AUSTRALIA (Commonwealth Union)_Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been censured by parliament for wielding secret powers while in office. The historic motion comes on the heels of a devastating assessment that stated his actions were “corrosive of trust in government”.
It is the first time the House of Representatives has censured a former Prime Minister. Mr. Morrison has defended his appointment to various departments, calling the opposition’s criticism “retribution”. In August, it was revealed that Mr Morrison had served as joint minister for health, finance, treasury, home affairs and resources in the two years preceding his resignation in May. Most ministers had no idea Mr. Morrison shared their responsibilities, and he has been heavily chastised, including by close colleagues.
Mr. Morrison, who is now a backbencher, stated that the decisions were made during the “exceptional times” of the pandemic. An investigation determined that his nominations were legitimate and that he utilised his extra powers only once, to overrule a minister in a non-pandemic subject. It did, however, decide that Mr. Morrison “fundamentally weakened” responsible government. Another investigation discovered that the majority of his appointments had “little if any connection to the pandemic”.
The Albanese government has already pledged new regulations requiring such appointments to be made public in the future. Meanwhile, PM Albanese is of the view that the parliament had a duty to denounce his predecessor’s behaviour. He described Australia as being on a “slippery slope” away from “precious” democracy. “The public did not know what it had a right to know… which damaged the functioning of this parliament and our democratic institutions.”
Mr. Morrison told parliament that, in retrospect, he thought his decisions were “unnecessary” and that he had given them “insufficient consideration”. “In such circumstances, none of us can claim to be infallible, and I certainly do not,” he said. Nevertheless, he refused to apologise, claiming the condemnation was motivated by “political intimidation” and “retribution”.
Most of his center-right coalition colleagues agreed, but one MP, Bridget Archer, said she did not believe Mr. Morrison’s explanation and supported the censure. “And I’m profoundly disappointed by the absence of sincere apologies, or, more crucially, comprehension of the consequences of these decisions,” she stated in parliament. Former Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, one of the colleagues who unwittingly shared a portfolio with Mr Morrison, also voted nay.
A censure is a formal means for the parliament to express disapproval of an MP. Such motions are uncommon and mostly symbolic, although they can have political ramifications.