Scott Morrison cannot recall if he was sworn into more ministries than health, finance and resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The former PM has been blasted for secretly appointing himself with ministerial powers in several portfolios in what he describes as a ‘safeguard’ during the crisis.
Speaking to 2GB on Tuesday morning, Mr Morrison said he was probably not sworn into more portfolios but could not be sure.
‘There are no other portfolios that I’m aware of but there may have been others that were done administratively,’ he said.
Scott Morrison has said he cannot recall if he was sworn into more ministries than health, finance and resources during the Covid-19 pandemic
During the interview a story broke online that Mr Morrison was also sworn into the Social Services portfolio on June 28, 2021.
Fordham asked Mr Morrison about this and the former PM replied: ‘Ben I don’t recall that but as I said there were some administrative issues.
‘My answer for all of these is the same, we were dealing with incredible amounts of money… I’m happy if there are others to be put out there… I did it to try and exercise my responsibilities as Prime Minister.’
Asked why he did not inform the public that he had taken on additional roles, Mr Morrison said: ‘It was there only as a safeguard and it wasn’t needed.
‘The ministers were continuing to run their portfolios without any interference.
‘None of those powers were exercised. Should they have been used I would have obviously disclosed that.’
Mr Morrison’s secret moves were revealed in a new book, Plagued, about the federal government’s handling of the pandemic.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has blasted the secretive actions, and so has Nationals leader David Littleproud. Even Liberal leader Peter Dutton said he was not made aware.
Scott Morrison (pictured in March 2022) suffered insomnia and used to drug himself with sleeping pills to get a good night’s rest during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic
In early 2020, the then prime minister decided he wanted to share power with the existing health and finance ministers, Greg Hunt and Mathias Cormann, to prevent them wielding too much influence over the nation’s biosecurity laws and coffers during the crisis.
The plan was hatched with the approval of attorney-general Christian Porter. Mr Morrison apparently told Mr Hunt: ‘I trust you, mate… but I’m swearing myself in as health minister, too.’
It was later revealed that in April 2021 the former PM was also sworn in as resources minister to prevent Keith Pitt from approving a huge oil and gas project off the Central Coast where Liberal members faced pressure from climate activists and teal independents.
‘I sought to be the decision-maker on that issue because of its importance,’ Mr Morrison told 2GB on Tuesday.
‘The prime minister can’t direct the minister.
‘Those powers were not subject to the cabinet. It was important as PM that I was exercising my responsibility.’
A concerned Mr Pitt only found out in December when he wanted to move ahead with the project but the PM killed it.
Scott Morrison secretly swore himself in as health minister and finance minister during the Covid-19 pandemic
The secretive moves were slammed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who is seeking advice as to whether the actions were legal.
‘This is quite extraordinary. Australians need a prime minister who is focused on the job that they’re given,’ he told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.
Explaining why Mr Morrison wanted to share power with the health and finance ministers, the book Plagued – written by journalists at The Australian – says he felt there ‘needed to be more checks and balances before any single minister could wield such powers’.
The health minister was in charge of shutting the nation’s borders and the finance minister was overseeing the largest fiscal stimulus in Australia’s history.
The powers could not be delegated to Cabinet so Mr Morrison ‘then hatched a radical and until now secret plan with Porter’s approval.’
Mr Hunt was aware of the decision and Mr Morrison, Mr Hunt and Mr Porter felt the move safeguarded ‘against any one minister having absolute power.’
Anthony Albanese slams Scott Morrison for ‘shadow government’
‘Scott Morrison was running a shadow Government. A shadow Government that was operating in the shadows. What we have when we get sworn in as ministers is that there’s some transparency there.
‘A whole lot of questions arise from this.
‘In Australia, we have a Westminster system of government that produces accountability. This is the sort of tin-pot activity that we would ridicule if it was in a non-democratic country.
‘These circumstances should never have arisen. You know, we do have a non-presidential system of government in this country.
‘But what we had from Scott Morrison is a centralisation of power, is overriding of ministerial decisions, and all done in secret. All done in secret.’
However, Mr Cormann was unaware that Mr Morrison was sharing his job, and Mr Pitt complained to deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce about the PM intervening on his turf.
Asked why he didn’t tell Mr Cormann, Mr Morrison said: ‘That was an oversight. I thought it had been done through offices. That’s regrettable but things were moving very quickly at the time.’
He said he had apologised to the former finance minister, who now leads the OECD group of rich nations.
In a statement on Monday, Governor-General David Hurley revealed he swore Mr Morrison in to several portfolios by signing an ‘administrative instrument’, meaning no public ceremony was required.
He appointed Mr Morrison as administrator of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources on April 15, 2021.
‘The decision whether to publicise appointments to administer additional portfolios is a matter for the government of the day,’ the statement said.
The Governor-General said the appointments were legal under section 64 of the constitution.
During a press conference on Monday, Mr Albanese hit out at his predecessor.
‘The people of Australia were kept in the dark as to what the ministerial arrangements were. It’s completely unacceptable,’ he said.
‘There’s an absolute need for clear transparency. These circumstances should never have arisen.
‘You know, we do have a non-presidential system of government in this country – but what we had from Scott Morrison is a centralisation of power, is overriding of ministerial decisions, and all done in secret.’
Federal health minister Greg Hunt addresses the media at a press conference in March 2020
The book also reveals some of the Covid-19 restrictions that were discussed between Mr Morrison and the state premiers in the early days of national cabinet.
One idea that was not taken up was to allow drinkers into a pub for two hours on a rotation system using wristbands.
The former PM recalled: ‘We were talking about pubs… the idea of people only being allowed in for two hours, how would you rotate them in and out – with wristbands or stamps’.
When Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews informed the media of their March 2020 lockdowns, the other premiers were apparently furious they had not been warned first.
Queensland leader Annastacia Palaszczuk and WA Premier Mark McGowan were particularly angered and Ms Berejiklian apologised for the lack of consultation, the books says.
Premier Palaszczuk also features in the book in a chapter on state border closures.
In September 2020 Mr Morrison phoned the premier, begging her to let 26-year-old Canberra nurse Sarah Caisip attend her father’s funeral in Brisbane after he died while she was in hotel quarantine.
Ms Palaszczuk apparently accused him of bullying her before hanging up.
”You are bullying me,” Palaszczuk accused him abruptly, before reminding the prime minister that it was R U OK? Day,’ the book says.
Ms Caisip was eventually allowed to see her father’s casket but was forced to wear full PPE and ushered by government workers wearing gloves.
Ms Caisip (pictured) was eventually allowed to see her father’s casket but was forced to wear full PPE
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (pictured) apparently accused Scott Morrison of bullying her