How does Prime Minister Albanese frame the Morrison inquiry without confusing the governor general, asks a political columnist MICHELLE GRATTAN.

Solicitor General Stephen Donaghue perfectly summed up Scott Morrison’s political misdemeanor by having himself secretly appointed to all of these departments.

Michelle Graton.

Morrison, by not revealing what he had done, undermined Westminster’s system of “responsible government” at the most basic level.

Ministers are responsible to parliament and, through parliament, to the voters. But how can there be this accountability if parliament and the public do not know that a (prime) minister has been appointed to administer a particular department?

As Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says, there are still unanswered questions in this case. Despite his press conference last week and further comments on Tuesday after the Solicitor General’s notice was released, Morrison has not convincingly explained why he behaved in such a bizarre manner, with such discourtesy to his colleagues, not to mention the contempt for the public.

But whether we need a full legal investigation is another matter. It smacks of current politics as well as past fallout – for the inquiries the coalition government launched after taking office, into the “pink bats” scheme and into the unions.

Together, these royal commissions saw two former Labor prime ministers (Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard) and a Labor opposition leader (Bill Shorten) testify.

Labor would welcome similar public pressure on Morrison.

There is no doubt that what Morrison did was wrong. He was able to do so because of a loophole in the safeguards of the political system, allowing ministerial appointments to go unannounced.

But this shortcoming can be easily remedied, either by changes to the rules or by legislation ensuring that all such appointments must be immediately disclosed.

Legislation would be preferable because, once in place, it effectively could not be reversed. What government would try to repeal it, allow secrecy again?

Going to an inquiry raises tricky questions for the government as it works out the details of its mandate.

Foremost among these is the affair of the Governor General, David Hurley.

Hurley acted, correctly, on government advice in checking off Morrison’s nominations. But he also had the ability to ask questions about what he was signing and, to our knowledge, he did not. Consequently, it was strongly criticized by some.

From what we can tell, Albanese doesn’t want to confuse Hurley.

Asked if the inquiry would look into Hurley’s role or exempt him, Albanese said: ‘Well, the role of the Governor-General has been looked at here [in the opinion]”.

Hurley had made “a very clear statement”, from his point of view, of how he was operating, following the advice of the government at the time, “which is in line with the responsibility of the governor general”, Albanese said .

The idea of ​​the Governor General being asked to testify goes into tricky territory, though it just revealed that Hurley wasn’t keen enough to notice anything unusual.

But it’s hard to understand how the Governor General can be excluded from an investigation, if that investigation is to lead to the whole story. This is especially true as the investigation will focus on the role of the Prime Minister’s Department in preparing the request that was sent to Hurley. Obviously, some bureaucrats will be in the frame.

Constitutional expert George Williams of the University of NSW is among those who think Hurley’s role should not be ruled out. Not because Hurley did anything wrong, but because “the Governor General was at the center of the ratification.”

Williams would prefer a parliamentary inquiry to one by a legal personality. “Parliamentarians must assert themselves to solve this problem,” he said.

The revelations about Morrison’s conduct have given Albanese a political windfall, and he hopes for more. Whether the investigation is seen in retrospect as justified or politically exaggerated will depend on what it finds.

The opinion of the solicitor general is another blow to Morrison’s record (and his quest for future employment) and to the Coalition as it attempts to regroup.

Morrison, writing on Facebook on Tuesday, summed up his defense in these seven points:

  • the established authorities were valid;
  • there was no consistent process for publishing these permissions;
  • no powers have been exercised under these authorities, except in the case of PEP11 [gas exploration] decision, or abused;
  • Ministers exercised their portfolio powers fully, with my utmost confidence and confidence, without interference;
  • as Prime Minister, I did not “act” as a minister or participate in any “Regime of co-ministers, except in the case of the PEP11 decision;
  • on the PEP11 case, this was done legally from first principles and my intention to do so has been notified to the competent minister before In doing so;
  • Australia’s performance during the pandemic has been one of strongest in the developed world.

He also said: “I will appropriately assist any real process to learn lessons from the pandemic. I expect any credible process to extend to state and territory actions as well.”

But this survey is not a general survey on the management of the pandemic. Albanese said a broader investigation is still a long way off.

Morrison can protest all he wants, but now that the appropriateness of his bizarre power grab has become an argument between him and the Solicitor General, he’s been hiding for nothing.The conversation

Michelle GratanFaculty Fellow, University of Canberra.This article is republished from The conversation.

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