Former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison Wednesday said it was "necessary" for him to have additional ministerial powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Morrison has been accused of undermining Australian democracy by secretly appointing himself to five senior ministries without the knowledge of most of his government colleagues.
Scott Morrison said he was secretly sworn into five ministerial portfolios — home affairs, treasury, health, finance and resources between 2020 and 2021 — because he was “steering the ship” of government during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morrison lost power in May’s federal election. His successor, Anthony Albanese, has led an increasingly intense chorus of criticism of the former leader’s actions, condemning them as “unacceptable” and “weird.”
Albanese said Morrison had undermined the British-style Westminster system of government.
However, Morrison told reporters Wednesday that he had acted in the national interest.
“I believed it was necessary to have authority, to have what were effectively emergency powers, to exercise in extreme situations that would be unforeseen, that would enable me to act in the national interest,” he said.
Few of Morrison’s former Cabinet colleagues were aware of his appointment to several key ministerial roles.
Media reports have revealed Australia’s most senior intelligence officers were also unaware of what has been described as a “clandestine power grab.”
Former Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews, who served in Morrison’s cabinet, has called on Morrison to resign from federal parliament for his “disgraceful behavior.”
Experts believe that although unusual and seemingly unethical, Morrison’s actions are not likely to be unconstitutional.
Stewart Jackson, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Sydney, says it is an extraordinary chapter in Australian politics.
“Here we have a prime minister trying to set himself up as, if you like, president. You know, we do not live in a presidential system, we do not elect the prime minister directly. So, it is very strange and a very interesting and flagrant abuse of the conventions. He has just ignored them. I do not think it is necessarily illegal, but, yes, it is certainly bizarre behavior,” he said.
The revelations of Morrison’s secret ministerial appointments came to light though a biography being written on the former prime minister.
Morrison said he did not tell his cabinet colleagues because he would only use the powers in an emergency.
His explanation hasn’t convinced his doubters. Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers said Wednesday Morrison’s behavior was “dictatorial.”