The findings of the inquiry into Scott Morrison’s self-appointment to secret ministries have been released.
Former Supreme Court Justice Virginia Bell says the former prime minister’s actions undermined public trust and were ultimately unnecessary.
Here are some key takeaways from the report.
Morrison considered appointing himself a sixth ministry
In 2020 and 2021, Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to manage the Health, Finance, Treasury, Home Affairs and Industry, Science, Energy and Resources ministries.
Today, Ms Bell’s report revealed Mr Morrison was looking at appointing himself a sixth ministry: the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE).
She said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) directed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to prepare a brief for his appointment to manage the department.
But Mr Morrison did not go through with it.
“Subsequently, Mr Morrison decided not to continue with the appointment to manage DAWE,” the report said.
In the end, Morrison’s appointments were unnecessary
Morrison claims he appointed himself to the positions in response to the demands of the COVID pandemic and as a safeguard in the event the health or finance minister became incapacitated.
However, Ms Bell found the appointments unnecessary.
She said Mr Morrison could have been authorized to act for any of the ministers “within minutes” if he needed to.
PM&C noted that Morrison’s appointments were “somewhat unusual”
Ms Bell said PM&C secretary Phil Gaetjens believed Mr Morrison’s appointment to health and finance was appropriate in the circumstances.
She added that Mr Gaetjens noted that it was “somewhat unusual” that Mr Morrison appointed himself to the other three ministries (Treasury, Home Affairs and Industry, Science, Energy and Resources).
Sir. Morrison used the powers of his appointments only once: to reject an application for a petroleum exploration permit, PEP-11, using powers as head of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
According to the report, Mr Gaetjens believed Mr Morrison was aware the move could face a successful legal challenge before making the decision to reject the application.
Ms Bell said it was worrying that Mr Gaetjens did not take issue with the secrecy surrounding the three additional appointments.
But she said: “The responsibility for this secret must lie with Mr Morrison”.
Criticism of the Governor-General unjustified
The ministerial appointments were each made by the Governor-General, on the advice of Mr Morrison, which is how the government normally works.
Bell said some commentators argued that the governor-general, who was then David Hurley, should have warned Mr Morrison that the appointments were unorthodox and urged him to make them public.
“I consider the criticism of the governor general to be unwarranted,” Bell said.
Morrison spoke to the inquiry through lawyers, issued statement
Twice in the report, Bell said Mr Morrison communicated with her through his lawyers.
At a press conference following the publication of the report today, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese noted Mr Morrison’s use of lawyers.
Albanese said that contradicted Mr Morrison’s earlier comments about cooperating with the investigation.
In a statement following the investigation’s findings, Mr Morrison said others had communicated with Ms Bell through their lawyers.
“I was pleased to assist the inquiry with six separate and comprehensive responses to questions raised with me and my legal representatives by the Hon. Virginia Bell,” he said.
“This engagement was conducted via correspondence, as was the practice with other survey respondents and accepted by the Hon. Virginia Bell.”
Mr Morrison said he welcomed Ms Bell’s recommendations from Bell.
He also noted that “the established authorities were valid and were not found to be illegal”.
Bell finds deals ‘corrosive’ of trust
In her final point about the implications of the ministerial appointments, Ms Bell said they were likely to erode public confidence in the government.
“Finally, the non-disclosure of the appointments tended to undermine public confidence in the government,” she said.
“When the appointments became known, the secrecy with which they had been surrounded eroded confidence in the government.”
So what are the recommendations?
Basically, Ms Bell’s study made six recommendations to better communicate the appointment of ministers to an office. You can read them in full here:
Albanese accepts recommendations, will discuss vote of no confidence
Sir. Albanese says he intended to accept all the recommendations made by Bell at the next cabinet meeting “to restore the faith of the Australian people in our democratic institutions”.
“This is a scathing report which is an indictment of the Morrison government and the culture of silence,” Albanese said.
Asked whether Mr Morrison should resign from parliament, Mr Albanese said “a whole lot of people need to look at their behavior in this”.
Mr Albanese did not rule out Mr Morrison facing a vote of no confidence in parliament, saying he would make any decision during a cabinet meeting next week.
“We will make these decisions over the coming days,” he said.