Australia publishes messages to prevent repetition of power grab

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An investigation into a former Australian prime minister who secretly appointed himself to multiple ministries on Friday recommended making all such appointments public in the future to maintain confidence in the government.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would recommend his cabinet accept all recommendations from the retired judge next week.

Albanese ordered the inquiry in August following revelations that his predecessor, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, had taken the unprecedented steps to appoint himself to five ministerial positions between March 2020 and May 2021, mostly without the knowledge of the existing minister.

The extraordinary power grab came to light after Morrison’s Conservative coalition was voted out in May after nine years in power.

His unprecedented moves are seen as part of a wider trend in Australian politics to concentrate power within a leader’s office at the expense of Britain’s Westminster tradition of delegating responsibilities among ministers.

Albanians blamed a culture of secrecy within the former government for its leader’s extraordinary accumulation of personal power.

“We are shining sunlight on a shadow government that preferred to operate in the dark, a government that operated in a cult of secrecy and a culture of cover that arrogantly dismissed parliamentary and public scrutiny as mere inconvenience,” Albanese told reporters. .

“The former prime minister’s actions were extraordinary, they were unprecedented and they were wrong,” Albanese added.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Virginia Bell recommended in her inquiry that laws be created to require public notices of ministerial appointments to be published, as well as the division of ministerial responsibilities.

Morrison cooperated with the investigation through his lawyers, but did not personally testify.

Morrison, who is now an opposition legislator, claims he gave himself the health, finance, finance, resources and home affairs portfolios as a stopgap measure necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Morrison said his awareness of national security and national interest issues as prime minister was broader than that of an individual minister or Bell’s investigation.

“As Prime Minister, I sought to exercise my responsibilities in a manner that would best promote and protect Australia’s national interests and the well-being of the Australian people,” Morrison said in a statement on Friday.

“This was done at a time of great challenges not seen since World War II and the Great Depression,” Morrison added.

Bell found there was no need to make Morrison a duplicate minister because an acting minister could be appointed within minutes of the original minister becoming incapacitated by COVID-19.

Bell found that the reason Morrison appointed himself to most portfolios was his concern that “a sitting minister would be exercising his or her statutory powers in a way that Mr. Morrison disagreed with”.

His only use of the secret powers had nothing to do with the pandemic. He overturned a decision by former Resources Minister Keith Pitt to approve a controversial gas drilling project near Sydney’s north coast that would have hurt his government’s re-election chances.

Asset Energy, a company behind the project, is challenging Morrison’s decision in federal court.

Asset accuses Morrison of bias and failure to provide procedural justice when he blocked the project in March, court documents show.

The Albanians declined to comment on Morrison’s decision on Friday because the case was before the courts.

Bell found that Morrison also wanted the power of former treasurer Josh Frydenberg to block foreign investment in Australia that was not in the national interest, and the power of former Home Secretary Karen Andrews to revoke the citizenship of dual national extremists. Pull.

Morrison also considered giving himself a sixth ministerial portfolio — for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment — but fell through with the appointment, Bell reported. His reasons for not continuing were not explained.

Bell found that there had been no delineation of responsibilities between the various ministers and that there was a risk of conflict if two ministers wanted to exercise the same power in different ways. Department bosses were unaware that they were accountable to more than one minister.

Frydenberg, who had been Morrison’s deputy leader of the Liberal Party, was voted out in the May elections without knowing that the prime minister had also been a second treasurer.

Frydenberg described Morrison taking on the treasury portfolio as “extreme overreach,” in an interview published Friday by Fairfax Media.

Bell found that the secrecy surrounding Morrison’s appointments would “undermine public confidence in the government” and would “undermine confidence in the government”.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton has previously said that he and Morrison’s Liberal Party would support legislation that would prevent a repeat of such a secret accumulation of power.

Albanian’s centre-left Labor Party came to power in the last election on promises of greater government transparency and accountability.

A bill to create a National Anti-Corruption Commission, a watchdog to investigate serious or systematic corruption within the public sector, passed the House of Representatives on Thursday and is expected to pass the Senate next week.

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