Ministry appointments ‘corrosive of trust’

Albanese said Morrison had “quite clearly” misled parliament and said a censure of the former prime minister, which is in effect the parliament expressing its collective disapproval of an MP’s action, was an option.

“It is very clear that this [report] is a scathing indictment on the Morrison government and the culture of secrecy,” he said.

The inquiry’s six recommendations to improve transparency and accountability include:

  • Passing new laws to make all ministerial appointments public.
  • Publishing a record of the responsibilities of all ministers in an acting role for two weeks or more.
  • Listing all acting ministerial arrangements on department websites on a regular basis.
  • Publishing every minister’s full responsibilities on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website.
  • Publishing a separate explanatory guide to ministerial responsibilities.
  • Publishing all responsible ministers in every department’s annual report.

“The question here is, as well, what was the culture that allowed this to thrive? How is it that Scott Morrison had the confidence to be able to appoint himself to six positions and consider even more appointments, at least one further appointment potentially?”

“Quite clearly, he’s misled parliament every single day in which he stood there.”

In a statement on Facebook, Morrison noted the criticisms made of his decision “to administer a series of departments where ministers had specific powers not subject to the oversight of cabinet”.

“These decisions were taken during an extremely challenging period, where there was a need for considerable urgency. I note that the criticisms of my decisions have been made after the event and with the benefit of this perspective,” he wrote.

He pointed out the appointments had been valid and lawful, he had not issued instructions not to publish his additional appointments, and that he had not acted as a co-minister “except in the specific case of the PEP11 [an offshore petroleum exploration permit] decision and not otherwise for that department”.

Albanese said Bell’s inquiry confirmed Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue’s advice in August that the principles of responsible government were “fundamentally undermined” because Morrison was not “responsible” to the parliament, and through the parliament to voters, for the departments he was appointed to administer.

Albanese said Morrison’s actions were “unprecedented and inexcusable” and that the decisions of the former prime minister were emblematic of the culture of secrecy in which the previous government operated.

The majority of Morrison’s cabinet were unaware of the unusual arrangements, including former finance minister Mathias Cormann and former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who has condemned the “extreme overreach” in the forthcoming book Bulldozed by journalist and columnist for this masthead Niki Savva.

The report found former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, was aware of the multiple ministerial appointments and viewed the appointment of Morrison to health and finance as an “appropriate safeguard” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bell wrote that it was “troubling” by 2021 that Gaetjens “did not take up the issue of the secrecy surrounding them with Mr Morrison and firmly argue for their public disclosure, [but] the responsibility for that secrecy must reside with Mr Morrison”.

Gaetjens told Bell “he had seen no sign that Mr Morrison was seeking to become ‘a president’” and that he saw “no evidence of a systemic or creeping acquisition […] of sole power”.

A note sent to Gaetjens on April 21, 2021 stated that Morrison took on treasury so he could have powers relating to the Foreign Investment Review Board, and he assumed ministerial powers for home affairs so he would have the authority to strip people of citizenship.


Morrison’s chief of staff, John Kunkel, was aware of the appointments to administer health and finance, telling the inquiry Morrison obtained the finance appointment so he had “the capacity to make decisions about financial support for the states and territories in ‘real time’ in the context of meetings of the ‘national cabinet’.”

But Kunkel “had no recall” of the appointments to treasury and home affairs, or the potential appointment to water and environment.

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