From the already bland and mundane politics appealing to no one other than those whose business it is to follow it (the journos and commentators making a living off it), the revelations that Scott Morrison had himself appointed to a number of ministerial portfolios while prime minister have amplified the stench it exudes.
Many valid questions are being asked about how it was done, why it was kept secret and what the legal consequences might be.
While there is no illegality in the former prime minister assuming more than what was publicly known as his area(s) of responsibility, his actions suggest he wanted to hold everything but the ‘hose’.
And that too, without telling his own colleagues, who trusted him, including former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who the former prime minister had called more than a friend, a brother during the election campaign.
A new book, Plagued, and News Corp publications have revealed this was to the health and finance portfolios in March 2020, and then the industry, science, energy and resources portfolio in April 2021. The latter move cut across the roles of several other ministers.
Scott Morrison has answered his actions in a lengthy Facebook post. Producing small excerpts which I find extraordinarily self-serving are produced here:
“The risk of Ministers becoming incapacitated, sick, hospitalised, incapable of doing their work at a critical hour or even fatality was very real. The Home Affairs Minister was struck down with COVID-19 early in the pandemic and the UK Prime Minister was on a ventilator and facing the very real prospect of dying of COVID-19.”
“… I took the precaution of being given authority to administer various departments of state should the need arise due to incapacity of a Minister or in the national interest. This was done in relation to departments where Ministers were vested with specific powers under their legislation that were not subject to oversight by Cabinet, including significant financial authorities.
Given the significant nature of many of these powers I considered this to be a prudent and responsible action as Prime Minister.”
This explanation axiomatically does not cut it on at least two fronts. Firstly, it presupposes the former prime minister was completely immune to all variants of COVID virus. He went to lengths to account for his ministers becoming incapacitated and swore himself into their departments, but did not factor in swearing in one or two other Ms for Australia in case he fell sick.
Secondly, it is a complete breach of the concept of cabinet camaraderie and solidarity. If his moves were wise, as leader, he should have been able to secure his cabinet’s confidence and approval. As prime minister, he not only let his ministerial colleagues down, but also let Australians down.
And finally, the very weird case of overruling potential decision his minister Keith Pitt was going to take in relation to the PEP11 license under the Department of Industry, Energy and Resources. The former PM wrote:
“Under the legislation the decision is not taken by Cabinet, but unilaterally by a Minister with authority to administer that Department. I sought and was provided with the authority to administer matters in relation to this Department and considered this issue observing all the necessary advice and issues pertaining to the matter before making a decision, without prejudice, which I announced publicly. Once having been given the authority to consider this matter I advised the Minister of my intention to do so and proceeded to consider the matter.”
A few issues there as well. Firstly, the claim of announcing it ‘publicly’ is wrong. The decision was announced publicly but it was not announced the decision was taken by Scott Morrison as the minister for Industry, Energy and Resources. The decision was announced as taken by Scott Morrison as the ‘Prime Minister’.
Secondly, if Scott Morrison did not trust his minister Keith Pitt’s wisdom and integrity to do the right thing by Australia, why not remove him and put someone else more suited in that role. In my view, if the two (Keith Pitt and Scott Morrison) had different politics to play, Australians had the right to know that that was the case.
Thirdly, it is unbecoming of a prime minister to appoint someone as minister, then not trust their judgement; keep them in the job and disallow them to do their job. Very weird way of doing politics. It happens Coalition settings, but the maneuvers take very different shape with attributes of wisdom and negotiation rather than, to put crudely that of Jackal and Hyde brand of politics.
Unprecedented, to say the least.
Many political commentators labelled Victorian premier Daniel Andrews as ‘dictatorial’ and ‘power hungry’ for his handling of the pandemic, I wonder how the same political intelligentsia would characterize Scott Morrison who, as is turning out, was a man wanting to hold everything but the ‘hose’.
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