Australia Opinion

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the “Lord Protector” of All Australians

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The Prime Minister of Australia is behaving each day more like a paternal ruler.

He now wants us to download a phone app that will allow the State to trace our every move.  As reported by the media, the Morrison government is initially aiming for a 40 per cent take-up of control of ‘people’s movements and the people they come in contact with’.[1]

Paternalism is government action that limits a person’s liberty with the intent of promoting “their own good” regardless of the will of the person. It implies a disregard for the will of a person and involves behaviour that expresses an attitude of superiority.

According to Dr Kalle Grill, associate professor of political philosophy at Umeå University in Sweden, the paternalist believes himself superior in that he can secure some benefit for the person that they themselves will not secure. ‘Paternalism is opposed by the liberal tradition’, he says.[2]

While the app that the federal government wishes to develop apparently would first be voluntary, its introduction naturally raises the perspective of such measures becoming more permanent in the future. It also raises serious privacy issues and concerns that the app will later be used for permanent surveillance.

The app will monitor people’s daily interactions using GPS. It uses Bluetooth technology to record contact with other people even if they do not know each other. ‘We need a greater degree of tracing capability for contacts, and that can happen much more quickly than it does now’. Morrison said.[3]

The Prime Minister also says he is quite happy that Australians have behaved very well over the Easter long weekend. Because of this, he says his government may even reward us for our good behaviour in the future.

Meanwhile, he informs that his government will ‘have many more [restrictions] in front of us before it can even possibly contemplate the easing of restrictions’.[4] ‘There’s got to be a reward for all of this great effort that’s going in, and there will be, but we’ve got to make sure that’s done at the right time’, the Prime Minister told Sky News.[5]

The political philosophy of John Locke is particularly relevant in this kind of discussion.

Locke is often credited with founding classical liberalism.  He developed a distinct political tradition based on the idea that everyone is endowed by God with inalienable rights to life, liberty and property, and that no government must ever violate these fundamental rights of the individual.

Curiously, Locke explicitly distinguished what is legitimate political power from those situations which he held to be despotic and/or paternal power. ‘The great mistakes about government have … arisen from confounding this distinct power [political power] with another [paternal power]’, Locke stated.[6]

According to emeritus professor Geraint Parry of Manchester University, the entire purpose in Locke’s political theory ‘was to separate political power from despotic power and paternal power – in other words, to deny that there is any analogy between the political relationship and the relationships which exist between either masters and slaves or father and children.’[7]

The Morrison government is taking measures that are essentially paternalistic. These measures are destined to destroy our economy, ruin people’s livelihoods and ways of life, and cause undue family tensions which may lead to widespread divorce and parental alienation.

But now he at least promises us that because we have behaved well some form of reward will be provided in the future. Of course, provided that we just continue to behave so very well and blindly following his “benevolent” rule.

If this is not completely illiberal and paternalistic, I am not sure how else one could define such patronising behaviour.

In sum, our “benevolent” leader is looking after us very much as his little children. And so we should all be most grateful to his “merciful” paternal rule.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the “Lord Protector” of all Australians.

Dr Augusto Zimmermann PhD, LLM, LLB, DipEd, CertIntArb is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan College in Perth/WA, and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), and former Law Reform Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia, from 2012-2017 (appointed by then state Attorney General Christian Porter). Dr Zimmermann was chair and professor of constitutional law at Murdoch University from 2007 to 2017.

References:

[1] Malcolm Farr and Daniel Hurst, ‘Australian Government Plains to Bringing in Mobile Phone App to Track People With Coronavirus’, The Guardian, April 14, 2020, at https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/apr/14/australian-government-plans-to-bring-in-mobile-phone-app-to-track-people-with-coronavirus

[2] Kate Grill, ‘Paternalism’, in R. Chadwick (ed.) Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics (2nd ed., Elsevier, 2011), available at http://kallegrill.se/texts/Paternalism%20preprint.pdf

[3] Andrew Probyn, ‘Coronavirus Lockdowns Could End In Months If Australians Are Willing To Have Their Movements Monitored’. ABC News, April 14, 2020, at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-14/coronavirus-app-government-wants-australians-to-download/12148210

[4] Malcolm Farr and Daniel Hurst, ‘Australian Government Plains to Bringing in Mobile Phone App to Track People With Coronavirus’, The Guardian, April 14, 2020, at https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/apr/14/australian-government-plans-to-bring-in-mobile-phone-app-to-track-people-with-coronavirus

[5] Malcolm Farr and Daniel Hurst, ‘Australian Government Plains to Bringing in Mobile Phone App to Track People With Coronavirus’, The Guardian, April 14, 2020, at https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/apr/14/australian-government-plans-to-bring-in-mobile-phone-app-to-track-people-with-coronavirus

[6] John Locke, The Second Treatise, parag. 169 (Cambridge, 1960).

[7] Geraint Parry, ‘Individuality, Politics and the Critique of Paternalism in John Locke’, (1964) 2 Political Studies 1, at 1.


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