Former prime minister Scott Morrison’s decision to secretly appoint himself to multiple portfolios during the COVID-19 pandemic has been labeled an “extreme overreach” and “profoundly disappointing” by former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who has spoken about the saga for the first time.
- Josh Frydenberg says there was no reason for Scott Morrison’s secret power grab
- The former treasurer has spoken to the former prime minister but has not received an apology
- An inquiry by former justice Virginia Bell into the issue will be delivered to the government today
His comments come as former High Court justice Virginia Bell prepares to hand down the findings of her three-month inquiry into the former prime minister’s secret ministries.
Speaking to veteran journalist Niki Savva for her upcoming book Bulldozed, Mr Frydenberg said he was “loyal to a fault” to Mr Morrison — a close confidant he briefly lived with at the Lodge during the pandemic — and there was no reason for him to take on the treasury portfolio.
Mr Frydenberg said he had spoken to Mr Morrison twice since the story broke and, while the former leader eventually conceded he would not take on the treasury portfolio if he had his time again, he still refused to apologise.
“It’s impossible properly to evaluate the decision-making during the pandemic without understanding the context in which decisions were made,” Mr Frydenberg told Savva in an extract published in today’s Nine newspapers.
“We faced a once-in-a-century pandemic, an evolving crisis laden with uncertainty as to what each day would bring. This meant we had to take and live with decisions on both the health and economic front that in normal times would never have been contemplated.
“That being said, I don’t think there was any reason for Scott to take on the additional treasury portfolio. The fact he did take it, and it was not made transparent to me and others, was wrong and profoundly disappointing.
“It was extreme overreach.”
Ex-frontbencher says cabinet would have demanded powers be revoked
Mr Frydenberg knew of Mr Morrison’s decision to take on the health portfolio at the start of the pandemic in 2020, but over the next 14 months the then-prime minister was secretly sworn into the finance, treasury, home affairs and industry, science, energy and resource portfolios.
Former home affairs minister Karen Andrews said had she and her colleagues known what Mr Morrison was doing, they would have demanded he revoke the additional ministries or face a possible leadership challenge.
“It diminished him, it diminished the cabinet, and diminished the government, all that work we did during COVID, industry stepped up — it was really good work. That was diminished,” she told Savva.
“Ministers were unswervingly loyal to him. We went into the election fighting it out for him and the Liberal Party.
“Josh Frydenberg pushed back on challenging him. There was so much loyalty given to Morrison, and he has, in hindsight, squandered all the goodwill that was there.”
Earlier this year, Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue concluded Mr Morrison was “validly appointed” to the additional ministries and did not breach laws, but he “fundamentally undermined” the principles of responsible government.
He has called on the government to fix “deficient” rules around disclosure of appointments that allowed Mr. Morrison to keep his ministerial appointments secret.
Of particular concern was Mr. Morrison’s decision to overrule one of his ministers in order to block a petroleum exploration license, a use of his secret powers that was unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his limited public comments since the story broke, Mr Morrison has defended his decision as “prudent” in the face of an unprecedented, one-in-100-year crisis.