Scott Morrisons secret ministries legal but undermine responsible govt: Top lawyer

Australian government’s top lawyer stated that although former PM Scott Morrison’s covert additions to the ministry were legal, they “fundamentally undermined” accountable government. Australia’s solicitor general, Stephen Donaghue, called on the government to fix “deficient” rules around the disclosure of appointments that allowed Morrison to keep his five extra ministries hidden in advice released on August 23.

Anthony Albanese, the Australian prime minister, told reporters in Canberra that Morrison should apologise to the Australian people because the advice “goes to our very system of government” and the controversy can’t “just be dismissed.” Albanese revealed that he had asked his department to close the disclosure gap and that the cabinet had approved an investigation into the “implications” of Morrison’s actions.

Former Australian PM’s secret ministries were first revealed in the book Plagued, which stated that he had been sworn in to administer the health department alongside Greg Hunt in March 2020. Albanese revealed last week that Morrison headed five additional ministries of health, finance, industry, science, energy and resources, Treasury, and home affairs over the course of a 14-month period.

Morrison’s secret ministries should face severe political consequences: Marles

On the morning of August 23, Richard Marles, Australia’s deputy prime minister, promised to close a loophole that currently exempts appointments from disclosure, saying that Morrison’s secret ministries should face “severe political consequences.” Albanese accused Morrison of “misleading” the parliament on August 16. However, experts have pointed out that, despite common practice, standing orders do not mandate that the parliament be informed of ministerial changes.

According to The Guardian, the country’s shadow home affairs minister Karen Andrews has urged Morrison to resign from office, and Liberal MP Bridget Archer has also made a similar call to former Australian PM. The Greens have called for an investigation to look into the public service and the role of the governor general, and cross-bencher MPs have also pushed for Morrison to be referred to the privileges committee of parliament.

In response to a question about whether the government would back a motion of censure against Morrison, Albanese said the government “will make those decisions when parliament sits.” Donaghue came to the conclusion in the advice that Morrison had been “validly appointed” to lead the department of industries, science, energy, and resources as of April 15, 2021, as disclosure of the appointment was not necessary for it to be effective.

It is “impossible for parliament and the public to hold ministers accountable for the proper administration of particular departments if the identity of the ministers who have been appointed to administer those departments is not made public,” according to Donaghue. This conclusion “does not depend,” according to the solicitor general, on whether or how frequently Morrison used his authority.

Image: AP

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