Speaker rejects Greens push to refer Scott Morrison to privileges committee

Milton Dick found there was not enough evidence to suggest former PM deliberately misled parliament

A push by the Greens to refer Scott Morrison to parliament’s powerful privileges committee has been rejected by the Speaker, Milton Dick, who has found there was not enough evidence to say the former prime minister deliberately misled the lower house.

In a letter sent to the Greens leader, Adam Bandt, on Tuesday, Dick is understood to have advised the party that while Morrison’s decision to have himself appointed to five additional portfolios was “extremely serious”, there was not enough prima facie evidence to suggest he had deliberately misled parliament.

MPs may yet vote to refer Morrison to the privileges committee when parliament resumes next month – or to set up another form of inquiry – but that would require an absolute majority to proceed.

The Greens justice spokesperson, David Shoebridge, said the party was still “firmly of the view that the former PM’s actions were deliberate and intended to mislead parliament and the public about the extent of his ministerial powers”.

“This confirms why we are pressing for a separate, fully resourced and empowered inquiry into this growing scandal,” he told Guardian Australia. “It must have the powers of a royal commission and be able to compel witnesses.”

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has left open the possibility of supporting a referral to the privileges committee, or a separate censure motion that could call on Morrison to explain himself to the parliament and apologise.

After receiving advice from the solicitor general that Morrison’s appointments, while legal, “fundamentally undermined” responsible government, Albanese revealed on Tuesday that the cabinet had approved a separate inquiry to consider the “implications” of the former prime minister’s actions.

Albanese confirmed that “clearly” some officials in his department were aware of the arrangements, but did not specify what, if any, consequences there should be for them.

Shoebridge led the push for the privileges committee inquiry and had won support from independent MP Sophie Scamps, with other independents suggesting a referral should be considered.

On Wednesday, the former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, called for the inquiry to be broadened from Morrison’s role to include his office, department, and the governor general’s office.

The inquiry into the #SecretMinistries scandal must go beyond Morrison. Understanding, as I do, how PMO, PMC and the GG office are meant to work I remain astonished that there was apparently no pushback to Morrison when he embarked on his bizarre secret accumulation of power.

— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) August 23, 2022

Turnbull told Radio National the inquiry should ask “why did the system fail”.

Morrison was advised “by people who have been in government for years and they knew that this was wrong [and that] this was bad”, he said. “What did they do to push back?”

“We are entitled to expect that all of our officials, whether they’re in the prime minister’s office whether they’re in the department … whether they’re at government house, should be defending the constitution.”

Shoebridge said Morrison “was able to build this incredible centralised power by hiding from scrutiny”.

“We can only force light on these shadowy powers by compelling the people who knew what happened, and when it occurred, to take the stands. The former prime minister’s attack on democratic norms and conventions needs to be met with transparency and it needs to bring accountability.”

On Tuesday, Morrison defended his actions as a “necessary” safeguard in “extraordinary circumstances” which were done with the “best of intentions”.

Morrison said he would “assist any genuine process to learn the lessons from the pandemic” which should include “actions of the states and territories”, implicitly rejecting the more targeted inquiry proposed by Albanese.

On Wednesday, the shadow assistant treasurer, Stuart Robert, a Morrison ally, told Radio National that Richard Marles’ calls for a “severe political consequence” for Morrison “scream of a political witch hunt”.

The attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said he was “hoping” it “won’t be necessary” for the inquiry to have coercive powers to compel Morrison to give evidence.

“[Morrison] has said he will cooperate with an inquiry and he should. He still hasn’t properly explained why he appointed himself to five ministries. This hiding behind the pandemic won’t cut it. He kept it secret, which raises questions about what he thought he was up to.”


Sarah Martin and Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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