Unrepentant: Scott Morrison says Australians assumed he’d take on new jobs

Scott Morrison is asked about his 'emergency powers'

A defiant Scott Morrison has denied his secret and wide-ranging assumption of government powers was improper, saying Australians expected he would take on extra responsibilities during the pandemic.

Mr Morrison emerged on Wednesday to make his first public comments on the scandal, again refusing to quit Parliament.

In a lengthy – and sometimes heated – press conference, he said he did nothing illegal by departing from centuries-old conventions by having himself sworn in as a second minister into five portfolios, and that he had done so as a precautionary measure during the COVID pandemic.

Mr Morrison said there had been no need to tell the public, or even his cabinet colleagues, that he was secretly assuming responsibilities as no prime minister in the history of Australia ever had before.

“I did not want any of my ministers to be going about their daily business any different to what they were doing before,” he said.

“I was concerned that these issues could have been misconstrued and misunderstood and undermine the confidence of ministers.”

The former PM faced uproar this week after it emerged he had taken on the powers of five of his ministers without telling them or the public.

“I as Prime Minister, was responsible pretty much for every single thing that was going on,” he said.

Treasurer unleashes on Coalition over Morrison ministries

Source: ABC News

Within minutes of Mr Morrison’s press conference ending on Wednesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made his own statement for the cameras. He condemned his predecessor’s explanations as evasive, defensive, passive aggressive and self-serving.

“The first rule of power grab club is don’t talk about power grab club and Scott Morrison broke that rule today. Scott Morrison was passive aggressive and of course he was self-serving, so at least he was true to himself today,” he said.

Mr Albanese said Mr Morrison had sought to misdirect attention a day after he claimed during an interview that he had not been sworn-in as Australia’s treasurer and home affairs minister – only for paperwork to reveal hours later than he had been.

Mr Morrison’s undeclared assumption of these powers, as well as the portfolios of health, finance and resources, was without precedent in the history of Australian democracy.

Experts said it undermined Australia’s long-established system of government by cabinet. One former colleague, former home affairs minister Karen Andrews, has demanded the former PM resign, accusing him of betraying the nation.

On Wednesday, Mr Morrison refused.

“Of course not,” he said, when asked if he would quit.

“These are actions and decisions I took as the prime minister. I’m no longer the prime minister.

“There is another prime minister who has a series of priorities that he must address and I’m sure he will. But I didn’t take these decisions as the member for Cook. These issues don’t relate to my role as the member for Cook and I will continue to serve as the member for Cook.”

In fact, the only time Mr Morrison used the powers he had secretly adopted did not relate to COVID at all. He blocked then resources minister Keith Pitt from approving a politically unpopular gas exploration project in northern NSW.

“No ministers were interfered with in the conduct of their ministerial responsibilities other than in [that] express case,” he said.

“I suspect the people who live on the NSW central coast and Hunter coast and the northern beaches of NSW will be forever grateful for that.”

That case is now the subject of a court battle. A company questioning the validity of the Morrison government’s decision argues that his order breached accepted standards of ministerial decision making, which is based on the idea that one person takes responsibility.

Mr Morrison bristled on Wednesday when a journalist suggested on Wednesday that it did not seem plausible that he would forget secretly becoming Australia’s second simultaneous treasurer or home affairs minister.

“It was something that was done on an order of many other issues we were dealing with,” he said.

Mr Morrison said he believed Australians would be confused at the fuss over his secretive power grab because there were no obvious negative consequences and because they were grateful for his work during COVID.

“Together with my colleagues, we did save lives, we did save livelihoods,” he said.

“The facts of that, I think, are not in dispute – 40,000 lives saved, tens of thousands of businesses that would not be here today. One of the most common things people come and say to me after the election is, people from small business – it happens everywhere I go – and they say thank you.”

Mr Morrison’s former colleagues reacted with fury this week when it emerged that he had not told them that he had also jointly and secretly become treasurer, finance minister, health minister and taken on other critical frontbench roles.

The full scope of Mr Morrison’s power grab became apparent this week only after Mr Albanese ordered an investigation.

It emerged that Mr Morrison installed himself in the health, home affairs, resources, finance and treasury ministries between March 2020 and May 2021.

That set off calls for him to quit immediately from former colleagues.

“It certainly doesn’t help democracy and I am very concerned about the impacts of this going forward,” Ms Andrews said.

“I feel the Australian people were betrayed.”

A string of other former and current Coalition frontbenchers have confirmed they had no idea that the powers at the heart of government had been assumed covertly by Mr Morrison. Among them were his then-deputy and treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and his finance minister, Matthias Cormann, whose factional sway set in chain the events that would bring Mr Morrison to the Prime Minister’s office.

Both men are said to have been furious. They learned about the extraordinary unspoken check on their political authority this week when Mr Morrison called to apologise for never having told them.

Only the former health minister Greg Hunt knew he had been jointly serving with Mr Morrison.

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