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Unrepentant: Morrison says Australians assumed he’d take on new jobs

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A defiant Scott Morrison has denied that his secret and wide-ranging assumption of government powers was improper, saying Australians expected he would be taking on extra responsibilities at a time of pandemic.

The former PM faced uproar this week after it emerged he had taken on the powers of five of his ministers without ever telling them or the public.

“I as Prime Minister, was responsible pretty much for every single thing that was going on,” he said.

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Current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese came out a short time later to condemn his predecessor’s explanations as “evasive”,  “defensive”, “passive aggressive” and “self-serving”.

The PM said Mr Morrison was seeking to misdirect attention only a day after he claimed during an interview that he had not been sworn-in as the Treasurer of Australia and the Minister for Home Affairs to the best of his memory, only hours before the paperwork that proved he had been was released.

Mr Morrison’s undeclared assumption of these powers was without precedent in the history of Australian democracy.

Experts said it undermined Australia’s long-established system of government by cabinet and one former colleague called for the former PM to resign accusing him of betraying the nation.

But on Tuesday, Mr Morrison said he did nothing illegal by departing from centuries-old conventions of having ministers take charge of such responsibilities and did so as a cautionary measure during the COVID pandemic.

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Mr Morrison said there had been no need to tell the public or his cabinet colleagues he was secretly assuming their responsibilities as no prime minister in the history of Australia ever had before.

“I did not want any of my ministers to be going about their daily business any different to what they were doing before,” he said.

“I was concerned that these issues could have been misconstrued and misunderstood and undermine the confidence of ministers.”

The only time Mr Morrison used the powers he had taken on did not relate to COVID at all, when he allowed blocked the former Resources Minister from approving a politically unpopular gas exploration project in northern NSW.

“No ministers were interfered with in the conduct of their ministerial responsibilities other than in [that] express case,” he said. “I suspect the people live on the New South Wales Central Coast and Hunter Coast and the Northern Beaches of New South Wales will be forever grateful for.”

The case in which Mr Morrison did exercise the power he had taken on is now the subject of a court case in which a company questioning the validity of the government’s decision is arguing that the order breached all accepted standards of ministerial decision making which is based on the idea that one person takes responsibility, not that it is divided in two.

Mr Morrison at first denied this week that he had ever been sworn in as the Treasurer of Australia and the Minister for Home Affairs or that he did not recall it.

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Hours later documents were released from the public service showing that he had.

After a journalist suggested that it did not seem plausible that he would forget Mr Morrison bristled.

“It was something that was done on an order of many other issues we were dealing with,” he said.

The former PM said he believed the Australian people would be confused by the fuss over his secretive power grab because there were no obvious negative consequences and because they were grateful for the work he had done during Covid.

“Together with my colleagues, we did save lives, we did save livelihoods,” he said.

“People come and say to me after the election is people from small business – it happens everywhere I go.”

His former colleagues reacted with fury this week when it emerged that Mr Morrison had not told them that he was the PM but had also jointly and secretly taken on their roles as Treasurer, Finance Minister and other critical frontbench roles.

Yesterday former home affairs minister Karen Andrews called for Mr Morrison to stand down over his undeclared accumulation of powers that have always previously been the cabinet’s alone: “The Australian people were betrayed

The full scope of Mr Morrison’s power grab only became apparent this week after the current PM Anthony Albanese ordered an investigation.

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It emerged that Mr Morrison installed himself in the health, home affairs, resources, finance and Treasury ministries between March 2020 and May 2021.

That set off calls for him to quit immediately from former colleagues.

“It certainly doesn’t help democracy and I am very concerned about the impacts of this going forward,” the former home affairs minister Karen Andrews said, “I feel the Australian people were betrayed.”

A string of other former and current Coalition frontbenchers have confirmed they had no idea that the powers at the heart of government had been assumed covertly by Mr Morrison. Among them were the former PM’s then-deputy Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Matthias Cormann, whose factional sway set in chain the events that would bring Mr Morrison to the Prime Minister’s office.

Both men were said to have been furious and learned about the extraordinary unspoken check on their political authority this week when Mr Morrison called to apologise for never having told them.

Only the former Health Minister Greg Hunt knew he had been jointly serving with Mr Morrison. The arrangements were first justified as a means of introducing additional checks and balances to the system of cabinet government.

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