from being taking to court and, in theory, can cut out any appeal to the High Court of Australia. It confers extraordinary powers to the Premier to make laws without reference to Parliament. What is more, this legislation terminates any future court proceedings in relation to Covid containment measures. Clause 12 (2) says that certain decisions of the executive cannot be appealed, stating that ‘the rules of natural justice (including any duty of procedural fairness) do not apply to; or in relation to, any conduct of the State that is, or is connected with, a disputed matter.’ Finally, this law seeks to make documents connected to a ‘disputed matter’ exempt from freedom of information association laws and grants criminal immunity to the State and its agents.
The WA government has passed the Emergency Management (Covid Response) Act 2020 (WA). Under this legislation authorities can issue executive directions to a ‘class’ or group of individuals and impose penalties including $12,000 fines or 12-month imprisonment for non-compliance. While these expanded security powers can only be used during a ‘state of emergency’, only one of the provisions contained in this Act carries a ‘sunset clause’. Because this law allows for expanded security powers for an unlimited period of time, its measures may last much longer than that of the duration of the alleged ‘emergency’.
In addition to the offensive remarks mentioned above, the WA Premier has also called Peter Dutton’s style of diplomacy ‘nutty’ and ‘grossly irresponsible’ after the latter commented on a Chinese spy ship that was spotted off the coast of Western Australia. Responding to a question by the Chinese Communist Party’s Beijing Daily newspaper, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has praised McGowan for his faithful support of ‘Chinese interests’ in Australia. ‘The Australian government should heed these constructive opinions,’ said Mr Zhao, at a regular press conference in Beijing.
It is certainly not a compliment to be praised by a totalitarian regime that is notorious for its violation of basic human rights.
Above all, the Premier of Western Australia needs to stop offending other people. As a resident of this sate I am appalled to see the relegation of targeted citizens to the peripheries, whilst singling them out as irresponsible and undesired, leading to their gradual exclusion from society.
And if it were the other way around, I don’t think the WA Premier would be happy if someone, just to paraphrase what he said about Dutton, said the following about him: ‘[McGowan] is an extremist and I don’t think he fits with [Western] Australia at all. He doesn’t seem to listen and he’s extremely [authoritarian]. I actually don’t think he’s that smart. I don’t pick that he is fit to be [Premier]’.
It is time for Australians to demand a more civil discourse in this country. Arguably, this necessarily involves the Premier of Western Australia behaving in a more civilised manner towards those who object the dictates of his autocratic government.
Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education in Perth. He is also President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association, Editor-in-Chief of The Western Australian Jurist law journal, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia. From 2012 to 2017, Professor Zimmermann served as a Law Reform Commissioner in Western Australia, and, while serving as Associate Dean (Research) at Murdoch Law School, he was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research, in 2012.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.