Scott Morrison: Former Australian PM held secret cabinet roles and ruled ‘in the shadows’

·3-min read
File: Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison speaks beside his daughter at a Liberal election night after the Australian general election in Sydney on 21 May 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)
File: Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison speaks beside his daughter at a Liberal election night after the Australian general election in Sydney on 21 May 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese accused his predecessor Scott Morrison of governing “in the shadows” following reports that he secretly held three portfolios during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Albanese says he has sought legal advice from the solicitor general after it was reported that Mr Morrison made himself a joint minister for the health, finance and resources portfolios while he was prime minister, before finally losing power in a convincing election defeat in May.

According to the reports, some of his own cabinet, including finance minister Mathias Cormann, were not informed about him jointly holding the office.

Earlier on Monday, governor-general David Hurley, the Queen’s representative in Australia, confirmed that he had allowed Mr Morrison to secretly take the offices by authorising it through an “administrative instrument”.

It was “consistent with section 64 of the constitution,” a spokesperson was quoted as saying.

While ministers are traditionally sworn in at a public ceremony by the governor-general, this does not happen in the case of additional roles, reported Reuters. The governor-general’s office said that any decision about publicising the sharing of roles was the responsibility of the government in power.

"It is not uncommon for ministers to be appointed to administer departments other than their portfolio responsibility," the spokesperson for the governor-general’s secretary said.

The revelation that the portfolios were held in secret drew condemnation from the current prime minister, who slammed his predecessor for governing “in the shadows”.

"This was a centralisation of power by the former prime minister," Mr Albanese said. "This isn’t some, you know, local footy club. This is a government of Australia, where the people of Australia were kept in the dark as to what the ministerial arrangements were, it’s completely unacceptable."

Asked about this reaction in an interview, Mr Morrison – who served as the country’s prime minister between 2018 and 2022 – said he was not aware of the comments made by Mr Albanese, adding that since leaving the job he has not “engaged in any day-to-day politics”.

Then-finance minister Mr Cormann and Barnaby Joyce, Mr Morrison’s deputy from June 2021, denied having prior knowledge about the appointments.

Mr Cormann told News.com.au he learnt about sharing his office with Mr Morrison only last week, while Mr Joyce slammed his former boss’s decision.

"I found out about it, and I disagree with it. I believe in a cabinet system of government where ministers are responsible for their own portfolio. We don’t have a presidential form of government," Mr Joyce told Channel 7.

According to ABC News, then-health minister Greg Hunt had agreed to share the portfolio in the event of being incapacitated by Covid-19 infection.

Nationals MP Keith Pitt, who served as resources minister under Mr Morrison, told the outlet that though he “made [an] inquiry” about the appointment, he ultimately accepted Mr Morrison’s decision.

He added that the then-prime minister, appointed as a second resources minister last year, used the to block a controversial petroleum exploration licence in New South Wales.

"These revelations do raise into question our Westminster system of government," said Bridget McKenzie, the Nationals leader in the upper house.

"Who is the senior minister? What if they disagreed?" she asked ABC.

Calling the news “disappointing”, David Littleproud, the leader of the National party which is also the coalition partner of Mr Morrison’s Liberals, said a prime minister should put their trust in the cabinet that they appoint.

Additional reporting by agencies