Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to five other ministries when he was Prime Minister of Australia, in what his successor called an “unprecedented breakdown” of the democratic system. Some ministers knew that they shared powers with the chief executive, but others were not informed.
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The current prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said on Tuesday that he was awaiting legal advice on the possible implications of clandestine appointments and that he was “open to reforms and proposals” to ensure that the situation does not repeat itself.
Morrison is now facing calls to step down in Parliament due to revelations, including from one of his former ministers. Karen Andrews, a former secretary of the interior who is one of the departments self-appointed by Morrison, said: “This is completely unacceptable because this kind of behavior by the prime minister undermines everything that the federal government is constitutionally supposed to stand for.”
Morrison remains a member of the Liberal Party, now led by his former Secretary of Defense, Peter Dutton. Dutton defended Morrison’s actions and accused Albanese of trying to take “political advantage” of the situation. Dutton said he was not aware of the appointments but would wait for legal advice before commenting further.
No act or official record
In a statement on Tuesday, Morrison apologized to his former fellow ministers for “any offense” and called his actions an “emergency security measure” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Between March 2020 and May 2021, Morrison placed himself in charge of health, economics, industry, science, energy and resources, home affairs, and finance without the knowledge of the public and, in some cases, without notice to the sitting minister.
There were no official announcements or records of Morrison’s inauguration for any of the five portfolios. His self-appointment gave him the right to make decisions in these critical areas, if he thought so. This made him the ultimate arbiter, although few in his cabinet knew he had such authority.
governor general [representante de la reina en el país]David Hurley sworn in Morrison as Portfolio Minister on Morrison’s own advice.
The appointments came to light after two journalists from News Corporation who promoted his book on the Morrison government’s response to the pandemic revealed that the then prime minister was sworn in as health minister and finance minister at the start of the first wave of COVID.
A little over a year later, Morrison used the same constitutional clause to be sworn in as Minister of Resources, overturning a decision made by the current Minister of Resources, who was previously unaware that he was sharing a portfolio with the Prime Minister.
In May 2021, Morrison added the last two portfolios to his list without the knowledge of any of the sitting ministers. Then-Treasury Secretary Josh Frydenberg was one of his closest confidants, but said he was not aware that Morrison had also taken over the portfolio.
Without explaning the reason
The revelations put the Australian government and public opinion in check as no one was able to explain why these appointments were necessary or why they were hidden from the Australian public. “I can’t understand the attitude that caused it,” Albanese said. “I can’t understand how this is happening. And I can’t understand how the cabinet is allowing this to happen.”
Before the news of the five portfolios was made public, Morrison said he did not remember appointing more than three additional posts, but said the moves were necessary to “protect” the portfolios. “Things were moving very quickly at the time,” he said. “None of us is perfect. There was no dishonesty in that.”
Translation by Celia Broncano