Scott Morrison lied to the Australian public, again, when he said he would cooperate with the “Inquiry into the Appointment of the Former Prime Minister to Administer Multiple Departments”. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has allowed Scott Morrison to get away with the lie and he would have known Scott Morrison was lying as soon as the words left Morrison’s mouth.
Mr Morrison refused to meet with former High Court judge Virginia Bell who headed up the inquiry and instead he answered questions via a lawyer.
Virginia Bell handed down her report on Friday the 25th of November 2022. The report starts off with an overview:
1. On 16 August 2022, following revelations in the media a few days earlier, the Prime Minister the Hon Anthony Albanese MP announced that the Hon Scott Morrison MP had been appointed to administer five departments of State in addition to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (“PM&C”) during his term as Prime Minister. In other words, Mr Morrison had been appointed to administer six of the 14 departments of State. These appointments had not previously been disclosed to the Parliament or to the public.
2. I was appointed to conduct an Inquiry into the appointments. The Terms of Reference require the Inquiry to examine and report on: the facts and circumstances surrounding the appointments; the implications arising from the appointments; and the practices and processes that apply to the appointment of ministers to administer departments under section 64 of the Constitution and directions that ministers hold certain offices under section 65 of the Constitution. I am also asked to recommend any procedural or legislative changes which would provide greater transparency and accountability.
3. The Terms of Reference require me to have regard to the Solicitor-General’s Opinion dated 22 August 2022 (SG No 12 of 2022). In that Opinion, the Solicitor-General concluded that the appointment of Mr Morrison to administer DISER was constitutionally valid. The reasoning applies with equal force to each of the appointments. I approach my task upon acceptance of the Solicitor-General’s analysis and conclusions.
Scott Morrison’s public lies are exposed in the report in paragraph’s 11,12 and 13:
11. In a public statement delivered on 17 August 2022, Mr Morrison justified the secrecy surrounding the appointments on two grounds. In relation to the failure to inform his ministers, Mr Morrison said that he “did not wish Ministers to be second guessing themselves or for there to be the appearance [of] a right of appeal or any diminishing of their authority to exercise their responsibilities”. In relation to the failure to inform the public, Mr Morrison said that “these were emergency, effectively reserve powers”, and there was a risk that the disclosure of the appointments “could be misinterpreted and misunderstood”.
12. However, in the context of my Inquiry, Mr Morrison informed me, again through his legal representative, that “neither [he] nor his office instructed PM&C not to gazette the appointments”, and that he “assumed the usual practice would apply following the relevant Ministerial appointments”. He subsequently explained that he understood the “usual practice” to be that the appointments would be gazetted. This understanding was not consistent with what I was told by PM&C, which is that the announcement of ministerial appointments is the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
13. It is difficult to reconcile Mr Morrison’s choice not to inform his ministers of the appointments out of his wish not to be thought to be second guessing them, with his belief that the appointments had been notified in the Commonwealth Gazette (the “Gazette”). While few members of the public may read the Gazette, any idea that the gazettal of the Prime Minister’s appointment to administer the Treasury (or any of the other appointments) would not be picked up and quickly circulated within the public service and the Parliament strikes me as improbable in the extreme. One might have expected Mr Morrison to inform the affected ministers of the appointments had it been his belief at the time that they were being notified in the Gazette. Finally, there is the circumstance that Mr Morrison was repeatedly pressed at his press conference on 17 August 2022 about his failure not only to inform his ministers but also to inform the public of the appointments. The omission to state that he had acted at all times on the assumption that each appointment had been notified to the public in the Gazette is striking.
The failings of the Inquiry
Virginia Bell has not recommended any action against Scott Morrison as it was not her job to do so and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he will not be taking any action.
There is still a huge question about whether or not it was legal for Scott Morrison to appoint himself to numerous Ministries. The government did get advice from Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue that Scott Morrison’s appointment to additional ministries was “constitutionally valid”. But that is only one person’s opinion which has never been tested and once again Virginia Bell was not asked for her opinion and was told to assume it was a fact that the appointments were valid as per paragraph 3 of her report.
The problem is “former High Court justice Bill Gummow has questioned Scott Morrison’s decision to take on extra ministerial portfolios, saying the “clandestine appointments” were invalid because of the secrecy involved.” (Click here to read more) Given Bill Gummow’s educated legal opinion why didn’t Anthony Albanese ask Virginia Bell for her opinion given she was already looking at the issue? Why didn’t Anthony Albanese get legal opinions from other legal sources?
Anthony Albanese set the Inquiry up to do the bare minimum
Anthony Albanese could have given Virginia Bell the ability to subpoena witnesses for the Inquiry, either in its current structure or if not make it a Royal Commission, which would have forced Scott Morrison to give evidence. It is only then we might have come close to the truth about why Morrison appointed himself to so many Ministries. Was he funnelling money to his mates via secret tenders or grants etc?
But I suspect Anthony Albanese did not want to set a precedent that could be used against him if he lost an election or retired.
So, because of Anthony Albanese’s self-interest, Scott Morrison was never forced to give evidence even though he implied a couple of months ago he would. The bottom line is Scott Morrison has not been held to account in any shape or form and has walked away while giving Australia the middle finger.
Given Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has not tried to hold Scott Morrison to account on this issue what chance is there that National Anti-Corruption Commission will hold people to account?
Anthony Albanese had a great opportunity to hold Scott Morrison to account for his numerous ministerial appointments and start restoring the public’s faith in politics which Albanese said he would do during the 2022 election campaign but he has failed badly.
At the next election, many voters will look at the scoreboard to see how many corrupt Liberal and National politicians were held to account by the Anthony Albanese government and I suspect the answer will be zero.
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