Morrison’s Secret Portfolio Appointments ‘Unnecessary’: Bell Report

Former Supreme Court Justice Virginia Bell concluded that it was “unnecessary” for Morrison to appoint himself as the undisclosed Secretary of Treasury and Health.

Morrison defended his actions in a statement posted on Facebook, saying they were done to “advance and protect Australia’s national interests and the well-being of the Australian people as best we can”. He also noted that the investigation showed that he had not acted illegally.

Scott Morrison apologized
Scott Morrison apologized “for any wrongdoing” as he secretly appointed himself to five ministerial portfolios. (Nick Moir)

However, he did not specifically address Bell’s descriptions of his behavior, which the former Supreme Court justice called “disturbing”, “unnecessary” and “undermining confidence in the government”.

Instead, Morrison responded more broadly, saying his “decisions were made at an extremely challenging period, requiring great urgency”.

But Bell rejected that argument.

“Had Mr Hunt or Mr Cormann been incapacitated and it was desired for a senior minister to exercise the expansive human biosecurity powers of the Secretary of Health or the key financial authorities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Morrison could have been authorized to act as health minister or finance minister in minutes,” she wrote.

Bell concluded that the secrecy surrounding the ministerial appointments “could undermine public confidence in the government”.

“When the nominations came out, the secrecy surrounding them eroded confidence in the government,” she wrote.

Bell recommended that an Acting Minister’s authorization be published in the Commonwealth Gazette as soon as possible.

Scott Morrison has secretly sworn himself to various ministries.
Scott Morrison has secretly sworn himself to various ministries. (Nick Moir)

Morrison told Bell through a legal representative that he assumed the swearing-in of five ministerial portfolios would be published in the Commonwealth Gazette.

This despite also saying he didn’t tell the ministers because he didn’t want them to doubt themselves.

“It is difficult to reconcile with Mr Morrison’s choice not to inform his ministers of the appointments because he does not want to give the impression that he is putting them in second place,” he said.

“Any idea that the gazette of the prime minister’s appointment to administer the treasury would not be picked up and quickly circulated within the public service and parliament seems to me extremely unlikely.

“The omission to mention that he had at all times acted on the assumption that each appointment had been made public in the Gazette is striking.”

In response to that criticism of his secrecy, Morrison said he “discussed these issues privately with my colleagues at the time these issues were reported several months ago.”

The Bell report also revealed for the first time that Morrison was also seeking to appoint himself Secretary of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

Morrison ultimately decided not to take over that portfolio.

Bell concluded that criticism of Governor General David Hurley for failing to warn Morrison about the secret appointments was “baseless”.

Speaking to the media in Canberra following the publication of the Bell Report, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese criticized the former government’s “cult of secrecy”.

Anthony Albanese has criticized the 'culture of secrecy' in the Morrison administration.
Anthony Albanese has criticized the “cult of secrecy” in Morrison’s government. (Alex Ellinghausen)

Morrison did not agree to meet with Virginia Bell and communicated only through his lawyers, he said.

“That contradicts the very clear statement Mr Morrison said when this investigation was announced.”

Albanese said he would recommend that the cabinet adopt all of Bell’s recommendations.

“The Australian public has a right to this kind of information,” Albanese said.

“We are operating as a mature, orderly government, which is in stark contrast to the chaos of the previous administration.”

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Albanese said any decision to censure Morrison would be taken by the cabinet.

“I lead a government that cooperates,” he said.

“It is very clear that this is a damning report that is an indictment of the Morrison government.

“What was the culture that allowed this to thrive?”

He denounced other members of the Morrison ministry who knew about the secret portfolios but did not make them public.

Albanian did not directly answer whether he thought Morrison should step down from parliament, where he remains a member of Cook’s electorate.

Scott Morrison remains MP.
Scott Morrison remains MP. (Alex Ellinghausen)

“I think a lot of people need to look at their behavior in this,” he said.

“It is clear that every day he stood there he misled parliament.

“He has misled the Australian people.”

Albanians also questioned the behavior of the then head of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department, Phil Gaetjens.

“Phil Gaetjens comes out of the report with questions that need to be asked,” Albanese said.

“Why has no appropriate handbrake been put forward, particularly by the head of the prime minister and cabinet?”

Asked if he wanted the yet-to-be-established national anti-corruption commission to investigate Morrison, Albanese said the commission would be independent.

He was referring to former treasurer Josh Frydenberg seeking an apology after Morrison swore himself into the portfolio without his knowledge.

Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg in Parliament.
Josh Frydenberg was unaware that Scott Morrison had secretly appointed himself treasurer. (Getty)

‘That does not interest me. Where’s the apology to the Australian people?’ Albanian said.

“That’s who we’re accountable to.”

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