The findings from the investigation into Scott Morrison’s self-appointment to secret ministries have been released.
Former High Court justice Virginia Bell says the former prime minister’s actions undermined public trust and were ultimately unnecessary.
Here are some key takeaways from the report.
Morrison considered appointing himself to a sixth ministry
In 2020 and 2021, Scott Morrison secretly had himself appointed to administer the health, finance, treasury, home affairs and industry, science, energy and resources ministries.
On Friday, Ms Bell’s report revealed Mr Morrison looked at appointing himself to a sixth ministry: the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE).
She said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) instructed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to prepare a brief for his appointment to administer the department.
But Mr Morrison did not go through with it.
“Subsequently, Mr Morrison decided not to proceed with the appointment to administer DAWE,” the report says.
Ultimately, Morrison’s appointments were unnecessary
Mr Morrison argues he appointed himself to the positions in response to the demands of the COVID pandemic and as a safeguard in case the health or finance minister became incapacitated.
However, Ms Bell found that the appointments were unnecessary.
She said Mr Morrison could have been authorised to act for any of either ministers “in a matter of minutes” if he needed to.
PM&C noted Morrison’s appointments were ‘somewhat unusual’
Ms Bell said secretary of PM&C Phil Gaetjens thought Mr Morrison’s appointment as health and finance were appropriate considering the circumstances.
She added that Mr Gaetjens noted it was “somewhat unusual” that Mr Morrison appointed himself to the other three ministries (treasury, home affairs and industry, science, energy and resources).
Mr Morrison only used the powers of his appointments once: to refuse an application for a petroleum exploration licence, PEP-11, using powers as head of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
According to the report, Mr Gaetjens considered that Mr Morrison was aware that the move could face a successful legal challenge before he made the decision to refuse the application.
Ms Bell said it was troubling that Mr Gaetjens did not take issue with the secrecy surrounding the three additional appointments.
But she said: “the responsibility for that secrecy must reside with Mr Morrison”.
Criticism of governor-general unwarranted
The ministry appointments were each made by the governor-general, acting on the advice of Mr Morrison, which is how the government usually operates.
Ms Bell said some commentators argued that the governor-general, who at the time was David Hurley, should have warned Mr Morrison that the appointments were unorthodox and encouraged him to make them public.
“I consider the criticism of the governor-general to be unwarranted,” Ms Bell said.
Morrison spoke to the inquiry through lawyers, issues statement
Twice in the report, Ms Bell said Mr Morrison communicated with her through his lawyers.
In a press conference following the release of the report on Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese noted Mr Morrison’s use of lawyers.
Mr Albanese said that contradicted Mr Morrison’s earlier comments about cooperating with the investigation.
In a statement following the inquiry’s findings, Mr Morrison said others had communicated with Ms Bell through their lawyers.
“I was pleased to assist the inquiry with six separate and comprehensive responses to matters raised with me and my legal representatives by Hon. Virginia Bell,” he said.
“This engagement was done via correspondence as was the practice with other respondents to the inquiry and accepted by Hon. Virginia Bell.”
Mr Morrison said he welcomed the recommendations made by Ms Bell.
He also noted that “the authorities established were valid and were not found to be unlawful”.
Bell finds appointments ‘corrosive’ of trust
In her final point about the implications of the ministerial appointments, Ms Bell said they were likely to erode public confidence in government.
“Finally, the lack of disclosure of the appointments to the public was apt to undermine public confidence in government,” she said.
“Once the appointments became known, the secrecy with which they had been surrounded was corrosive of trust in government.”
So, what are the recommendations?
Basically, Ms Bell’s inquiry made six recommendations to better communicate the appointment of ministers to an office. You can read them in full here:
Albanese accepts recommendations, will discuss censure motion
Mr Albanese says he intended to accept all the recommendations made by Ms Bell at the next meeting of cabinet “to restore the Australian people’s faith in our democratic institutions”.
“This is a scathing report, which is an indictment on the Morrison government and the culture of secrecy,” Mr Albanese said.
When asked if Mr Morrison should resign from parliament, Mr Albanese said “a whole lot of people need to look at their behaviour in this”.
Mr Albanese didn’t rule out Mr Morrison facing a censure motion in parliament, saying any decision would me made during a cabinet meeting next week.
“We will make those decisions over coming days,” he said.