It’s inquiry season in Australia; you may have noticed.
Actually, unless you have been hiding out in a cave in Antarctica playing cards with Elvis, Jim Morrison and the unfortunate young ladies who decided to have a picnic at Hanging Rock just as aliens were opening a time portal,1 of course you have noticed.
You can’t heave a rock without hitting an inquiry these days, especially if you happen to heave a rock in the direction of former PM Scott Morrison2 who just now has more inquires than Google.
I suspect retired judges who are looking for some extra cash are probably trailing him around, in the hope that the next time the present PM announces another inquiry – which based on past experience, should be in about 10 minutes3 – they’ll be the first names that come to mind.
Although I have no issue with the concept of an inquiry or 30, I am a little bit disappointed in the relatively unedifying questions being considered. For example, the inquiry into the fact that during his time as PM, Scott Morrison apparently had himself sworn in to several ministries, a cardinalship, captaincy of the Australian cricket team and the papacy isn’t likely to reveal much; we know he did it.
This inquiry is a bit like having an inquiry into a Tom Cruise film to determine whether or not Tom got the girl in the end. You don’t need a judge for that, and (thankfully) you don’t even need to watch the film; you can take it as given.
I’d like to see an inquiry into seemingly inexplicable phenomena that might damage the country – for example, who the heck is watching reality TV? Are they allowed to vote? Why? How do they not fall down more?
Or if we are going to ask Scomo stuff, how about the big questions, like what happened to Harold Holt? On current form, I would bet he knows something about it. Heck, we could even start asking Albo questions – like, why do you support Souths? Did you lose a bet? How come we never see you and Elmer Fudd in the same room?
The other thing is, of course, that these official inquiries tend to take a very long time, to the point where they are generally measured in ice ages; some of them seem to have been going longer than the Earth has existed, at least if you believe the hours being claimed by those who run them.4
Lest one think I am suggesting any fudging on the part of the participants, I assure you that is not the case. The problem is with time itself. You will recall Einstein showed that time is relative5 – that is, it moves at different speeds depending on where you are, and how boring it is.
For example, if you are in a strong gravitational field, time moves a little more slowly; if you are in Constitutional Law Lecture, it tends to stop altogether; and if you are in a movie theatre watching Titanic, it begins to flow backwards. Einstein also said there was no such thing as absolute time, so next time a judge criticises you for filing submissions late, explain to their Honour that you aren’t actually late, it is just that they aren’t smart enough to understand physics.6
The thing is, though, that inquiries should be much easier and quicker these days, because most people post their lives onto social media in pretty much real time. I bet if anyone had checked Scomo’s bio on social media they would have known straight away that he held more ministries than the Catholic Church. I guess none of his 23 followers looked.
Back in my day, inquiries were, like everything – footballers, rockers, cheese – much harder. We didn’t take photos of everything, or indeed of anything; and when I say ‘we’ I mean blokes. In any given social group, back in the day, if anyone had a camera it would be someone’s girlfriend.
This was a good thing in one sense, in that very few photos exist of my mates and me doing very stupid things, despite the ample photo opportunities of this sort that we provided; in another sense it is a bad thing, though, because the photos that do exist are in the possession of women who broke up with us in sub-optimal circumstances. This is probably the reason that few of us have ever run for public office.7
This means that if Albo decided to call an inquiry into, for example, what happened on Straddie, why one of my mates is called ‘Skipper’, or the intricate details of the unscheduled test-flight of a doggie bag full of carbonara and green beans one night at Stones Corner, photographic evidence would be thin on the ground. It would also be hard to discover how some guys I played football with could pop out to get the paper on a Saturday morning and end up ringing their wives from Byron Bay on the Saturday night, with a very poor recollection of how they got there.
It occurs to me that we could solve several of these problems in one fell swoop8 by creating a reality TV show called Inquiry Island. Any politician who wanted to start an inquiry would be sent to the island, and they would compete with each other in a series of challenges; each week one would be eliminated by audience vote, and thrown into the volcano that will be conveniently situated on the island.9
The last politician left will be able to hold their review, unless of course one of my mates’ ex-girlfriends has a compromising photo of them…
© Shane Budden 2022
Shane Budden is a Special Counsel, Ethics, with the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.
1 Or something like that.
2 Not that I am suggesting you do this.
3 No matter when you are reading this.
4 Not that I am critical of this; I suspect an analysis of my timesheets from back in the day would reveal a similar discrepancy.
5 Like fudge you will. The only thing you can remember about Einstein is that he had crazy, mad scientist hair, and that he said we only use 10% of our brain (which he never even actually said).
6 But don’t mention my name.
7 Although I wouldn’t rule out laziness.
8 Yes, ‘fell’ is correct, not ‘foul’; mixing these up is one of those things that I intend to grumble excessively about as an old man, so just getting a head start.
9 Don’t worry, it won’t be a real volcano; only the lava at the bottom will be real.