A Political Scandal Down Under: Questions about Legality of Former PM’s Behavior
On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that he will release a report this week on the investigation into his predecessor Scott Morrison who admitted to being secretly sworn into five different government ministries during the Covid-19 epidemic. The move by the former Prime Minister has been seen as an unconstitutional overreach by some, including members of his own party, although the actions of the former PM are not considered to be illegal.
“Only I could understand the Weight of Responsibility on my Shoulders”
A political scandal in Australia has led to the current Prime Minister of the country, Anthony Albanese, saying that his predecessor “undermined our democracy”. Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the center-right Liberal Party had served as Australia’s Prime Minister from 2018 to 2022 and guided the nation through the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now the former Prime Minister is at the heart of an investigation into his takeover of at least five government departments without the knowledge of the official chiefs of those departments. According to the current Prime Minister, Mr. Morrison overtook control of five different ministries, including the ministries of Health, Finance, Home Affairs, Treasury, and Resources over a span of more than a year between March 2020 and April 2021. At least two of the people officially responsible for leading those departments told the media that they were unaware that the former Prime Minister had overtaken their ministries. Prime Minister Albanese, who said he will release a full report on the investigation on Tuesday, said that it was “completely extraordinary that these appointments were kept secret by the Morrison government from the Australian people”. Although the actions of the former Prime Minister are not considered to be illegal, Prime Minister Albanese confirmed he has been receiving legal advice on the matter. “You can’t govern in a veil of secrecy”, said Karen Andrews, former Minister of Home Affairs and one of the former ministers whose role was secretly taken over by the former Prime Minister. The former Prime Minister at the heart of the scandal has defended his actions as being necessary at the time. “As Prime Minister, only I could really understand the weight of responsibility that was on my shoulders and on no one else. I was steering the ship in the middle of the tempest.” Mr. Morrison also pushed back on the idea that he took over the ministries in question and said that he interfered in any of the ministries only once, in which he blocked a prospective resources project. For the former Prime Minister, the fact that none of the responsible ministers knew of his actions is proof that he did not interfere in their daily activities. Mr. Morrison, at the same press conference, detailed exactly why he took over each individual ministry, stating that he was afraid that the Ministers of Health and Finance could be infected with Covid-19, and that the takeover of home affairs and the treasury was necessary in light of defense negotiations with the United Kingdom and the United States around the procurement of nuclear submarines.
“A trashing of our democratic system”
The criticism of Mr. Morrison’s actions were swift and came from both within his party and from his political rivals. Prime Minister Albanese said that the actions of the former PM amounted to a “trashing of our democratic system”, with another government representative saying that the situation created a “real vulnerability” for Australia. The former Minsters effected by the takeovers were especially critical of the former Prime Minister’s behavior, with some calling the effectiveness of the country’s system of checks and balances into question. These former Ministers also criticized the fact that they were not informed of the plans of the former Prime Minister to take over their portfolios, a fact that Mr. Morrison has called an “oversight”.
Mr. Morrison, who is still a member of Parliament in Australia, could find his political career jeopardized by the findings of the investigation into his behavior, which is due to be released on Tuesday.