Australian PM Announces Inquiry into Former Prime Minister Over Secret Portfolio Appointments

Australian PM Announces Inquiry into Former Prime Minister Over Secret Portfolio Appointments
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, on July 8, 2022. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Daniel Y. Teng

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and his Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, have announced an inquiry into his predecessor’s decision to secretly appoint himself to five ministries.

The announcement comes amid criticism that the Labor government should be dealing with other, more pressing issues, including rising inflation, energy prices, interest rates, as well as Beijing’s influence in the region.

On Aug. 26, Albanese and Dreyfus announced former High Court Justice Virginia Bell would lead the inquiry into former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s actions.

Morrison was found to have secretly appointed himself to five portfolio positions over the course of 2020 to 2021. The decision was roundly criticised. However, an investigation by the solicitor-general found no illegal actions were carried out.

Yet the federal centre-left Labor government has pushed ahead with a formal inquiry into the matter—a move likely to generate significant media interest over the course of the proceedings.

“We need to have a quick and appropriate inquiry, which is not about the politics, but about how this happened. Why it happened, who knew about it? We need to have transparency in the process because our system of parliamentary democracy relies upon conventions, relies upon the Westminster System of checks and balances,” Albanese told reporters on Aug. 26.

While the attorney-general pointed to comments from three former Liberal prime ministers, John Howard, Tony Abbott, and Malcolm Turnbull, who have all condemned Morrison’s actions.

“That’s the backdrop to this, that the three past Liberal prime ministers of our country have all of them condemned this conduct. That’s why it needs to be investigated,” Dreyfus said.

The inquiry report will be handed down on Nov. 25, 2022.

The inquiry will also examine the functioning of departments, government business enterprises, and statutory bodies.

Pleas to Move on to ‘Real Issues’

In response, the opposition deputy leader Sussan Ley said the prime minister was “obsessed and consumed by the politics of the past” rather than focusing on Australia’s major issues like the cost of living.

“He’s talked about public submissions and a report by the 25th of November—that is three rate rises away,” she told reporters.

The decision to announce the inquiry was approved by the Labor Cabinet and echoes earlier moves by former Prime Minister Abbott in 2013 to launch an inquiry into the failed home insulation scheme under former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The former president of the Labor Party, Warren Mundine, has called the media attention around the issue a “drag” and said there should be more focus on “what’s happening in the real world.”

“Let’s get back to talk about inflation. Start talking about jobs and salaries, and get to real life issues,” he told The Epoch Times.

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].
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