Former Australian PM censured for giving himself secret powers while in office

Scott Morrison defends decision by saying he took it during ‘a time of extreme trial’

Sravasti Dasgupta
Wednesday 30 November 2022 06:34 GMT
Related video: Solicitor general’s opinion made public as Australia begins inquiry into former PM Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison has become Australia’s first former prime minister to be censured by parliament after a motion was passed against him for appointing himself in five ministerial roles without the knowledge of ministers.

The motion introduced by the centre-Left Labor Party government in the House of Representatives was passed 86 to 50.

The motion held that Mr Morrison appointed the ministerial berths to himself between March 2020 and May 2021.

He had assigned to himself the portfolios of health, finance, treasury, home affairs and resources.

He only exercised those powers once by overturning a decision by former resources minister Keith Pitt to approve a contentious gas drilling project off the north Sydney coast, reportedly to preempt harming his party’s reelection chances.

The motion said that by not informing the cabinet and parliament and the citizens of his additional powers, the former prime minister had eroded public trust in the country’s democracy and government.

The censure motion, however, has no effect apart from impacting Mr Morrison’s political legacy.

The former prime minister told the House on Wednesday that the additional powers were assigned when the country was dealing with “extreme uncertainty and unpredictability”.

“I am proud… at a time of extreme trial, my government stood up and faced the abyss of uncertainty that our country looked into and the coercion of a regional bully and saw Australia through the storm,” he said, referring to China.

“Our nation faced the greatest challenges we had experienced since the Second World War: a drought, natural disasters, a global pandemic, the global and domestic recession, the pandemic cause and a rising and assertive China seeking to coerce Australia into submission,” he added.

The former prime minister apologised for causing “unintentional offence” but not for taking action in a “national crisis”.

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

“I do not apologise for taking action, especially prudent redundancy (of ministerial powers) action, in a national crisis in order to save lives and to save livelihoods,” he added.

In August, prime minister Anthony Albanese had sought legal advice from the solicitor general after it was reported that Mr Morrison gave himself the additional portfolios.

Mr Morrison had lost power after a convincing election defeat in May.

Mr Albanese said on Wednesday that his predecessor owed an apology to the public.

“He owes an apology to the Australian people for the undermining of democracy, and that’s why this motion should be supported by every member of this House,” he was quoted as saying.

Additional reporting by agencies

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