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Morrison defiant on secret appointments

Former prime minister Scott Morrison says a censure motion moved against him in parliament amounts to “political intimidation” by the Albanese government.

November 30, 2022
By Maeve Bannister, Tess Ikonomou and Andrew Brown
30 November 2022

A defiant Scott Morrison has again defended his decision to take on additional ministerial portfolios in secret while he was prime minister, describing the powers as a “dormant redundancy”.

A rare censure motion was moved in the House of Representatives on Wednesday against Mr Morrison to note its disapproval of his actions. 

It is the first time the House has taken such action against a former prime minister.

Mr Morrison said the motion amounted to “political intimidation” by the Albanese government.

“I note the criticisms made of my decisions to be authorised to administer a series of departments have been made from the safety and relative calm of hindsight,” he said.

“The government’s response to censure and prosecute this motion is to engage in the politics of retribution and nothing less.”

Mr Morrison said if he had been asked about the appointments at press conferences, he would have responded truthfully. 

“For those who wish to add their judgment on my actions … I simply suggest they stop and consider the following: have you ever had to deal with a crisis where the outlook was completely unknown?” Mr Morrison said.

“Once you have considered your own experience … then you may wish to cast the first stone in this place.”

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.

House leader Tony Burke, who moved the motion, said while censures were rare they had their place in parliament.

“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. 

The former coalition government had attacked conventions and enabled the behaviour of Mr Morrison.

“This place runs on rules and conventions … the concept that the parliament knows who has which job is essential to responsible government,” Mr Burke said. 

“You cannot have responsible government if you do not know what people are responsible for. And for two years we did not know.”

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

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

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.

The government 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.

The report found the secrecy surrounding the appointments was corrosive of trust in government and undermined public confidence.

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

Mr Morrison said he supported the changes recommended in the Bell report.

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

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