Australia

‘Mind-boggling stuff’: Scott Morrison’s secret ministry moves ‘crazy’ and ‘dodgy’, Labor’s Jason Clare says

Scott Morrison taking on five portfolios in secret has been branded as crazy and dodgy, with Labor frontbencher Jason Clare calling the move wrong in principle.
The repercussions of the former prime minister appointing himself the finance, treasury, health, home affairs and resources portfolios remain unknown with the solicitor-general preparing advice, due to be delivered on Monday.
He was sworn in to the roles between March 2020 and May 2021.
“It’s wrong in principle the former prime minister did this at all. It’s made worse by the cover-up, the secrecy. It’s something that never happened before and shouldn’t happen again,” Mr Clare told the ABC on Wednesday.

“This is mind-boggling stuff, crazy stuff. The fact this was kept secret tells you that they knew this was dodgy as buggery.”

Mr Clare also took aim at the Liberals defending Mr Morrison’s actions after Opposition Leader Peter Dutton sought to justify the appointments due to the “war-like” environment of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We heard yesterday some pretty weak mealy-mouthed excuses by Scott Morrison’s colleagues, including Peter Dutton, saying we were in the teeth of a pandemic and these were war-like situations,” Mr Clare said.

“We’ve been to war, and we never did this. When war broke out in Europe, Menzies didn’t do this. When the Japanese were on the march on the way to Port Moresby, John Curtin didn’t do this.”

Labor frontbencher Jason Clare. Source: AAP / Lukas Coch

Mr Clare told AAP the government will wait for the solicitor-general’s advice before making decisions on how to prevent such a move happening in the future, such as by making it mandatory to gazette such appointments.

“We’re open to reform,” Mr Clare said.

“This is a very serious situation. We’ve received information from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
“The prime minister will consider that advice. I expect that cabinet will consider both the advice from the department and any advice we receive from the solicitor-general and then take further steps.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the actions of his predecessor followed a pattern of secrecy.
“Scott Morrison appointed himself to a cabinet committee of just one so any meetings he had with other people he could say they were co-opted on and keep it away from freedom of information,” he told radio 4BC.

“Our democracy relies on people being open and transparent about what’s going on. People being accountable and that’s why this is such a shocking series of revelations.”

John Howard says Scott Morrison should not resign

Former Liberal prime minister John Howard told the ABC’s 7.30 program he did not think Mr Morrison should exit parliament and that it was “not in the interests of the Liberal Party to have a by-election at the moment”.
His comments came after former home affairs minister Karen Andrews called for Mr Morrison to resign as the sitting member for the NSW seat of Cook.
Ms Andrews, who said she had “no idea” Mr Morrison had taken on her portfolio, told Sky News she felt the “Australian people were betrayed”.

“It certainly doesn’t help democracy and I’m very concerned about the impacts of this going forward,” she said.

Speaking to news.com.au, she added: “I am going to ask him to resign and leave Parliament.”

Mr Howard told 7.30 he did not believe the revelations warranted an “unnecessary by-election.”

john howard.jpg

Former Liberal PM John Howard.

“If anybody cares about my party, the Liberal Party, then the last thing they will do is be requesting unwanted by-elections,” he said.

Mr Howard said Mr Morrison had “contextualised” his reason for the secret appointments, and that part of the conservative tradition “is to always understand the context in which things occur”.

‘There was a lot going on at the time’

Mr Morrison posted a lengthy Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon where he apologised to his colleagues, after several former ministers of the Coalition government claimed they were unaware of the appointments.
“I have endeavoured to set out the context and reasoning for the decisions I took as Prime Minister in a highly unusual time. I did so in good faith, seeking to exercise my responsibilities as Prime Minister which exceeded those of any other member of the Government, or Parliament. For any offence to my colleagues I apologise,” he wrote.

Mr Morrison said his secret actions as “necessary” due to the risks the COVID-19 pandemic posed to the functioning of government.

Speaking on 2GB radio on Tuesday morning, Mr Morrison confirmed he had been sworn as the minister for the health, finance and resources portfolios, but did not recall holding any others.
In the statement, he said the departments of Treasury and home affairs were later added to his oversight as part of a “belts and braces” approach, and admitted “in hindsight these arrangements were unnecessary”.

“Until seeking advice from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet today, I had not recollected these arrangements having been put in place. There was a lot going on at the time,” he wrote.

‘Unprecedented trashing of our democracy’

Mr Albanese confirmed the secret ministerial arrangements after receiving briefings from senior bureaucrats on Tuesday morning.
“There have been revelations of an extraordinary and unprecedented trashing of our democracy by the former Morrison government,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“This has been government by deception. Government in secret.”

Mr Albanese accused Mr Morrison of misleading parliament as to who was responsible for portfolios.

ANTHONY ALBANESE PRESSER

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has accused Mr Morrison of “trashing” Australian democracy. Source: AAP / MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Are the decisions legally binding?

After assuming the role of resources minister, among other titles, Mr Morrison overruled the controversial Pep-11 gas project, without disclosing he had taken charge of the portfolio or consulting with then resources minister, Keith Pitt.
One of Australia’s top experts in international law, Australian National University’s Donald Rothwell, told SBS News all decisions taken by Mr Morrison are legally binding as long as “those appointments took place through the normal processes”.
“The first question obviously goes to the legality of Scott Morrison’s appointment in these ministerial portfolios,” Professor Rothwell said.
“We’ve learned from the office of the Governor-General [David Hurley] that those appointments took place through the normal processes as far as the Governor-General was concerned.

“Unless there’s a defect that we’re not aware of that might be uncovered as a result of any investigations [and] these revelations, I think an assumption would have to be made [any decisions taken by the former PM] would be legally binding.”

What did Mr Morrison say about the appointments?

“We were dealing with quite extraordinary circumstances, and as a result … we had to take some extraordinary measures to put safeguards in place,” Mr Morrison said on Sydney radio station 2GB on Tuesday.
“None of these, in the case of the finance and the health portfolio, were required to be used, they were there as a safeguard, they were there as a redundancy. “
“People know where the buck stops and … the buck stops with the prime minister.”

An administrative arrangements order for the social services portfolio was signed by Mr Morrison and Governor-General David Hurley on 28 June 2021, in addition to him also being privately sworn in as health minister, finance minister and resources minister.

People know where the buck stops and … the buck stops with the prime minister.

Scott Morrison

Mr Morrison told 2GB while he “could not recall” being sworn in as social services minister, he did not dispute the reports.
“There were a number [of portfolios] that were considered at the time for safeguard reasons, but I don’t recall any others being actioned,” he said.

“But there may have been others that were done administratively…for the same reason, for the same precaution.”

Prime minister awaiting legal advice

Mr Albanese said he was seeking advice from the solicitor-general as to the legality of the arrangements. He is due to receive a decision on Monday.
Mr Albanese will also be briefed as to the potential use of “extraordinary powers” by the former prime minister amid concerns the Commonwealth could face legal challenges over ministerial decisions.
“Mr Morrison’s colleagues sat back and watched power be centralised within the Morrison government,” he said.

“There are real implications for this.”

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