Scott Morrison secretly swore himself in as health minister, finance minister and resources minister during the Covid-19 pandemic in an extraordinary series of moves that are now being investigated by the new Labor government.
In early 2020, the then prime minister decided he wanted to share power with the existing ministers health and finance ministers, Greg Hunt and Mathias Cormann, to prevent them wielding too much influence over the nation’s biosecurity laws and coffers during the crisis.
The plan was hatched with the approval of attorney-general Christian Porter, according to new book about the federal government’s handling of the pandemic titled Plagued.
Mr Morrison apparently told Mr Hunt: ‘I trust you, mate… but I’m swearing myself in as health minister, too.’
It has since been revealed that in 2021 the former PM repeated the same trick, swearing himself in as resources minister to prevent Keith Pitt from approving a huge oil and gas project off the Central Coast where Liberal members faced pressure from climate activists and teal independents.
Scott Morrison secretly swore himself in as health minister and finance minister during the Covid-19 pandemic
The moves were slammed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who is seeking advice as to whether the move was legal.
‘This is quite extraordinary. Australians need a prime minister who is focused on the job that they’re given,’ he told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.
‘Nothing about the last government was real, not even the government itself.’
It comes as the new book, written by political journalists at The Australian newspaper, also reveals that Mr Morrison would sometimes take a mild sedative to get to sleep because he was so stressed about Australia plunging into recession.
‘He’d often wake at 3am, wrestling with the scale of what was facing the country and his responsibilities dealing with it,’ the book says.
I don’t know if it’s some Messianic complex or if he thought he was the Australian version of Kanye
Bill Shorten on Scott Morrison
‘He’d rouse in a fitful state and look at the ceiling for hours on end, saying to himself: ”I have to sleep or I won’t get through this week”.’
Explaining why Mr Morrison wanted to share power with the health and finance ministers, the book says he felt there ‘needed to be more checks and balances before any single minister could wield such powers’.
The health minister was in charge of shutting the nation’s borders and the finance minister was overseeing the largest fiscal stimulus in Australia’s history.
The powers could not be delegated to Cabinet so Mr Morrison ‘then hatched a radical and until now secret plan with Porter’s approval.’
Mr Hunt was aware of the decision and Mr Morrison, Mr Hunt and Mr Porter felt the move safeguarded ‘against any one minister having absolute power.’
Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny in January 2022
However, Mr Cormann was reportedly unaware that Mr Morrison was sharing his job, and Mr Pitt reportedly complained to deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce about the PM intervening on his turf.
With Mr Hunt and Mr Cormann, it is understood Mr Morrison’s move was made via administrative appointments, meaning the governor-general did not have to swear him in.
However, The Australian reported on Monday that Governor-General David Hurley did appoint him to take control of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
During a press conference on Monday, Mr Albanese hit out at his predecessor.
‘The people of Australia were kept in the dark as to what the ministerial arrangements were. It’s completely unacceptable.
‘There’s an absolute need for clear transparency.
‘These circumstances should never have arisen.
‘You know, we do have a non-presidential system of government in this country – but what we had from Scott Morrison is a centralisation of power, is overriding of ministerial decisions, and all done in secret.’
Federal health minister Greg Hunt addresses the media at a press conference in March 2022
Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said the move was ‘weird’ and accused Mr Morrison – an evangelical Christian – of having a ‘messianic’ complex.
‘He was ghosting his own cabinet ministers, he was off on a trip. I don’t know if it’s some messianic complex or if he thought he was the Australian version of Kanye,’ Mr Shorten told ABC radio.
‘I don’t know what was going through his head. Why not tell people, why be secretive?
‘This is about the constitution, it’s about our whole system of government. You really need to have a good explanation and I haven’t heard one yet.’
Mr Shorten said the move showed Mr Morrison ‘didn’t trust his colleagues’.
Mr Morrison and Australian then Finance Minister Mathias Cormann drinking beer in 2018