Morrison hits out at ‘retribution’ as he faces historic censure

Scott Morrison speaks after Wednesday's historic censure motion.

Scott Morrison speaks after Wednesday's historic censure motion. Photo: AAP

Former prime minister Scott Morrison has levelled a fiery defence of his his secret ministerial grab ahead of a vote on a historic censure motion.

In a lengthy speech in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Mr Morrison defended his government’s record, and his own as PM, after Leader of the House Tony Burke introduced the censure motion.

“I am proud of my achievements, I am proud of my government. At a time of extreme trial, my government stood up and faced the abyss of uncertainty we looked into, the coercion of a regional bully, and saw Australia through the storm,” he said.

“I have no intention now of submitting to the political intimidation of this government, using its numbers in this place to impose its retribution on a political opponent.”

Mr Morrison repeated his defence that he only used his secret ministerial powers once (to reject a petroleum mining bid known as PEP-11 in the resources portfolio).

“The authority was lawfully sought and exercised on a specific matter solely. I considered it unnecessary to dismiss the minister to deal with this matter, as he was doing a fine job … I believe the decision I made on PEP-11 was the correct one,” he said.

Mr Morrison appointed himself minister of health, finance, industry, science, energy and resources, treasury and home affairs between 2020 and 2021, without the knowledge of most of his Coalition colleagues. He also eyed off a sixth portfolio – agriculture, water and the environment – but did not go through with it.

“It is strange to describe such actions as a power grab, as they were never exercised or even used to exercise influence over the relevant ministers,” Mr Morrison said.

“They were simply a dormant redundancy.”

The former Liberal leader offered a qualified apology “to those who were offended”.

“I acknowledge that non-disclosure of arrangements has caused unintentional offence and extend an apology to those who were offended,” he said.

“But I do not apologise for taking action … in a national crisis in order to save lives and to save livelihoods.”

When he had finished, opposition MPs shook hands with Mr Morrison. That was followed by a mass walkout from the House of the majority of opposition MPs, as Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus rose to speak in support of the censure.

Scott Morrison speaks ahead of historic vote

Later, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said “that he just doesn’t get it, the former prime minister”.

“He said this morning that he ‘had conversations privately with my colleagues’. It’s not about [former treasurer] Josh Frydenberg. It’s about the people of Australia. That’s who we’re accountable to,” he said.

“This is not a one-man show … all of this self-congratulation that we heard this morning should be dismissed … It’s just beyond comprehension.”

Mr Albanese said people around Mr Morrison should have also acted on his portfolio grabs.

“They didn’t. It was a slippery slope that undermined the functioning of this parliament, that undermined our democratic institutions. That this house has a responsibility to act on,” he said.

Mr Albanese said Mr Morrison should apologise “not to people who he shared brekkie with at The Lodge … [but] to the Australian people for the undermining of democracy”.

The House voted on the motion just after midday (AEDT). With Labor holding a majority in the lower house, it was always certain to pass – and it did, 86 votes in favour to 50 against.

The only opposition MP to vote with the government was Liberal Bridget Archer. She spoke in support of the motion on Wednesday, describing Mr Morrison’s ministries grab as an “affront to democracy”.

“I do not accept any of [his] explanations,” she said.

“This is not a game. I am a Liberal, I believe in Liberal values. It is for this reason I am obligated to support this motion.”

Censure motions do not have any legal consequences, but they are rare and give parliamentarians the chance to formally disapprove of their colleagues.

Wednesday was the first time the House had moved to censure a former prime minister. Mr Burke said while censures were rare, they had their place.

“The court is the place to determine whether or not something was lawful, but in the parliament we determine whether or not something was appropriate,” he said.

“This is not some small matter. It goes to the absolute core of the principle of responsible government.”

Mr Burke said Mr Morrison had undermined, rejected, attacked and abused the standards expected of parliamentarians.

He said Mr Morrison’s conduct prevented the House of Representatives from doing its job and it was “so completely unacceptable”.

The government has agreed to implement all six recommendations from former High Court judge Virginia Bell’s report into Mr Morrison’s conduct, to improve the transparency of ministerial appointments.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said while parliament would introduce legislation following the recommendations in the Bell report, the censure remained necessary.

“These are really serious allegations and the parliament has the right to debate them, to discuss them, and to vote on these actions,” she told ABC TV on Wednesday.

“It is entirely appropriate that the parliament has a say, it is the heart of democracy in Australia.”

Ms Bell’s report found the secrecy surrounding the appointments was corrosive of trust in government and undermined public confidence in government.

Law changes to improve transparency are expected to get the Coalition’s backing.

The last MP to be censured was Liberal MP Bruce Billson in 2018 for not declaring payments while he was still in parliament.

-with AAP

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