• Wed. Mar 8th, 2023

Scott Morrison swore himself into minister roles

Former finance minister Mathias Cormann was left in the dark that then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison had sworn himself into his portfolio and was never informed of the secret arrangement.Bombshell revelations emerged over the weekend that Mr Morrison had sworn himself in as a second health minister and finance minister in March 2020, via a secret agreement struck by Mr Morrison and his then Attorney-General Christian Porter.While it was initially thought Mr Cormann knew of the plan, Coalition sources have revealed the former leader of the government in the Senate only learned of Morrison’s move over the weekend, through an extract of new book, Plagued, by Simon Benson and Geoff Chambers, which was published in The Weekend Australian.News.com.au has contacted Mr Morrison, Mr Porter and Mr Cormann, who is currently serving overseas as a diplomat, for comment. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is seeking advice on the constitutional legality of Scott Morrison secretly swearing himself into multiple portfolios.News.com.au revealed on Sunday the former Prime Minister also swore himself in as resources minister in late 2021, and ultimately used the power to roll his own frontbencher, Keith Pitt, over a plan to drill for gas off the New South Wales coast.It was unrelated to the pandemic and did not occur at the same time as the 2020 changes in the health and finance portfolios.While Mr Hunt was aware of the decision, Mr Pitt told colleagues he was not aware until the gas project decision.The Prime Minister’s office has confirmed Mr Albanese has sought advice on the revelations and will have more to say later today.Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten said the revelations were “odd” and suggested a messiah complex.“Goodness me. He was off on a trip. I don’t know if it’s some Messianic complex but this is a serious matter,’’ he told ABC Radio National.“Honestly, I’ve never heard of this. If he felt the need to do this, why not tell people? It’s a very unorthodox manoeuvre.”Nationals leader David Littleproud has described the situation as “pretty ordinary”.“That’s pretty ordinary. As far as I am concerned, if you have a cabinet government you trust your cabinet,’’ he said.“From what I have seen reported this morning Keith wasn’t aware. These were decisions of Scott Morrison and I don’t agree with them.”Government sources have confirmed ministers can be appointed under instrument when ministers are sick for short term administration without the need to tell the Governor-General, but said it was unusual for the prime minister to be appointed.The revelations of Mr Morrison’s decision to assume Mr Pitt’s portfolio and kill the multimillion-dollar proposal off the Newcastle and Sydney coast now threaten to blow up in a legal challenge in the Federal Court.In December of 2021, Mr Morrison announced he was taking the first steps towards killing the gas project.In dispute was a gas exploration area, which is located no further than 50km off the NSW coast, and is known by its title name, Petroleum Exploration Permit 11 or PEP11.It had emerged as a political flashpoint in wealthy, blue-ribbon federal electorates under threat from independents, who didn’t want it built near pristine beaches.Mr Pitt wanted to move ahead with approvals. Mr Morrison did not.It was during this process, when he was presented with a range of options, that the prime minister revealed to Mr Pitt he was secretly sworn in as the minister and could make the decision himself.Mr Pitt was so concerned at the news that he asked for the executive order outlining how two ministers could be sworn into the portfolio, only to discover it did not exist.Coalition sources have told news.com.au Mr Pitt then complained to the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, but was told: “He’s the prime minister”.Multiple former cabinet ministers have told news.com.au they either didn’t understand why it had been done or objected to it.“The problem with Scott is he had this grandiose view of himself,” one former minister said.“And it was kind of weird.”In June, BPH Energy told the stock exchange it had launched a Federal Court challenge to the gas project decision.Advent Energy and subsidiary Asset Energy applied to the Court “to review the decision of the Commonwealth-New South Wales Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority to refuse to vary and suspend the conditions” of PEP-11.Plagued recounts how Mr Morrison “hatched a radical and, until now, secret plan” to take over the health and finance portfolios with then-Attorney-General Christian Porter’s approval.“Porter advised that it could be done through an administrative instrument and didn’t need appointment by the Governor-General, with no constitutional barrier to having two ministers appointed to administer the same portfolio,’’ the book says.“I trust you, mate,” Mr Morrison told health minister Greg Hunt, “but I’m swearing myself in as health minister, too.”The public was never told of the prime minister’s secret arrangement, and the reasons for that secrecy have not been explained.Mr Morrison also swore himself in as finance minister alongside Mr Cormann because he wanted to ensure there were two people who had their hands on the purse strings.“Such a move was without precedent, let alone being done in secret, but the trio saw it as an elegant solution to the problem they were trying to solve – safeguarding against any one minister having absolute power,’’ Benson recounts in Plagued.“One option was to delegate the powers to cabinet, but Attorney-General Christian Porter’s advice was these powers could not be delegated and could reside only with the health minister.“A declaration under section 475 gave Hunt as health minister exclusive and extraordinary powers. He, and only he, could personally make directives that overrode any other law and were not disallowable by parliament. He had authority to direct any citizen in the country to do something, or not do something, to prevent spread of the disease.”Plagued, by Simon Benson and Geoff Chambers, is out on TuesdayRead related topics:Scott Morrison

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