Australia: Unrest over secret ministerial positions

Australia: Unrest over secret ministerial positions

According to local media reports, Morrison had taken over the finance, health and resources agendas for the two years before he left power in May 2022 – that is, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The reports speak of “secret”. Traditionally, ministers in Australia are sworn in during a ceremony by the Governor-General, who represents the Queen.

But that was not the case for Morrison, Albanese said. Even senior cabinet members would not know this. Morrison, who was Prime Minister of Australia from 2018 to 2022, only told Sky News that he had not heard or seen Albanese’s remarks: “I have not been involved in day-to-day politics since I left office.”

Government responsibility to announce appointments

Governor General David Hurley said on Monday, according to the BBC, that he had signed a “management act” allowing Morrison to secretly take over the portfolios. A spokesperson for Hurley said it was “consistent with the Constitution”. No swearing-in ceremony was required and the announcement of appointments was the responsibility of the government concerned.

Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) with Anthony Albanese, his successor

AP/Jason Edwards They could still laugh here: But on Monday, Albanese (left) severely criticized his predecessor Morrison (right).

“It is not uncommon for ministers to be appointed to manage departments that are outside their remit,” said Governor General Hurley’s spokesman. Normal procedure was followed and action was taken at the suggestion of the government.

Albanese, on the other hand, said on Monday that such activities should not be tolerated. If, in an undemocratic state, ministerial positions were held in this way, “we would make fun of it”, said the prime minister. “It was a centralization of power by the former prime minister. The Australian people have been left in the dark about what the ministerial agreements are.”

Ministers of Health, Finance and Resources

Meanwhile, local media reported that then-Health Secretary Greg Hunt agreed in 2020 to split his portfolio if he became incapacitated by Covid-19. Furthermore, the aim was to avoid the concentration of power in one person, reported the newspaper “The Australian”. Then-Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, on the other hand, only discovered last week that he had shared the ministerial agenda with Morrison, according to News.com.au.

Morrison was sworn in last year alongside Keith Pitt as second secretary of state for resources, he said. The then prime minister is said to have used his powers to block a controversial oil exploration license in New South Wales – a decision Pitt has contested. He told ABC News that he accepted Morrison’s decision.

Barnaby Joyce, Morrison’s deputy prime minister since June 2021, said he was unaware of the appointments. “I don’t agree. I believe in a cabinet system where ministers are responsible for their own portfolio. We don’t have a presidential form of government,” Joyce said. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also condemned the secrecy surrounding additional ministerial positions. This approach undermines the tradition of parliamentary democracy.