Former Australian leader defends his secret appointment as treasurer


Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday defended his decision to secretly seize power in five ministries, including the Treasury portfolio, in the last Parliament, prompting an investigation by his successor.

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(Bloomberg) – Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday defended his decision to secretly take over power in five ministries, including the Treasury portfolio, in the last Parliament, prompting an investigation by his successor.

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In a lengthy Facebook post, Morrison said he made the decision at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 because of the risk of ministers becoming ill and incapacitated. He said he picked departments with specific powers that had not been subject to cabinet oversight for the past two years, including the health department and the home affairs department.

“As Prime Minister, I have found it necessary to put in place safeguards, redundancies and contingencies to ensure the continuity and effective functioning of the government during this period of crisis, which has continued throughout the duration of my tenure,” he wrote. Morrison did not explain why he did not reveal the arrangements at the time.

Morrison added that he had separately requested and obtained the supervision of administering the Department of Industry, Energy and Resources to assess the license for a gas drilling project. He said he announced the decision publicly, adding that it was the only time he had used the powers given to him by law by the governor-general, who in practice works under the direction of the prime minister.

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“The ministerial memoirs were not copied to me as prime minister as co-minister because that was not the nature of the arrangement,” Morrison said. “These arrangements were there as an ’emergency glass breakage’ guarantee.”

Morrison’s actions sparked an outcry in Australia, where Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party took power for the first time in nearly a decade following a resounding election victory in May. He accused Morrison of “deliberately” undermining Australian democracy by deciding to enter these ministries without telling anyone.

“It is quite extraordinary that these appointments have been kept secret by the Morrison government from the Australian people,” Albanese told a news conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

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It’s not immediately clear what laws, if any, Morrison may have broken. Albanese said he would seek legal advice from the solicitor general on the potential consequences of his Morrison’s secret appointments on Monday.

Some ministers were unaware that Morrison had been sworn into their portfolios at the time, including former finance minister Mathias Cormann. Morrison said he assumed Cormann had been informed and has since apologized. Former treasurer Josh Frydenberg told The Australian on Tuesday that he was unaware Morrison had sworn himself into his ministry.

With the exception of the Ministry of Industry and Resources, which was headed by a coalition partner, all relevant portfolios were held by the party of the former prime minister. Although Morrison said he only exercised the powers he granted himself once, his statements were also inconsistent.

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Prior to his Facebook post, Morrison only disclosed his actions as Minister of Industry and Resources when questioned during an interview with an Australian radio station. In his subsequent statement, Morrison said he “did not recall these arrangements being put in place” and said they were “unnecessary” in hindsight.

Morrison’s government has been frequently criticized for its actions during the pandemic, including allegations that his administration moved too slowly to secure vaccine supplies.

“The use of powers by a prime minister to wield the power to administer departments has clearly raised concerns,” Morrison said in his Facebook post. “I regret it, but I acted in good faith in a crisis.”

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