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‘Undermined our democracy’: Morrison’s five secret ministries

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison was secretly sworn in to five ministerial portfolios including Home Affairs and Treasury during the height of the pandemic, prompting accusations his actions were an “attack on the Westminster system”.

Photo: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Photo: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese this morning revealed that between March 2020 and May 2021, Morrison was secretly appointed to the health, finance, home affairs, treasury and industry portfolios.

“This is a sad indictment of not just Mr Morrison but all those cabinet colleagues of his, who sat back and allowed this to happen,” he said.

“It’s undermined our democracy. It’s an attack on the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy as we know it.

“And not just Mr Morrison but others who were involved in this need to be held to account.”

Albanese said he had asked for advice from the solicitor-general on the impacts of Morrison’s actions.

“We know that there is a legal matter in the issue of resources,” he said.

“I am seeking further advice as to the use of these extraordinary powers by Scott Morrison and other examples of it.”

Morrison today went on Sydney radio station 2GB to defend his actions as a “a two key approach”.

“We had to take some extraordinary measures to put safeguards in place,” he said.

“Fortunately, none of these in the case of the finance and health portfolio were ever required to be used.

“The powers in those portfolios, they weren’t overseen by cabinet. The minister … in both cases had powers that few, if any, ministers in our federation’s history had.”

Morrison defended keeping the multiple portfolios secret, saying they were a safeguard and that he would have made them public had he needed to use the powers involved.

“Sometimes we forget what was happening two years ago and the situation we were dealing with; it was an unconventional time and an unprecedented time,” he said.

“Boris Johnson almost died one night. We had ministers go down with COVID.”

Morrison said on radio that he didn’t recollect other ministries he took on outside health, finance and resources, but documents reveal he was also sworn in to oversee aspects of the social services portfolio.

“No, not to my knowledge no,” Morrison said when asked directly if he was sworn into social services.

But he was forced to clarify his position minutes later, saying: “I don’t recall that but I mean, as I said, there was some administrative issues done. I don’t dispute that.

“I’m happy if there are other (portfolios) to be out there.”

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An administrative arrangements order for the social services portfolio was signed by Morrison and Governor-General David Hurley on June 28, 2021.

Morrison said all actions were taken to ensure the “buck stopped with the prime minister” as he had no legal powers to directly order a minister to take a certain decision.

“If I wished to be the decision maker, then I had to take the steps that I took,” he said of a call to overrule resources minister Keith Pitt on a controversial NSW gas project, PEP-11.

“People know where the buck stops and the buck stops with the prime minister. I sought to be the decision maker on that issue because of its importance.”

Morrison says his failure to inform then finance minister Mathias Cormann he had been sworn into his portfolio was an oversight, thinking the information had been passed on through offices.

“It was regrettable … but things were moving quickly at the time,” he said.

Pitt issued a statement saying he was unaware Morrison had joint oversight of his portfolio but he stands by the decisions he made.

Albanese declined to directly express his support for the governor-general when asked to on Tuesday morning, as the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet inquires into the legality Morrison’s leadership arrangements.

However, Albanese said: “The governor-general’s job is to take the advice of the government of the day. I don’t intend to pass judgement.”

A spokesperson for Governor-General David Hurley says he followed processes consistent with the constitution when he appointed Morrison to the additional portfolios.

“It is not uncommon for ministers to be appointed to administer departments other than their portfolio responsibility,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“These appointments do not require a swearing-in ceremony. The governor-general signs an administrative instrument on the advice of the prime minister.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he didn’t know Morrison had sworn himself into the cabinet positions.

-with AAP

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