CANBERRA, Australia — Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Tuesday accused his predecessor Scott Morrison of “destroying democracy” after revealing that while Morrison was in power, he filled five ministerial posts without the knowledge of most other lawmakers or the public. .
Albanese said Morrison had acted in secret, keeping the Australian people in the dark and misleading parliament about who was responsible for which portfolios.
“It was a government of deception,” Albanese said.
In addition to the revelations, first published over the weekend by News Corp., Albanese said that between March 2020 and May 2021, Morrison was appointed secretary of health, finance, interior, finance and industry – moves that appear to , gave Morrison equal powers with ministers already appointed to these positions.
“It is quite astonishing that the Morrison government has kept these appointments secret from the Australian people,” Albanese told reporters in Canberra.
Speaking on Sydney radio station 2GB, Morrison defended taking the additional portfolios, saying they were safeguards during the coronavirus pandemic and that he would make the appointments public if he needed to use the powers.
“Sometimes we forget what happened two years ago and the situation we were dealing with. It was an unconventional time and an unprecedented time,” Morrison told the radio station.
He drew attention to the hospitalization of the then British Prime Minister with the coronavirus.
“Boris Johnson almost died one night,” Morrison said. “Our ministers were sick with COVID.”
Morrison used his additional powers on at least one occasion to overturn former minister Keith Pitt’s decision to approve a controversial gas project off the New South Wales coast.
In a statement, Pitt said he was unaware that Morrison was jointly overseeing his ministerial portfolio and that he supported the decisions he made at the time.
In a more detailed account posted on Facebook later on Tuesday, Morrison wrote that the gas project was the only thing he was directly involved in and that “I believe I made the right decision in the national interest.”
Morrison said he “apologies for any offense caused to my colleagues”.
But Karen Andrews, who was Home Secretary under Morrison, said Morrison never told her he was also being appointed to the portfolio. She said Morrison, who remains in parliament on the opposition benches, should resign.
“The Australian people have been let down, betrayed,” she said. “For a former prime minister to behave in this way, secretly sworn in to other portfolios, to undermine the Westminster system, is completely unacceptable.”
Albanese said he is seeking the solicitor general’s opinion on the legality of some of Morrison’s moves, including the gas project, and expects to receive it Monday.
“This is a sad indictment not only of Mr Morrison but of all his Cabinet colleagues who sat back and allowed this to happen. It’s undermined our democracy, it’s an attack on the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy as we know it,” Albanese said. “And not only Mr Morrison, but others who were involved must be held accountable.”
Morrison’s moves have legal scholars scratching their heads.
Professor Anne Toomey, a constitutional law expert at the University of Sydney, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. it was reasonable that Morrison would want a second person to take over if the first person was incapacitated.
But she said any ministerial appointments would normally be recorded and published in the Government Gazette.
“Doing things like this in secret? It’s very, very strange,” Toomey said.
Morrison’s moves were signed by Governor-General David Hurley.
A spokesman for Hurley said the governor-general followed constitutional processes.
“It is not uncommon for ministers to be appointed to manage departments other than their portfolio,” the press secretary said in a statement. “These appointments do not require a swearing-in ceremony. The Governor-General signs an administrative act on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.”
Morrison was Prime Minister at the time he gave this advice.