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Here’s an explainer on the drama around Scott Morrison and his multiple portfolios

Emma Xerri

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Here’s an explainer on the drama around Scott Morrison and his multiple portfolios

Scott Morrison has admitted to swearing himself in as a Minister to several portfolios other than Prime Minister during the pandemic. 

The then-leader was involved in roles related to the the Health, Finance, Home Affairs, Treasury, Social Services, and Industry, Science, Energy and Resources portfolios.

The Governor-General appoints ministers to particular portfolios and swears them in, under section 64 of the Constitution.

This should occur publicly and will typically take place when a new ministry is being sworn in.

These ministerial changes are then published in the Commonwealth Gazette and on the Federal Register of Legislation.

There have also been claims that the Attorney-General found a way to eliminate the Governor-General from the process, and make changes through an administrative order.

Scott Morrison has addressed the media and explained that these decisions were made during a particularly hectic time in Australia's history.

Scott Morrison at church. Credit: Richard Milnes / Alamy Stock Photo
Scott Morrison at church. Credit: Richard Milnes / Alamy Stock Photo

"I believed it was a prudent, responsible action in the middle of a crisis to have those emergency powers in place," he said.

"To ensure that I could exercise the expectations of my responsibilities, which I remind you, was put to me on a daily basis by members of the media [and] by the Opposition.

"[They were] constantly telling me that I was responsible for everything, even the actions of state premiers and decisions that they were taking, and that I should be able to override them.

"And to this day people still make the argument, why I didn't exercise some sort of non-existent prime ministerial authority over the states and territories? So this is something I dealt with everyday."

Whilst it has been claimed that the Health Minister supported this, the same cannot be said for the Finance Minister and the Resources Minister, with the then resources Minister Keith Pitt 'shocked' to learn that Mr Morrison had been secretly sworn in as a second minister in his own portfolio.

The administrative order supposedly used by the Governor-General is known as an Administrative Arrangements Order, and details the jurisdiction of particular parliamentary departments and their relevant minister. 

These orders are formed by the Governor-General under the advice of the Federal Executive Council, and are then published on the Federal Register of Legislation for access by the public. 

However, no Administrative Arrangements Order allocates the administration of the Health, Finance or Resources legislation to the Prime Minister.

The only way Morrison could exercise these powers was if he was also appointed, or acting, as the Minister of these multiple portfolios.

Australia's PM Scott Morrison. Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Stock Photo
Australia's PM Scott Morrison. Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Stock Photo

Particularly in the high stakes environment of a pandemic, there is always a need for another minister to be able to exercise a minister’s powers.

According to section 19(4) of the Acts Interpretation Act, reference to a Minister in an Act can include a reference to another Minister who is acting on behalf of the first minister.

But, unlike the case at hand, this typically occurs when the first minister is unavailable.

It is therefore different from the scenario of the prime minister simultaneously having the same powers as the pre-existing ministers.

But another recount of events states that Morrison was in fact sworn in as Minister for Resources by the Governor-General on April 15 2021, stating that evidence was presented to court by the Commonwealth government.

It has since been confirmed the Governor-General did appoint the Prime Minister to administer other ministerial portfolios.

Unfortunately, this revelation shows a total lack of transparency and a blatant disregard for the government and the general public, who have the right to be informed of the allocation of power in government. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called on his predecessor to apologise.

"How about an apology to the Australian people? The Australian people went to an election not knowing that any of this had occurred," he said.

"Not knowing that there was a shadow government operating in darkness, without transparency.

"A clear misleading of the Parliament, whereby parliamentarians and ministers are held to account for areas in which they have responsibility."

Featured Image Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Sipa USA

Topics: Australia

Emma Xerri
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