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Scott Morrison also tried to be environment minister. Here’s his response to the secret ministries report

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  • A report into Scott Morrison’s secret ministries found he sought advice on adding a sixth portfolio to the list.
  • The report by former High Court judge Virginia Bell found the actions were “corrosive of trust in government”.
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the government will implement all six report recommendations.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison on Friday issued a renewed defense of his decision to secretly swear himself into five cabinet portfolios, and seek advice on adding a sixth ministry to the list.
The response follows the release of a three-month inquiry by former High Court justice Virginia Bell which made six recommendations to improve transparency and accountability.

The 159-page report found the secrecy surrounding the appointments was likely to undermine public confidence in government and was “corrosive of trust in government”.

The findings reaffirmed the conclusion of the solicitor-general in August that Mr Morrison had not broken any laws, but breached the .
In a lengthy Facebook post, Mr Morrison said he was “pleased to assist the inquiry” through his lawyers and he noted the report reaffirmed that his actions were “not found to be unlawful”.

He again repeated his position that – even amid the challenge of the pandemic – he “at all times … sought to exercise my responsibilities in a manner that would best advance and protect Australia’s national interests and the welfare of the Australian people”.

He added that: “no powers were exercised under these authorities, except in the case of the PEP11 decision, or misused”.
The details of the PEP11 case is being examined in the federal court, where Asset Energy is challenging Mr Morrison’s decision not to grant a license on offshore petroleum exploration off the NSW coast between Newcastle and Wollongong.
Mr Morrison between March 2020 and May 2021, including Health, Finance, Home Affairs, Treasury, and Industry, Science and Energy and Resources.

Advice sought on a sixth portfolio

Ms Bell’s report revealed Mr Morrison had also sought advice to administer a sixth portfolio – the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment – but decided not to proceed with the appointment.
Mr Morrison told the inquiry, through his lawyers, that decisions to administer the health and finance portfolios were made “under the extreme pressure of responding to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic”, in case the acting ministers Greg Hunt or Mathias Cormann became incapacitated.

Ms Bell found the appointments were unnecessary, given Mr Morrison “could have been authorized to act as Minister for Health or Minister for Finance in a matter of minutes”.

She said his other ministerial appointments had “little if any connection to the pandemic”.
She added that Mr Morrison’s evidence to the inquiry that he believed the appointments would be disclosed on the government gazette was “difficult to reconcile” with his decision not to tell his ministerial colleagues.

The report found Mr Morrison only exercised his new statutory powers once, to block a petroleum exploration license that had been approved by then-resources minister Keith Pitt.

‘Undermined public confidence in government’

Given Mr Morrison’s appointments were not disclosed to the parliament or public, Ms Bell found the lack of disclosure “undermined public confidence in government”.
“Once the appointments became known, the secrecy with which they had been surrounded was corrosive of trust in government,” the report stated.
In his response on Friday, Mr Morrison said he believed the actions would be published in the Government Gazette and that he had not issued any instructions preventing that from happening.

“There is no consistent or well understood process for publication of the establishment of authorities to administer departments in the Government Gazette or otherwise,” he said.

Government to adopt all report recommendations

Former treasurer Josh Frydenberg earlier on Friday broke his silence on the secret appointments in an upcoming book by political journalist Niki Savva.
Mr Frydenberg said Mr Morrison’s self-appointment to his portfolio was “wrong and profoundly disappointing” and an “extreme overreach”.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said whether Mr Morrison owed Mr Frydenberg an apology was “of no interest” to him.

“But he does owe an apology to the Australian people that were clearly misled,” he said.

He said the government would move to adopt all six report recommendations in advice to the cabinet next week.
“The actions of the former prime minister were extraordinary, they were unprecedented, and they were wrong,” he said.
“We’re shining sunlight on a shadow government that preferred to operate in darkness, a government that operated in a cult of secrecy and a culture of cover-up, which arrogantly dismissed scrutiny from the parliament and public as a mere inconvenience.”

The six recommendations include legislating a requirement for a public notice on the appointment of ministers, and the creation of a public website to detail ministerial appointments.

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