Ex-Australia PM’s Secret Appointments Eroded Trust, Report Says

(Bloomberg) -- Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly had himself sworn into ministries to ensure he had greater control over his colleagues’ decisions, an inquiry found, saying the actions were “corrosive” of trust in government.

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The report released Friday by former High Court Judge Virginia Bell found Morrison’s 2020 decision to swear himself into the Health and Finance ministries was “unnecessary,” while his decision one year later to add the Treasury and Home Affairs portfolios was an attempt by the Australian leader to control his colleagues.

The Labor government commissioned an inquiry in August into reports that Morrison had been sworn into five portfolios between 2020 and 2021, without the knowledge of his cabinet, the parliament or even the original ministers’ themselves in many cases. The report could deal a blow to Morrison’s Liberal Party, still reeling from losing a May election to Labor after nearly a decade in power.

Bell concluded that Morrison took the extra responsibilities in case the original minister tried to act “in a manner with which Mr. Morrison disagreed, or fail to make a decision that Mr Morrison wanted to be made.” The report said Morrison had made preparations to be sworn into a sixth portfolio before changing his mind.

The former judge recommended new laws to ensure transparency around the appointment of ministers and acting ministers in the future.

Speaking after the report was released, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would enact all six of its recommendations, including public notifications around all ministerial changes. Albanese’s center-left Labor party took government in May after defeating Morrison in a general election.

During a news conference in Canberra on Friday, Albanese accused his predecessor of misleading Parliament. “The actions of the former prime minister were extraordinary, they were unprecedented and they were wrong,” he said.

Morrison posted a response to the report on his Facebook page, where he defended his actions and said they were necessary during a period of “significant crisis” for Australia.

“As Prime Minister, my awareness of issues regarding national security and the national interest was broader than that known to individual Ministers and certainly to the Inquiry.” the post said. “These decisions were taken during an extremely challenging period, where there was a need for considerable urgency.”

(Updates with Morrison statement in final two paragraphs.)

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