Updated: Sep 3, 2022
In August 2022, it was revealed that between March of 2020 and the 2022 Federal Election, the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, had been appointed as Joint Minister for Health, Finance, Treasury, Home Affairs, and the Ministry for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER). Upon request, the Solicitor-General, Dr. Stephen Donaghue QC, provided a document discussing the legality of the appointments.
However, the title of the document only concerned the validity of Mr. Morrison's appointment to DISER, not the other departments, with the Solicitor-General stating within it that he had "not been asked to express any opinion in respect of those appointments." Mr. Morrison claimed it was necessary for him to take on these roles at the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic to allow him to act in the national interest.
Comments from Solicitor-General
On the 22nd of August 2022 the Solicitor-General provided an opinion document titled "In the matter of the validity of the appointment of Mr Morrison to administer the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources."
Section 8 of the document provides a summary of its purpose:
8.The question upon which my advice is sought, and my short answer to it, is as follows:
Question: Was Mr Morrison validly appointed to administer the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources on 15 April 2021?
Answer: Yes. The Governor-General, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, has power under s 64 of the Constitution to appoint an existing Minister of State, including the Prime Minister, to administer an additional department of State. The Governor-General has no discretion to refuse to accept the Prime Minister’s advice in relation to such an appointment. Nor is there any constitutional or legislative requirement for notification of such an appointment as a condition of its validity, or for the Minister to subscribe another oath or affirmation following such an appointment. Accordingly, Mr Morrison was validly appointed to administer DISER on 15 April 2021.
While this answer confirmed the legal validity of Mr. Morrison's appointments, Dr. Donaghue continued stating that the fact that the Parliament, public and other ministers were not made aware of Mr. Morrison's appointment to administer DISER was "inconsistent with the conventions and practices that form an essential part of the system of responsible government prescribed by CH II of the Constitution," before also discussing the implications and possible solutions of the situation.
Furthermore, while Dr. Donaghue discussed the legalities of Mr. Morrison's appointment to administer DISER and made brief references to his appointments to administer the Department of Health and the Department of Finance, his appointments for Home Affairs and Treasury are not discussed. In the document, he stated: "I have not been asked to express any opinion in respect of those appointments."
Scott Morrison's Statement
The Former-Prime Minister released a statement on Tuesday the 16th of August following the revelations, arguing that his appointments were necessary to ensure safeguards during the pandemic:
"The risk of ministers becoming incapacitated, sick, hospitalised, incapable of doing their work at a critical hour or even fatality was very real. The Home Affairs Minister was struck down with COVID-19 early in the pandemic and the UK Prime Minister was on a ventilator and facing the very real prospect of dying of COVID-19. As prime minister I considered it necessary to put in place safeguards, redundancies and contingencies to ensure the continuity and effective operation of government during this crisis period, which extended for the full period of my term."
Timeline of Ministerial Appointments
On the 11th of March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the spread of COVID-19 to be a global pandemic.
Several days later, on the 14th of March 2020, Mr. Morrison appointed himself Joint-Minister for Health.
Roughly two weeks later, on the 30th of March 2020, Mr. Morrison appointed himself as Joint-Minister for Finance.
Over a year later, on the 15th of April 2020, Mr. Morrison appointed himself as Joint-Minister for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
On the 6th of May 2021, Mr. Morrison appointed himself as Joint-Minister for both Home Affairs and Treasury.