Reuters- By Kirsty Needham
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends the third leaders’ debate at the Seven Network Studios during the 2022 federal election campaign, in Sydney, Australia May 11, 2022. Mick Tsikas/Pool via REUTERS
SYDNEY, Aug 16 (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his predecessor Scott Morrison had “undermined our democracy” by secretly appointing himself minister for home affairs and treasury during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the health, finance and resources portfolios previously revealed.
After a review of the matter by the Prime Minister’s department, Albanese told reporters Morrison had taken on the health and finance portfolios in March 2020, home affairs and treasury in May 2021, and resources in April 2021.
“Its completely extraordinary that these appointments were kept secret by the Morrison government from the Australian people,” he said.
Albanese will receive legal advice on the issue from the solicitor general on Monday, and said he was critical of the Morrison government for allowing a centralisation of power by the prime minister.
“I cannot conceive of the way that the government has functioned … whereby they said that, ‘I’m the prime minister of Australia and I’d also like to be in charge of health, finance, treasury, industry, science, home affairs, resources’.”
Former home affairs minister Karen Andrews said she had no knowledge that Morrison also held the role, and called for Morrison to resign from parliament, The Australian newspaper reported.
“This undermines the integrity of government,” Andrews, a Liberal Party lawmaker, said after Albanese’s press conference.
Morrison earlier on Tuesday defended taking on extra ministerial roles without his cabinet’s knowledge during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it was “an unprecedented time” and that the powers served as a safeguard.
Morrison’s actions have also drawn criticism from his Liberal Party’s coalition partner, the National Party, and former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, as undermining Westminster parliamentary traditions.
Morrison, who lost office in a national election in May, said in a radio interview on Tuesday he didn’t make the arrangements public because they were a safeguard only and the ministerial powers for health and finance were not triggered.
“We had to take some extraordinary measures to put safeguards in place,” he told radio station 2GB, likening it to having two keys on a nuclear submarine.
Morrison said it was an “oversight” and “regrettable” that the finance minister was not informed his role had been duplicated.
The resources minister role he took on in 2021 was different, he said, because he had used the power to stop approval for a gas exploration project off the coast of Australia which was opposed by local communities. The decision is being challenged in court.
“I sought to be the decision maker on that one because of its importance,” he said.
Albanese said it was concerning that two people had responsibility for the resources portfolio and had different positions on matters.
Not tabling in parliament who was responsible for ministerial portfolios was “a very clear breach of the obligations that the prime minister has to the parliament”, he told ABC radio earlier on Tuesday.
Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Sam Holmes
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