Australia

Anthony Albanese says Scott Morrison ministry saga was an ‘abuse of power’ in censure motion debate

Key Points
  • Labor was highly critical of Scott Morrison appointing himself to five ministries.
  • Former prime minister Scott Morrison launched a defence of his record in government.
  • A report found Mr Morrison undermined public trust in democracy.
Scott Morrison has accused Labor of “political intimidation” and “retribution” as he edges closer to being censured by parliament over his secret ministries takeover.
The former prime minister has refused to apologise for secretly taking over five key cabinet posts, saying criticisms of his “entirely necessary” decisions are being made in the “calm of hindsight”.

But his successor Anthony Albanese has described the saga as an “abuse of power and a trashing of our democracy”, urging his colleagues to condemn the former prime minister.

What is censure?

Censure motions are parliament’s way of formally expressing disapproval in an MP, and are decided by a vote in the Chamber.
They can be used to condemn a party as a whole, usually the opposition, or an individual sitting in either house.
Because the government usually controls a majority in the lower house, you almost never see one of its members condemned there.
Censure motions have no direct powers – Mr Morrison won’t be escorted from the building – and should instead be viewed as parliament condemning his behaviour.
Labor is moving a motion against Mr Morrison in the lower house, after a damning report found his “bizarre” actions undermined trust in democracy.
Responding on Wednesday morning, the former prime minister launched an impassioned defence of his record in government, saying he had “no intention now of submitting to the political intimidation of this government”.

Mr Morrison insisted he was proud of the Coalition actions as the nation “faced the abyss” of COVID-19, and a trade war launched by China.

What did Scott Morrison say?

“I do not apologise for taking action … in a national crisis, in order to save lives and to save livelihoods,” he said.
“During this period, we were fighting for our very survival, from a public health, economic, and national security perspective.”
The former prime minister dismissed the motion as the “politics of retribution and nothing less”.
“These are the behaviours of an opposition, not a government, which understands that grace in victory is a virtue … I will take the instruction of my faith and turn the other cheek,” he said.

Mr Morrison claimed he did not intend to cause offence among colleagues who, despite intending to vote against the motion, have been publicly critical of his actions.

He claimed he would have “responded truthfully” if asked about the arrangements, which were not public knowledge, by the media.
Mr Morrison was embraced by Coalition MPs after concluding his speech, with the exception of Bridget Archer, who has confirmed she will cross the floor to censure her former leader.
“To sit quietly now would be hypocritical and I firmly believe we should be intentional in the actions we take to ensure that we do not let this happen again,” she said.
Ms Archer has run on a platform of integrity in politics, and described Mr Morrison’s actions as “an affront” to democracy.

Mr Morrison left the chamber shortly after, as speeches continued.

Anthony Albanese says Scott Morrison ‘just doesn’t get it’

Speaking after his predecessor, Mr Albanese declared the parliament had a responsibility to condemn Mr Morrison’s “extraordinary” actions.
The prime minister warned thein Washington DC showed democracy cannot be taken for granted.
“Power should never be abused. This was an abuse of power and a trashing of our democracy,” he said.
Mr Albanese said he arrived in the chamber unsure whether he would speak on the motion, but Mr Morrison’s speech had forced his hand.
He particularly took issue with Mr Morrison insisting he had held private conversations with his colleagues, including former treasurer Josh Frydneberg, to explain his actions.
“[He] has confirmed again that he just doesn’t get it,” he said.

“It’s not about Josh Frydenberg. It’s about the people of Australia. That’s who we’re accountable to, through this Parliament at this despatch box.”

Mr Albanese also blasted his predecessor for framing Australia’s pandemic response as a “one man show”, saying he had been supported by a constructive Labor opposition, and millions of Australians who complied with COVID-19 regulations.

“This was the Australian people who stood up and protected themselves … so all this unctuousness and self-congratulation we heard this morning should be dismissed,” he said.

Labor’s censure motion, a symbolic move, is all but certain to succeed given it controls a majority in the chamber.
Introducing it on Wednesday morning, Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said no MP believed Mr Morrison’s actions had met the standards of the House.
“Today is not how any of us wanted to make history,” he said.
“[But] this is not some small matter. It goes to the absolute core of the principle of responsible government.”

Mr Burke warned question time had been unable to function without transparency, insisting “every single threshold” previously needed to censure MPs had been met in this case. 

“The gravity of what we are dealing with today is a censure motion beyond what the parliament has previously dealt with,” he said.
“On this occasion, the conduct of one member prevented the house from doing its job … The fact that that one member was also the prime minister of Australia means that what we are dealing with now isn’t just unprecedented … but [it] is so completely acceptable.”
The Coalition is throwing its support behind its former leader, and will vote against a motion it describes as a “political stunt”.
Mr Morrison has consistently defended his actions, which he claims were necessary as Australia grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report by former Chief Justice Virginia Bell into the saga, released last Friday, found Mr Morrison undermined public trust in democracy and enabled a “culture of secrecy and cover-up”.
This is a developing story and this article will be updated.
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