Was Scott Morrison’s censure speech a swan song?

Former prime minister Scott Morrison will face questioning at the robodebt inquiry.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison will face questioning at the robodebt inquiry. Photo: AAP

Has Scott Morrison given his last speech?

Mr Morrison rose to speak in Parliament on Wednesday and gave a near 30-minute defence of his government’s record that had many elements of a valedictory speech.

He read out a thank you list, but did not detail what drove him to secretly be sworn into five of the 14 portfolios in government – the subject of an unprecedented censure motion. Coalition MPs shook his hand at its conclusion.

Liberal insiders say Mr Morrison is not expected to see out his term, but is unlikely to resign before the NSW election in March.

“Not just yet (but) after March,” they said.

Inspiring a resignation has been the point of previous censure motions, the director of The Australian Politics Studies Centre, Marija Taflaga, said.

“This was [historically] a way to shame people out of their ministerial portfolio or to shame them either into resigning or refusing to run again, or sending a signal to their constituents that they ought not be returned because they’re not fit and proper to sit in the house,” she said.

Mike Baird for Cook?

Candidates are circling his seat of Cook, local sources say. Former premier Mike Baird, whose father, Bruce, held the seat before Mr Morrison did not respond to a question via a spokesman.

Scott Morrison was the first former PM to be censured by the lower house while in parliament, and only the third sitting MP in Australian history.

But whether he bows out or not, the unusual humiliation will be a defining moment of his parliamentary career.

Mr Morrison’s motivations seem likely to remain unknown.

Former high court justice Virginia Bell said his past claims about being concerned about the pandemic were “improbable”.

Her inquiry heard Mr Morrison intended to acquire powers including over visa cancellation and, an email from a top public servant revealed, foreign investment.

Justice Bell found that Mr Morrison’s later appointments were not about running departments but the exercise of “particular statutory power”.

Moment for democracy

There has been speculation about whether Mr Morrison, who preached against “trusting governments” in a post-election sermon, seemed chastened at all.

Dr Taflaga said the intent of the censure was less about Mr Morrison’s personal reputation, but making a statement about standards amid declining public trust in democracy.

She notes there are few written rules in Australia’s democratic system, but the example of a former PM undermining basic principles and standards of cabinet government moved the government to “reassert the primacy of parliament”.

“Prime Ministers are expected to be intimate with those standards and uphold them,” she said.

“When they don’t, that is very dangerous to a political system,” Dr Taflaga said.

“It goes to the core of whether or not people have faith that our system of government will deliver fair and equitable outcomes or if the elite will simply rule in their own favour while covering up for themselves.”

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