Australia’s former prime minister Scott Morrison listed his achievements in government as he unsuccessfully argued against being censured by the parliament for secretly amassing multiple ministerial powers.
The centre-left Labor Party government introduced to the House of Representatives a rare censure motion against Mr Morrison for taking the unprecedented steps of appointing himself to five ministerial roles between March 2020 and May 2021, usually without the knowledge of the existing minister.
The House passed the motion 86 to 50. It was sure to pass because Labor holds a majority in the House, while most opposition lawmakers dismissed it as “political payback”.
Mr Morrison is the first former prime minister to be censured.
A censure motion against Mr Morrison, who remains an opposition lawmaker, has no effect other than to tarnish his political legacy.
Mr Morrison publicly commented on the controversy on Wednesday — the first time since his power grab was exposed in August through interviews he had given to two journalists about his responses in government to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since then, he has released two written statements through lawyers.
Mr Morrison said he gave himself additional ministerial powers at a time that Australia was “dealing with extreme uncertainty and unpredictability”.
The criticisms had been “made from the safety and relative calm of hindsight”, he said.
“I am proud … at a time of extreme trial, my government stood up and faced the abyss of uncertainty that our country looked into and the coercion of a regional bully and saw Australia through the storm,” Mr Morrison told the House, referring to China.
“Our nation faced the greatest challenges we had experienced since the Second World War: A drought, natural disasters, a global pandemic, the global and domestic recession, the pandemic cause and a rising and assertive China seeking to coerce Australia into submission,” he added.
The censure motion said that by failing to inform his Cabinet, the Parliament and the Australian people of his additional ministerial powers, Mr Morrison had undermined responsible government and eroded public trust in Australia’s democracy.
The government, elected in May, cited the findings of an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s extraordinary power grab.
Retired High Court justice Virginia Bell in her inquiry recommended last week laws be created to require public notices of ministerial appointments to be published as well as the divisions of ministerial responsibilities.
The government introduced such laws to the House on Wednesday.
Mr Morrison said he welcomed the recommendations, saying his office had never issued instructions forbidding his additional ministerial powers being made public.
Mr Morrison gave himself the portfolios of health, finance, treasury, home affairs and resources.
But he only exercised those powers once when he overturned a decision by former resources minister Keith Pitt to approve a contentious gas drilling project off the north Sydney coast that would have harmed their government’s re-election chances.