Scott Morrison’s decision to secretly take on additional ministerial portfolios has been described as undermining confidence in the government.
A report by former Supreme Court justice Virginia Bell to the various ministries found that the secrecy surrounding the nominations he took as prime minister “could undermine public confidence in the government.”
“When the nominations became known, the secrecy surrounding them eroded confidence in the government,” the report said.
“As Parliament was unaware of any of the appointments, it could not hold Mr Morrison accountable in his capacity as a minister governing any of these five departments.”
The former Prime Minister’s actions were “extraordinary and unprecedented,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said at a press conference in Canberra to release the report.
‘They were wrong. A cabinet cannot function if some members are complicit in secrecy. That is a hallmark of the Morrison government,” said the prime minister.
The former Prime Minister’s actions were “extraordinary and unprecedented,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said at a press conference in Canberra to release the report on former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s appointment of himself to multiple cabinet positions.
“I want to thank Judge Virginia Bell for the extraordinary work she and her team have done on this report.”
Ms Bell recommended six amendments to be made following the report, including implementing legislation requiring public notices of the appointment of ministers.
She also recommended publishing details of which ministers were appointed to run departments and outlining different responsibilities when more than one minister was appointed to the same department.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would recommend the cabinet implement all six recommendations.
“The swift implementation of these recommendations will ensure that the Australian public can have complete confidence that this breach of trust will never happen again,” he said.
“The unprecedented and unforgivable actions of the former prime minister were indicative of the culture of secrecy in which the previous administration operated.”
Mr Morrison self-appointed Minister of Health, Finance, Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Finance and Home Affairs, unbeknownst to most appointed ministers during the Covid-19 period
Mr. Morrison appointed himself minister of health, finance, industry, science, energy and resources, treasury and home affairs, without the knowledge of most appointed ministers.
Ms Bell was asked by Mr Anthony Albanese to look into the issue of portfolios after the Solicitor General found that Mr Morrison’s action had ‘fundamentally undermined’ the principles of responsible governance.
Mr Albanese asked for the inquiry to investigate how and why the action was taken and who knew about it.
The Advocate General said it was “impossible for parliament to hold ministers accountable for the administration of departments if it does not know which ministers are responsible for which departments.”
Mr Albanese gave no direct opinion when asked whether Mr Morrison should resign from Parliament.
“I think a lot of people need to look at their behavior in this, Scott Morrison clearly felt the confidence not to be able to consider that he was part of a democratic government, not [feel] that he was bound by the conventions in which parliament and government operate. Others were also aware of this,” he said.
He also declined to say whether Mr Morrison should be censured by parliament, saying his cabinet will examine Ms Bell’s report in more detail next week.
The Prime Minister agreed that Morrison had misled Parliament ‘every day he stood there’.
Former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was among those whose ministry also self-appointed Mr Morrison in May 2021
Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley rejected reports that the coalition had decided to downplay the seriousness of Mr Morrison’s actions and said it would support closing the loophole that was being exploited.
The portfolio functions for health and finance started in March 2020, while he started as Minister of Industry in April 2021 and for Home Affairs and Finance in May 2021.
He justified the action by saying the only time he used his extra powers was to veto the PEP11 resource survey project off the coast of NSW.
It was Mr Morrison’s intention that the powers should only be used in extreme circumstances ‘for incapacity to work or in the national interest’.
Mr Morrison’s former treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, revealed to journalist Niki Savva that he saw no reason why the ex-premier had appointed himself to his portfolio in 2021, and that he has yet to apologize for that.
“The fact that he took it and it wasn’t made transparent to me and others was wrong and very disappointing. It was extremely exaggerated,” Mr Frydenberg said.