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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Australia will stop PM from having secret powers

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday (23/8) that the Australian government would launch an investigation aimed at preventing a prime minister from secretly taking over the powers of his ministers.

Albanese’s predecessor, Scott Morrison, secretly appointed himself to five ministerial roles between March 2020 and May 2021, without the knowledge of the actual current ministers.

Following this disclosure, Australian Attorney General Stephen Donaghue said Morrison’s concurrent position was legally acceptable. However, appointing himself without telling the actual ministers, parliament or the public “is not in line with the principles of responsible governance,” Donaghue said in his 29-page legal opinion piece, which Albanese released to the public on Tuesday.

Morrison’s move is part of a wider trend in Australian politics, where power is concentrated in the leader’s office at the expense of Britain’s Westminster tradition of delegating responsibility to ministers.

Albanese, who replaced Morrison in May’s election, said his cabinet had been informed of Donaghue’s suggestion on Tuesday and agreed to launch an investigation into how to avoid repeating what Morrison had done.

Albanese’s office will soon discuss with Staff Governor-General David Hurley, who represents Queen Elizabeth II, Australia’s head of state, plans to announce all future ministerial appointments and their legal framework.

Morrison, now an opposition lawmaker, told reporters last week that he had not disclosed his secret powers for fear of being misinterpreted. In the previous administration, Scott Morrison, who held the position of prime minister, secretly appointed himself to manage health, finance, state treasury, home affairs, and science and resource affairs.

Morrison said covert powers were a necessary emergency measure in the coronavirus crisis. However, Morrison’s publicly known use of secret powers had nothing to do with the pandemic. He overturned former minister Keith Pitt’s decision to approve a controversial gas exploration project north of Sydney that would hurt his coalition’s chances of re-election. [ab/uh]

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