A damning report examining Scott Morrison’s secret power grab is set to be unveiled on Friday and it reveals the former prime minister declined to participate in the inquiry beyond engaging with the former High Court judge Virginia Bell via his lawyers.
Outlining the full extent of his decision to appoint himself to multiple portfolios without the knowledge or consent of his own cabinet, the report will be released on Friday afternoon.
News.com.au understands that Mr Morrison, who was not compelled to give evidence to the inquiry in person or via interview, did not do so.
Instead, he co-operated with the former High Court judge at arms length and via his legal team that was paid for by taxpayers and was not directly interviewed.
The former prime minister’s spokesman declined to confirm whether Ms Belll formally requested an interview or if he was interviewed.
“Mr Morrison has been engaged with the Bell Inquiry during the course of their investigation into the matters that were the subject of their terms of reference,” he said.
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On August 30, Sky News reported that Mr Morrison would co-operate with the inquiry because he “respected” Ms Bell.
The bizarre ministerial arrangements – which included secretly asking the Governor-General David Hurley to appoint him to the Treasury portfolio without the knowledge of then Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – were exposed in August.
News.com.au revealed on August 14 that the former prime minister had secretly appointed himself to the resources portfolio and that he used those powers to roll his own Resources Minister Keith Pitt over a gas project.
It followed revelations in the book Plagued that Mr Morrison had secretly appointed himself to the health and finance portfolio.
However, it swiftly emerged that the finance minister Mathias Cormann was left completely in the dark about the changes and never knew about them at the time.
Mr Hunt agreed to the plan to share power in the health portfolio and war-gamed how to do it with then attorney-general Christian Porter.
It then emerged that Mr Morrison also appointed himself to the Industry portfolio when Mr Porter held the role, without telling him he was using the “trick” he had taught him.
‘System’ failed – Malcolm Turnbull
Former PM Malcolm Turnbull insisted that the Governor-General also had questions to answer.
“How did all these experienced people allow Morrison to do this?’’ Mr Turnbull said in August. “I remain astonished that there was apparently no pushback to Morrison when he embarked on his bizarre secret accumulation of power.
“If any of them had dug their heels in, pushed back, and done so in writing, it is hard to believe even the self-described bulldozer would have persisted. If they did not push back then they, and the system, failed.
“Morrison’s (chief of staff), John Kunkel, had worked for John Howard.
“He must have known this was a bad move. Equally PMC (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet) officials including Stephanie Foster must have known this was utterly without precedent and wrong. What did they do and say? If they did nothing – the system failed.”
Tony Abbott arrangement ‘strange’ and ‘unorthodox’
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has described Mr Morrison’s secret ministerial power grab as “unusual”, “strange” and “unorthodox”.
“Certainly it does seem unusual, it does seem unorthodox and it does seem strange that at least some of the ministers didn’t know about it,’’ he said.
Scandal prompted Andrew Bolt to call on ScoMo to resign
Sky News host Andrew Bolt bluntly urged Scott Morrison to “quit parliament now, just go!” over the secret ministry furore.
The conservative commentator unleashed on his nightly program, accusing the former prime minister of having “embarrassed, even devastated his party in a scandal that today got even more bizarre”.
“I mean, he‘s finished. Quit parliament now. Just go!” Bolt said.
“Every Liberal should be ashamed that it takes a Labor Prime Minister of the Socialist Left to warn them against letting a prime minister centralise power in himself.”
Who spoke to the Virginia Bell inquiry?
While some former ministers told the Bell inquiry that they did not even know that Scott Morrison had secretly seized powers over their portfolios and were excused from giving further statements, those that did are hinted at in legal costs that taxpayers will pay for those who participated.
They include former health minister, Greg Hunt, and former resources minister, Keith Pitt and the former prime minister Scott Morrison.
In November, Senate estimates was told that officials from Mr Morrison’s department officials in the industry department would provide a briefing to the prime minister on the Pep-11 gas project in December 2021, because Morrison had designated himself the decision-maker.
Meghan Quinn, secretary of the Department of Industry, Science and Resources told parliament on Tuesday there was “an awareness” in the industry department that Mr Morrison had been appointed to the portfolio on April 21, 2021.
“It was clear (to officials) who the decision-maker was,” she said. “It was made clear the decision maker for that (project) was the prime minister”.
Scott Morrison was not compelled to give evidence
Prime ministerAnthony Albanese launched the Bell inquiry in August after the shock revelation that Mr Morrison had received five secret appointments to administer the departments of health, finance, industry, science, energy and resources, and home affairs, and the treasury in 2020 and 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Morrison was not compelled to appear at the inquiry into his secret ministerial power grab but Anthony Albanese warned in August it would be “extraordinary” if he refused to co-operate.
Mr Albanese announced that former Ms Bell would lead a formal inquiry into the affair on August 26, to ensure it can “never happen again”.
“I’m certain that this appointment will be seen for what it is and that people will co-operate by giving information,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“The inquiry will make recommendations to the government on any changes which could provide greater transparency and accountability to ensure that this can never happen again, and to ensure that we have a system of government in this country that is transparent, where there are checks and balances, and where there is accountability.”
What the Solicitor-General said
The Solicitor-General’s advice, released publicly by Mr Albanese in August, was sharply critical of Mr Morrison’s decision not to inform his colleagues or the public of the appointments made between March 2020 and May 2021.
The nation’s top government lawyer said Mr Morrison’s self-appointment to the Department of Industry and the secrecy surrounding it raised the issue of whether it was “consistent with the principle of responsible government”.
“In my opinion, it was not,’’ the advice states.
Scott Morrison defends conduct
Mr Morrison has previously defended his conduct amid accusations his actions amounted to “undermining responsible government”.
In a 731-word statement released on Facebook, Mr Morrison noted that the Solicitor General found that the appointments were ‘valid’.
“To respond to the Solicitor General’s advice I refer to my statement last week where I set out that at no time, other than the consideration of the PEP11 matter from first principles, did I exercise powers established under these lawful authorities,’’ he said.
“This means that I did not fulfil the function of an Acting or Co-Minister, as has been alleged. Ministers continued to exercise their full authorities without any interference, with my full trust and confidence.”
The advice found the Governor-General had little choice but to agree to the changes.
“The Governor-General has no discretion to refuse to accept the prime minister’s (Mr Morrison’s) advice in relation to such an appointment,’’ the legal advice states.
“Nor is there any constitutional or legislative requirement for notification of such an appointment as a condition of its validity, or for the minister to subscribe another oath or affirmation following such an appointment.”