Top spies unaware of Morrison’s ministerial appointments

Morrison refuses to resign over ministries scandal

Even the nation’s top spies were unaware of Scott Morrison’s ministerial grab of five portfolios, it has emerged.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neill has confirmed Australian intelligence officials did not know about Mr Morrison’s secret appointments, which she described as “damaging” to the nation’s security.

“What I can tell you is that the secretary of my department, the intelligence chiefs, including the head of ASIO, did not know he was the minister for home affairs,” she said on Wednesday, according to a report in The Australian.

“If you don’t understand how vulnerable that made us through that period, how dangerous that was for the country, then you should not be in parliament.”

Ms O’Neill also questions Mr Morrison’s account that he “could not recollect” being sworn into the home affairs and treasury portfolios.

“I don’t take Scott Morrison at his word, just like Emmanuel Macron and Barnaby Joyce and many other people who have worked closely with Scott Morrison,” she said.

“He is known for not being upfront and honest about things that happened.”

The repercussions of the former prime minister appointing himself to the finance, treasury, health, home affairs and resources portfolios remain unknown. The solicitor-general is preparing advice for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to be delivered on Monday.

Mr Morrison was sworn in to the roles between March 2020 and May 2021.

Former Liberal PMs Tony Abbott and John Howard have also weighed into the escalating scandal.

Mr Abbott described Mr Morrison’s secret moves as “strange”, according The Sydney Morning Herald.

“It does seem unusual, it does seem unorthodox and it does seem strange that at least some of the ministers didn’t know about it,” he said at an event in London.

Mr Abbott said he was reluctant to criticise Mr Morrison’s behaviour, saying many extraordinary actions were implemented through pandemic as part of the federal government response.

Mr Howard said it was something he wouldn’t have done, but called for some perspective.

“I understand why it’s been criticised, but it’s not some kind of constitutional crisis. And I think these calls for a sort of semi royal commission and so forth into what happened are a bit over the top,” he told ABC radio.

“I think what happened was unwise. Was it illegal? No, I haven’t seen anything illegal.”

But Labor continued its attack on the revelations on Wednesday, with frontbencher Jason Clare branding it dodgy and crazy.

“It’s wrong in principle the former prime minister did this at all. It’s made worse by the cover-up, the secrecy. It’s something that never happened before and shouldn’t happen again,” Mr Clare told the ABC.

“This is mind-boggling stuff, crazy stuff. The fact this was kept secret tells you that they knew this was dodgy.”

Mr Clare also took aim at the Liberals defending Mr Morrison’s actions after Opposition Leader Peter Dutton sought to justify the appointments due to the “war-like” environment of the COVID pandemic.

“We heard yesterday some pretty weak mealy-mouthed excuses by Scott Morrison’s colleagues, including Peter Dutton, saying we were in the teeth of a pandemic and these were war-like situations,” Mr Clare said.

“We’ve been to war and we never did this. When war broke out in Europe, Menzies didn’t do this. When the Japanese were on the march on the way to Port Moresby, John Curtin didn’t do this.”

Mr Clare said the government would wait for the solicitor-general’s advice before deciding how to prevent something similar happening in future, such as making it mandatory to gazette such appointments.

Mr Albanese said the actions of his predecessor followed a pattern of secrecy.

“Scott Morrison appointed himself to a cabinet committee of just one so any meetings he had with other people he could say they were co-opted and keep it away from freedom of information,” he told radio 4BC.

“Our democracy relies on people being open and transparent about what’s going on [and] people being accountable and that’s why this is such a shocking series of revelations.”

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley attacked Mr Albanese for failing to focus on the cost of living and skills shortages.

“The fact this is featuring so heavily today is a strong indictment on the focus and priorities of Mr Albanese. He came back from a week’s holiday and on day one, focused on his old job of opposition leader,” she told Sky News.

“Australians want him to focus on the issues in their lives. Nothing in this is going to bring down your power bills.”

Mr Morrison has apologised to his colleagues for having secretly sworn himself into their portfolios but launched a staunch defence of his actions.

The embattled former prime minister took to Facebook with a 1300-word statement to explain himself, saying in hindsight some of the arrangements were unnecessary.

Meanwhile, former home affairs minister Karen Andrews called on Mr Morrison to resign from parliament.

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

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce added while it wasn’t illegal, he should’ve been informed about the extent of Mr Morrison’s move, only being aware of the move in Keith Pitt’s resources portfolio.

“Do I think it’s the right thing to do? No it’s not, why? Because we have a cabinet system of government,” he told the ABC.

“Its better that the deputy PM [is informed]. We had numerous discussions about it … [but] the minister is the person that should have carriage of these issues.”

-with AAP

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