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Nemesis reveals Scott Morrison’s secret ministries still causing issues

The legacy of Scott Morrison as PM features in the third and final episode of Nemesis.

The legacy of Scott Morrison as PM features in the third and final episode of Nemesis. Photo: ABC TV

Coalition colleagues have been scathing in their assessment of the troubled Morrison years (2018-2022) in the final episode of the ABC’s Nemesis on Monday night.

The effect of former prime minister Scott Morrison’s five secret ministries lingers to this day, with former treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealing it had fractured their relationship.

Morrison told the political docuseries he had apologised to Frydenberg and that the pair were ‘‘as good a friends as you could hope for’’.

But Frydenberg replied: “It impacted that relationship and still does to this day.”

Frydenberg said he ‘‘was extremely disappointed and particularly that it wasn’t made transparent to me and others’’.

“I thought it was unnecessary. I thought it was an example of extreme overreach.”

Other reactions to the post-election news that Morrison had sworn himself in to various portfolios without ministers’ knowledge ranged from ‘‘deeply shocked’’ (James Paterson), to ‘‘livid’’ (Katie Allen) and ‘‘gobsmacked’’ (Warren Entsch).

Morrison, who recently announced his exit from politics, presided over the country from August 2018 until May 2022.

Interestingly, the single-word descriptions of the PM from his colleagues varied from ‘‘leader’’, ‘‘motivated’’ and ‘‘driven’’ to the less complimentary ‘‘disappointing’’, ‘‘controlling’’ and ‘‘smug’’.

Post-election Morrison lamented that he lost his connection with the Australian people.

‘‘As I look back, I have nothing but thanks for the opportunity,’’ he said.

‘‘I mean there are things you might have done differently … but I think one of the things as a leader I could have done a lot better was having started well, connecting with Australians as prime minister.

‘‘That emotional connection between me and many Australians was lost. And I do regret that. Because I think from my point of view, the connection is just as strong.’’

The wide-ranging episode covered many issues, such as the drafting of the AUKUS agreement that caused the multibillion-dollar cancellation of a submarine contract that angered France, and the ‘It’s not a race’ COVID-19 vaccine saga that dominated much of his government’s work in the pandemic.

‘Thought they were geniuses’

Reflecting on the 2019 election win over Bill Shorten, former cabinet minister Christopher Pyne said the lack of humility afterwards was a worrying sign of what was to come.

‘‘Too many people in the Morrison government decided that they’d won the election because they were geniuses, as opposed to the fact that we’d won the election because Labor threw it away,’’ Pyne said.

‘‘That lack of humility, I think, infected too many people in the Morrison government who believed that they could do no wrong.’’

Former Liberal adviser Tony Barry said Morrison’s background as a campaign director meant he ‘‘understood the power of messaging”.

‘‘That campaign was perfectly executed. But it was helped by Labor’s poor campaign,’’ Barry said.

scott morrison hawaii

Then-PM Scott Morrison snapped on holiday in Hawaii late in 2019.

Bushfires and Hawaii

As Australia burned with deadly bushfires in December 2019, Morrison took his family to Hawaii but his staff attempted to obscure that fact.

Former cabinet minister Karen Andrews was among those disturbed by Morrison’s actions.

‘‘If you’re prime minister and you’re on holidays and the country’s burning, you get on a plane and come back, no ifs, buts or maybes,” Andrews said.

A ‘‘gobsmacked’’ Victorian Liberal Russell Broadbent was more scathing, remarking ‘‘no judgment, no brains. Know this, he’s gone, finished’’.

Even worse, Morrison’s subsequent visit to Cobargo and notorious retort to returning from Hawaii early – ‘‘I don’t hold a hose, mate” – lingers long after he left The Lodge.

mike kelly quits eden monaro

Scott Morrison with an unfriendly firefighter in Cobargo.

Secret ministries

On the day Morrison created national cabinet to share responsibilities with states during COVID-19 crisis, he advised then- health minister Greg Hunt he was planning to be sworn in to the portfolio ‘‘as a contingency’’.

Little more than two weeks later – on March 30 – Morrison was secretly sworn into the finance portfolio then headed by Mathias Cormann, without Cormann’s knowledge.

“There was an omission with Mathias, but that was a genuine omission and one that I was unaware of,” Morrison said.

But it was his swearing in to a third ministry of industry, science, energy and resources, then held by the Nationals’ Keith Pitt, that caused ructions in mid-April. Morrison then rejected the contentious PEP-11 gas exploration permit.

“In my view it was a breach of the Coalition agreement. The Nationals hold particular portfolios for which they have decision-making authority,” Pitt said.

But Morrison was unapologetic, saying he made the correct decision because ‘‘it was my call’’.

Undeterred, he added another two secret ministries – Frydenberg’s treasury and Andrews’ home affairs without informing either.

‘‘To be honest, it drifted from my memory later on and because they were just never used, they were never exercised,’’ Morrison said. ‘‘So yeah, regrets over that.’’

Morrison's controversial announcement of the PEP decision

Source: SBS News

Women’s problem

Despite denying he has issues dealing with women, Morrison called then Queensland premier Annastacia Palasczuk amid the COVID border lockdowns in September 2020 to urge her to allow a woman into the state to attend her father’s funeral.

Palaszczuk told Nemesis that Morrison used ‘‘threatening language’’ during the ‘‘disrespectful’’ phone call, before hanging up.

The PM then called out then Australia Post chief Christine Holgate in Parliament over buying watches for her executives as rewards. The ousted CEO later branded the incident as ‘‘bullying and humiliation’’.

His response to the Brittany Higgins rape allegations were criticised and exacerbated by his comments in Parliament as the Women’s March to Canberra assembled outside. Morrison refused to address the march.

And the pressure put on backbenchers on specific votes did nothing to help his cause.

Julia Banks, who defected to the crossbench, summarised the sentiment: ‘‘Women who had challenged him or who weren’t going to stay silent, such as myself, we left.’’

Catch-up viewing

The three-part series documents the terms of Liberal prime ministers Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Morrison from 2013-2022.

The first episode focused on Abbott, who was labelled as a ‘‘very dangerous PM’’ by his successor, Turnbull.

The tumultuous Turnbull prime ministership – after which he described now Opposition Leader Peter Dutton as ‘‘thug’’ and Morrison as ‘‘duplicitous’’ – was the focus of the second part.

Nemesis is available for catch-up viewing at iView.

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