former judge’s findings make compelling case for parliament to censure ex-PM
The political win for Albanese comes if and when Dutton tries to defend Morrison in parliament. There is a modest defence for Morrison’s decision to share the health portfolio – the sweeping scale of the biosecurity powers in the emergency of the pandemic in March 2020 – but no defence for the other ministries. There is no good reason for the House to let this pass.
Dutton may want to defend the legacy of the Morrison government but has to decide whether (or, more likely, how) to rebuke Morrison himself over his conduct. The outcome for the Liberals and Nationals may well be to make a break with the Morrison era, an inevitable step after an election loss.
The broader questions are not all about Morrison. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet failed when it told Morrison it would be “somewhat unusual” to take on the secret roles. This was a laughable understatement. Did nobody make the case for accountability to parliament? Or are they all allergic to it?
The report exonerates Governor-General David Hurley – “I consider the criticism of the
Governor-General to be unwarranted,” says Bell – but this is too gentle. We do not know whether Hurley questioned the appointments or suggested, at the very least, that parliament should be told of the paperwork he was signing. He is not above criticism at all.
Ultimately, however, the test in parliament is all about Morrison. Do the Liberals and Nationals stand by his decisions and therefore the “corrosive” impact on trust in government? How can they?
A vote on Morrison does not have to be a censure. The House can word the motion as a criticism. Attempts to move a censure against a Labor MP, Craig Thomson, led to a compromise in May 2016 to frame the vote as a reprimand instead.
Did nobody make the case for accountability to parliament? Or are they all allergic to it?
The last censure motion in the House of Representatives was against a former Liberal minister, Bruce Billson, for failing to disclose a financial interest. That motion was moved by a Liberal MP, seconded by a Labor MP and passed on the voices (that is, without a division to record which way individuals voted).
Morrison made a mistake on a grander scale with his secret ministries. Whatever his intentions, he failed to tell parliament something it should have known. Bell does not say he misled parliament, but she does say his conduct undermined the confidence in government and was “corrosive” to trust.