Scott Morrison becomes the first former Australian prime minister to be censured by parliament

Scott Morrison was censured by the House of Representatives after offering new defenses for his failure to disclose extra ministerial appointments and accusing the government of pursuing the ‘punishment policy’.

Australia’s 30th prime minister, who led the Coalition to an electoral defeat in May, told the lower house it was “false” to equate his decision to administer colleagues’ departments with ministerial appointments, and said that if had been asked that he “would have answered truthfully about the agreements”.

Morrison becomes the first former prime minister to be censured, in a rare censure of a backward MP, the first since former small business minister Bruce Billson in 2018.

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House Leader Tony Burke moved shortly after 9 on Wednesday to censure Morrison for failing to disclose the five appointments “to the House of Representatives, the Australian people and the Cabinet, which have undermined accountable government and eroded trust of the public in Australian democracy”.

Burke cited those findings from former High Court Judge Virginia Bell’s report of the inquiry, released Friday.

The motion passed shortly after midday by 86 votes to 50, with Liberal MP Bridget Archer and the cross-bench except Bob Katter and Dai Le joining Labor and the Greens to pass it. Katter voted with the Coalition, Le abstained, and several Coalition MPs were absent.

Shadow Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, who called on Morrison to step down in August, abstained.

Burke said Morrison’s failure to warn parliament that he was responsible for five extra wallets was “no small matter”, arguing that the previous parliament’s path “was different because we have been duped”.

Burke said Morrison “not only fell short of the standards” of the house, he “undermined them, attacked them, [and] abused them”.

Burke said Morrison’s public accounts were “logically impossible,” citing the contradiction between his statements via lawyers to Bell that he assumed the appointments would be published in the government gazette and his earlier statement that he did not want his ministerial colleagues knew to avoid the fear that he was trying to second guess them.

Burke made a last-ditch appeal to Coalition members to support the motion, after the party decided to close ranks around Morrison, with the exception of Archer who spoke in favor.

Archer told the House on Wednesday that Morrison’s actions were “an affront to our Westminster system” because “the Australian people had a right to be informed” of the appointments.

“I don’t accept any of the explanations given by the former prime minister for his actions,” he said. “And I am deeply disappointed by the lack of a genuine apology or, more importantly, an understanding of the impact of these decisions.”

Archer said the censorship “wasn’t a game” as some things “are above the cut and push of politics” – but he urged colleagues to back it up as “an opportunity to draw the line” and to abandon Morrison’s leadership and the May 2022 election defeat.

Earlier, Morrison said he led the Australian government as it “tackled the abyss of uncertainty” in the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“I have no intention now of submitting to the political intimidation of this government, using its numbers in this place to enforce its punishment on a political opponent,” he said.

Morrison said his appointments to administer the healthcare and finance portfolios were “a redundancy” of ministerial powers that could be exercised without government approval.

“I am not giving up on these decisions and I find them entirely necessary, mirroring many procedures implemented in the private sector at the time.”

On two other portfolios — treasury and internal affairs — Morrison admitted that his decisions to create a “sleeping layoff” to exercise those powers “were unnecessary and that insufficient consideration had been given to these decisions at the time, including disclosure “.

“Regarding the decision to assume the authority to administer the Department of Industry, Scientific Resources and Technology, for purposes of PEP-11 consideration, I do not surrender such action.

“Authority has been legitimately sought and exercised only over a specific matter.

“I found it unnecessary to sack the minister to deal with this matter, as he was doing a very good job, and illegal to put undue pressure on him in connection with this decision.”

Morrison said claims that he was not accountable to parliament were “not credible” because as prime minister he could answer on all portfolios during question time.

“The suggestion that as prime minister I was unwilling to do that in this house, or that the opposition does not ask such questions in those portfolios is preposterous and completely false.”

Morrison also said, “Had I been asked about these topics at the time during the many press conferences I’ve given, I would have answered truthfully about the deals I had in place.”

Morrison said he would “take the teaching of my faith and turn the other cheek”, and called on Labor members to consider gaining more experience in government before they “may wish to cast the first stone in this place”.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Morrison showed “arrogance” instead of “contrition” in the censorship debate.

“The former prime minister owes an apology – not to the people he shared breakfast at the Lodge with, he owes the Australian people an apology for undermining democracy.”

Albanese said Australia’s response to the pandemic was “not a one-man show”.

He said the censure was a “deeply sad moment in the life of our Parliament”, but to ignore Morrison’s actions “would be complicit in saying ‘well, that’s fine'”.

The motion of censure united the cross-bench, with Green leader Adam Bandt and Independent MPs Helen Haines, Monique Ryan, Kate Chaney, Sophie Scamps, Allegra Spender, Zoe Daniel, Zali Steggall and Kylea Tink all voting please.

Earlier, the opposition business manager, Paul Fletcher, labeled the motion of censure “political comeback” and argued that motions of censure against backbenchers weren’t appropriate unless they were made under a bipartisan agreement.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack defended Morrison, saying his legacy should be “that he led this nation in the best way possible”.

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