Australia’s PM says predecessor ‘undermined democracy’ with secret role

Australia's PM says predecessor 'undermined democracy' with secret role
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SYDNEY, Aug 16 (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his predecessor Scott Morrison “undermined our democracy” by secretly appointing home affairs and treasury ministers in addition to health, finance and resources. Previously published portfolio.

Morrison, who resigned as leader of the Liberal Party after losing a general election in May, has come under fire from senior members of his own party and his coalition partner, the National Party, who were unaware of the arrangement.

After the matter was reviewed by the Prime Minister’s Department, Albanese told reporters that Morrison took over the health and finance portfolios in March 2020, the home and treasury in May 2021 and resources in April 2021.

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“It is absolutely extraordinary that these appointments were kept secret from the Australian people by the Morrison government,” he said.

Albanese will receive legal advice from the solicitor general on Monday and said he criticized the Morrison government for allowing the centralization of power by the prime minister.

Karen Andrews, a former Home Secretary in Morrison’s government, said she had no knowledge that Morrison also played the role and called on Morrison to resign from Parliament.

“You cannot govern under the cloak of secrecy,” Liberal Party lawmaker Andrews told ABC radio after Albanese’s press conference.

Former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who quit politics after losing his seat in the May election, was also unaware that Morrison had taken over the treasury, The Australian newspaper reported.

Liberal opposition leader Peter Dutton said the solicitor general needed legal advice before making any decision on next steps.

In a lengthy statement, Morrison, who remains a Liberal backbencher, said he regretted that his actions had caused concern but that he had “acted in good faith in a crisis.”

Morrison defended his cabinet’s unwittingly taking on additional ministerial roles during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it was “unprecedented times” and the powers acted as a safeguard.

“I used such powers only on one occasion. I did not try to interfere with ministers in managing their portfolios,” he said in the statement.

I added that “waiting these arrangements were unnecessary”.

Morrison said in a radio interview earlier on Tuesday that he had not made the measures public because they were only a safeguard and it was an “oversight” that ministers were not told their roles were being duplicated.

“We had to take some extraordinary measures to keep the security system in place,” he told radio station 2GB, comparing it to having two keys on a nuclear submarine.

The role he took on as resources minister in 2021 was different, he said, as he used powers to block approval of a gas exploration project off Australia’s coast that was opposed by local communities. This decision is being challenged in court.

In the statement, he said, “I believe I have taken the right decision in the national interest. This is the only matter in which I have been directly involved with this or any other department.”

Albanese said it involved two people in charge of asset portfolios and positions on different issues.

He told ABC radio earlier on Tuesday that it was “a very clear breach of the Prime Minister’s obligation to Parliament” not to present to Parliament the responsibility for ministerial portfolios.

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Sam Holmes and Simon Cameron-Moore

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