Former minister urges Morrison to resign amid fury at title grab

Scott Morrison held five secret portfolios while PM, according to revelations on Tuesday.

Scott Morrison held five secret portfolios while PM, according to revelations on Tuesday. Photo: TND

Scott Morrison has defied a call from a senior Liberal to resign, after it emerged he secretly took over five key portfolios while prime minister.

In an extraordinary lengthy post on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Morrison again defended his actions – although he conceded that “in hindsight these arrangements were unnecessary”.

“I used such powers on one occasion only. I did not seek to interfere with ministers in the conduct of their portfolio as there were no circumstances which warranted their use, except in the case of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources,” he wrote.

“I’ve endeavoured to set up the context and reasoning for the decisions I took as prime minister in a highly unusual time. I did so in good faith seeking to exercise my responsibilities as prime minister.”

It followed a call from former home affairs minister Karen Andrews – whose portfolio was among those secretly adopted by Mr Morrison – for him to leave Parliament.

“I had absolutely no knowledge and was not told by the PM, PMO nor the department secretary. This undermines the integrity of government,” Ms Andrews said on Tuesday.

She said she was at a loss to explain Mr Morrison’s extraordinary actions.

“The Australian people have been let down, they have been betrayed,” she said.

“For a former prime minister to have behaved in that manner, to secretly be sworn into other portfolios, undermines the Westminster system, it’s absolutely unacceptable.

“If there were reasons for the prime minister to be sworn into other portfolios then they should have been made public, whereas it’s been made public now by default.”

But Opposition Leader Peter Dutton urged “cooler heads to prevail”.

“The Prime Minister has sought legal advice. He will get that back Monday and there is a process set in place and so I think we should respect the process and let’s see what the Prime Minister is able to advise next week,” he said.

Albanese reveals Morrison's five secret portfolios

It followed confirmation from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that Mr Morrison took on no fewer than five ministerial portfolios after secret swearing-ins.

They also included treasury, with then treasurer Josh Frydenberg also kept in the dark. Mr Frydenberg was the deputy Liberal leader, and even spent some of Victoria’s COVID lockdowns in 2021 rooming with Mr Morrison at The Lodge.

The only minister who knew of Mr Morrison’s takeover of their portfolio appears to have been health minister Greg Hunt.

Earlier, Mr Albanese accused Mr Morrison of “trashing” Australia’s democracy as he revealed the full extent of the secret portfolio grab. They were health (on March 14, 2020), finance (March 30, 2020), home affairs (May 6, 2021), treasury (May 6, 2021) and industry, science, energy and resources (April 15, 2021).

On top of those, an administrative arrangements order signed by Mr Morrison and Governor-General David Hurley on June 28, 2021, also gave Mr Morrison oversight of some social services legislation.

There does not appear to have been an end date for any of the covert appointments.

Mr Albanese will receive advice next week on the legal impacts of the former PM’s moves.

“The Westminster system relies upon checks and balances,” he said in Canberra.

“The former government, Scott Morrison and others who were involved in this, deliberately undermined those checks and balances that are so important and essential for our democracy.”

He said the legal implications of the clandestine takeovers were still being worked through.

“We know that there is a legal matter in the issue of resources,” Mr Albanese said, referring to the offshore PEP-11 gas project off the NSW coast.

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

Morrison defends ministerial title grab

Mr Morrison also defended his actions earlier on Tuesday, saying they were decisions taken as a precaution as the pandemic arrived in Australia.

“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 told Sydney radio station 2GB on Tuesday.

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

Mr Morrison called the actions “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.”

Mr 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 PEP-11.

A spokesperson for Governor-General David Hurley said he followed processes consistent with the constitution in appointing Mr Morrison to the additional portfolios.

Such appointments do not require a swearing-in ceremony but rather the governor-general signs an administrative instrument on the advice of the prime minister.

But Mr Albanese didn’t commit to releasing the instruments or changing the process that allowed the signings to be done in secret without being gazetted or otherwise made public.

“I’m being transparent by holding a press conference as soon as possible to let you know some more information so that it doesn’t just drip out,” he said.

‘I’m open to a change or reforms or suggestions. But let’s be clear, this isn’t business-as-usual. Conventions apply to the way our democracy functions.

“We will get proper advice. We will then have proper deliberations.”

-with AAP

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