A junior minister responsible for the public service in the former Coalition government was appointed to ‘administer’ the Home Affairs department on the very day a new minister was sworn into office.
On 30 March 2021, Scott Morrison got his right-wing mate Ben Morton, then assistant minister for the public service, appointed by Governor-General David Hurley to administer the Home Affairs Department.
There was no swearing-in ceremony for Mr Morton’s additional role, but Karen Andrews was sworn in that same day as the Home Affairs minister, replacing Peter Dutton who was promoted to defence minister.
It is understood that neither Ms Andrews nor Mr Dutton was aware of Mr Morton’s additional role, even though the Governor-General’s office subsequently noted the appointment in the government gazette.
Heavily redacted documents released under freedom of information laws on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet website reveal correspondence between the department and the G-G’s official secretary Paul Singer on 11 March 2021.
“The PM has asked Assistant Minister Morton to have oversight of the Global Talents Taskforce, located in the Department of Home Affairs,” the PM&C officer wrote.
“This would require Mr Morton being sworn to administer the Dept of Home Affairs.”
Mr Singer replied the next day saying that it would be fine.
But on 30 March, Mr Morrison wrote to the Governor-General to advise that Mr Morton did not need to be sworn in to take up his new responsibilities.
“As these changes are of an administrative nature only, Mr Morton … will not be participating in the swearing-in ceremony,” Mr Morrison wrote.
Another MP, whose name was redacted from the documents released, was appointed to administer another (redacted) department on the same day.
However, part of the unredacted correspondence suggests that the other MP could be former Coalition Minister Michelle Landry.
“This will be fine, happy to resolve the administrative arrangements for both Ministers Morton and Landry in the same correspondence,” Mr Singer wrote.
PM&C delivered the then prime minister a briefing stating documents had been produced to enable Morton to “administer the Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce within the Department of Home Affairs, which you have previously agreed on 9 March 2021”.
In October of that same year, Mr Morton was sworn in as public service minister and special minister of state.
But his March appointment to administer Home Affairs came just two months before Mr Morrison secretly had himself sworn in as another minister for the same department.
Mr Morton has not commented on the matter.
The former prime minister was censured in parliament in November last year – the first former PM to ever be censured – for secretly appointing himself as an additional minister to the Treasury, Home Affairs, Finance, Industry and Health departments between 2020 and 2021.
Morrison’s self-appointments were not publicly known until 13 August last year, following the May federal election.
While Mr Morrison’s defence was that Australia was navigating unusual times through the pandemic, requiring unusual governance steps, the newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese launched an investigation into the matter.