Morrison’s secret portfolio appointments ‘unnecessary’: Bell report

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Former Supreme Court Justice Virginia Bell concluded that it was “unnecessary” for Morrison to appoint himself as Secret Secretary for Finance and Health.

Scott Morrison apologized 'for any offence' when he secretly appointed himself to five ministerial portfolios.
Scott Morrison apologized “for any offence” when he secretly appointed himself to five ministerial portfolios. (Nick Moir)

But Bell rejected that argument.

“If Mr Hunt or Mr Cormann had become incapacitated and it was desired to have a senior minister exercise the health minister’s expansive human biosecurity powers or the finance minister’s significant financial authorities, Mr Morrison could have been allowed to act as health minister or minister to Finance in minutes,” she wrote.

Bell concluded that the secrecy surrounding the ministerial appointments was “suited to undermine public confidence in the government”.

“When the appointments became known, the secrecy with which they had been surrounded eroded confidence in the government,” she wrote.

Bell recommended that the approval of an Acting Minister should be published as soon as possible in the Commonwealth Gazette.

Scott Morrison secretly swore himself into various ministries.
Scott Morrison secretly swore himself into various ministries. (Nick Moir)

Morrison told Bell through a legal representative that he assumed being sworn into five ministerial portfolios would be published in the Commonwealth Gazette.

This is despite him also saying he didn’t tell ministers because he didn’t want them second-guessing themselves.

“It is difficult to reconcile Mr Morrison’s choice not to inform his ministers of the appointments with his desire not to be seen to be second-guessing them,” he said.

“Any idea that the paper about the Prime Minister’s appointment to run the Treasury would not be picked up and quickly circulated in the public service and Parliament seems to me extremely unlikely.

“The omission to state that he had at all times acted on the assumption that every appointment had been notified to the public in the Gazette is striking.”

The Bell report also revealed for the first time that Morrison was also seeking to appoint himself Minister for Agriculture, Water and Environment.

Morrison ultimately decided not to take on that portfolio.

Bell concluded that criticism of Governor-General David Hurley for not warning Morrison against the secret appointments was “unfounded”.

Speaking to the media in Canberra following the release of the Bell report, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese criticized the previous government’s “cult of secrecy”.

Anthony Albanese has criticized the 'culture of secrecy' in the Morrison government.
Anthony Albanese has criticized the “culture of secrecy” in the Morrison government. (Alex Ellinghausen)

“Mr Morrison did not agree to meet with Virginia Bell and only communicated through his lawyers,” he said.

“It contradicts the very clear statement Mr Morrison made when this inquiry was announced.”

Albanese said he would recommend to the cabinet that all of Bell’s recommendations be adopted.

“The Australian public has a right to know this kind of information,” Albanese said.

“We operate as a mature, orderly government, and that contrasts with the chaos of the previous government.”

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Albanese said any decision to criticize Morrison would be decided by the cabinet.

“I lead a government that cooperates,” he said.

“It is very clear that this is a scathing report which is an indictment of the Morrison government.

“What was the culture that allowed this to thrive?”

He slammed other members of the Morrison ministry who knew about the secret portfolios but did not reveal them to the public.

Albanese did not directly answer whether he thought Morrison should resign from parliament, where he remains a member of the electorate of Cook.

Scott Morrison remains a member of Parliament.
Scott Morrison remains a member of Parliament. (Alex Ellinghausen)

“I think a whole lot of people need to look at their behavior in this,” he said.

“He clearly misled Parliament every single day he was there.

“He has misled the Australian people.”

Albanese also questioned the behavior of the then head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens.

“Phil Gaetjens comes out of the report with questions that need to be asked,” Albanese said.

“Why wasn’t an appropriate handbrake put forward, especially by the head of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?”

Asked if he wanted the yet-to-be-created National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Morrison, Albanese said the commission would be independent.

He was referring to former treasurer Josh Frydenberg seeking an apology after Morrison swore himself into the portfolio without his knowledge.

Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg in Parliament.
Josh Frydenberg did not know that Scott Morrison had secretly appointed himself Treasurer. (Getty)

“It’s of no interest to me. Where’s the apology to the Australian people?” Albanese said.

“That’s who we’re accountable to.”

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