Former members of Scott Morrison’s cabinet have launched fresh criticism of his decision to give himself control of additional ministries, as a report into the scandal is set to be released.
Former High Court judge Virginia Bell is due to deliver the findings of her three-month investigation into the former prime minister’s five secret ministries on Friday.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese ordered an inquiry after it emerged in August that Mr Morrison had secretly appointed himself co-minister for the health, finance, treasury, home affairs and industry portfolios , science, energy and resources over a two-year period during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report should include recommendations, including possible procedural or legislative changes, that would ensure greater transparency and accountability regarding ministerial appointments in the future.
Mr Morrison’s secret power grab blindsided most members of his Cabinet, many of whom only heard about it when it was reported in the media.
Former finance minister Simon Birmingham said he believed Mr Morrison’s decisions amounted to overreach, particularly his later moves to take control of the Treasury, Home Affairs and Industry portfolios .
Senator Birmingham said Mr Morrison’s first self-appointments to the health and finance portfolios could be understood given they were made at the height of uncertainty over the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s understandable in terms of those first ones. Although transparency would always have been better,” he told Sky News.
“As for the latter, I think a lot of people are still wondering why this happened.”
Senator Birmingham said he expected the Bell report to largely repeat the findings of an earlier report into the case prepared by the government’s top lawyer.
Solicitor General Stephen Donaghue QC found Mr Morrison did not break the law with his ministerial takeover, but his secrecy fundamentally undermined the principles of responsible government.
Senator Birmingham said the opposition would support the recommendations of the Bell report.
“We will support transparency measures, we will support legislation, and the government should act quickly on any recommendations there,” he said.
His comments come after former treasurer Josh Frydenberg broke his silence on Mr Morrison’s secret portfolios, revealing he only found out Mr Morrison had appointed himself co-treasurer when the story broke in the media.
Mr Frydenberg, speaking to author Nikki Savva for her new book, an excerpt of which has been published in Nine Newspapers, said Mr Morrison’s decision was ‘grossly excessive’ and ‘deeply disappointing’.
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