Malcolm Turnbull blasts Scott Morrison over secret ministerial appointments during 7.30 interview

Malcolm Turnbull has slammed revelations that Scott Morrison secretly swore himself into up to five different cabinet portfolios while he was prime minister as “sinister”, “incredible” and an affront to democracy.

On Sunday, news.com.au revealed Mr Morrison had sworn himself in as resources minister without the knowledge of the existing minister, Keith Pitt. He ultimately used that power to roll Mr Pitt on a plan to drill for gas off the New South Wales coast.

It has also emerged, via the new book Plaguedthat in March of 2020, Mr Morrison was sworn in as a second health minister and second finance minister.

None of these moves were revealed to the public.

Speaking to the ABC’s 7.30 program on Monday night, Mr Turnbull – who was Mr Morrison’s predecessor as prime minister – said he was shocked by the revelations.

“I think this is one of the most appalling things I have ever heard of in our federal government. I mean, the idea that a prime minister would be sworn into other ministries, secretly, is incredible,” said Mr Turnbull.

“I’m astonished that Morrison thought he could do it, astonished that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet went along with that. I’m even more astonished that the Governor-General was a party to it.

“This is sinister stuff. This is a secret government. What Albanian said today about it is absolutely right.”

Mr Turnbull backed calls for an investigation into what happened, as the ABC’s Laura Tingle reported up to five portfolios may have been involved.

“This is the sort of thing that – it is not something we associate with our form of democracy,” the former prime minister said.

“It is sinister, it is very sinister. Because it is secret. Look, it is unusual and unprecedented enough for a prime minister to be sworn into another department other than his own. You do it, obviously, if a minister is away. I was sworn in as minister for agriculture when Barnaby was out of action.

“I was sworn in, [there was] the press release, above board. Doing things in this secret way – I mean, what’s democracy about? I mean, fundamentally, we the people are entitled to know who is governing out country. We need to know, who is the minister for this? Who is the minister for that?

“If, in fact, these things are all being done secretly, that’s not a democracy. This flies in the face of everything we believe.

“You should do it openly. You should be sworn into those portfolios and then explain why you want to do it. To do it secretly, in a way that the public don’t know about it and your cabinet colleagues don’t know about it, is incredible.

“Scott was meant to be leading a centre-right, conservative government. This is not conservative. This is throwing aside all of the traditions of Westminster parliamentary democracy.”

Morrison breaks his silence

Mr Morrison broke his silence on the matter earlier on Monday, texting a Sky News journalist to say he doesn’t “engage in day-to-day politics” anymore.

He was responding to Sky News host Kieran Gilbert, who offered him a right of reply to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who had blasted Mr Morrison’s secrecy.

“Haven’t seen what he has said,” Mr Morrison texted.

“Since leaving the job I haven’t engaged in any day-to-day politics.”

That sparked a testy response from Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell, who reminded viewers that Mr Morrison was still in parliament.

The former prime minister is still collecting a $211,250 salary as a backbench MP and recently skipped the first week of parliament to travel overseas.

Mr Albanese has confirmed he will seek advice on the legality of Mr Morrison’s appointments.

“This is extraordinary and unprecedented,” the Prime Minister said.

“In Australia, we have a Westminster system of government that produces accountability. This is the sort of tin-pot activity that we would ridicule if it was in a non-democratic country.”

Mr Albanese said he was seeking a briefing from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

“Let’s be very clear – Australians knew during the election campaign that I was running a shadow ministry. What they didn’t know was that Scott Morrison was running a shadow government,” he said.

Mr Albanese said it was “extraordinary” that then-finance minister Mathias Cormann wasn’t even told the former prime minister had joined him in his portfolio.

“A whole lot of questions arise from this. What did Peter Dutton and other continuing members of the now shadow ministry know about these circumstances?” he said.

“We had the extraordinary revelation that Mathias Cormann apparently wasn’t aware that Scott Morrison was the finance minister as well as himself.

“And how is it that the Governor-General could swear-in Scott Morrison into ministerial portfolios without there being a transparency there about that process? This is quite extraordinary.

“This is a government of Australia where the people of Australia were kept in the dark as to what the ministerial arrangements were. It’s completely unacceptable.

“This is very contrary to our Westminster system. It is unbecoming. It was cynical and it was just weird that this has occurred.”

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