Australia

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be censured over his ‘secret ministries’. Here’s what’s going on

Key Points
  • Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to five ministerial roles while prime minister.
  • The vote is largely symbolic, but symbolism matters in politics.
  • Labor condemns Mr Morrison over the secret power grab.
Scott Morrison’s decision to secretly swear himself to five cabinet portfolios will mean he becomes the first former prime minister to be formally condemned by the House of Representatives. 
In a highly critical report into the saga last week, .
The former prime minister is on Wednesday, despite his Coalition colleagues supporting him.
It’s unusual for an MP to face a censure motion, all the more so when it’s a former prime minister.

So how will the vote play out, and what impact will it actually have?

What is a censure motion?

Symbolism, but not much else.
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.

But they have been moved by Oppositions in the past, not because they’ll succeed, but because they’re an opportunity for political theatre. 

In this case, it will add a parliamentary rubber-stamp to what we already know: Labor condemns Mr Morrison over the secret power grab. The Coalition accepts he did the wrong thing, but thinks we should move on.

Do censure motions work?

It depends on what you’re trying to do.
The House has a whole range of powers to sanction MPs, ranging from suspension all the way up to imposing six-month jail terms.
None of that will happen on Wednesday.
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.
That’s not to say they have no impact; symbolism can be important in politics.
Because they’re so rare, the motions do draw a lot of attention which can add to broader pressure on their target.

But context is key in this case; the pressure on Mr Morrison will be lesser because his side will throw their support behind him.

Federal Liberal MP for Bass Bridget Archer, is expected to vote for the censure motion. Credit: Sarah Maunder

How will the vote play out?

It’s expected to fall largely along party lines. 
Labor has the numbers to pass the motion and that leaves the so-called teals, who have been fiercely critical of Mr Morrison’s “power grab”, the Greens, and independent Bob Katter as symbolic votes.

The Liberals are expected to largely vote no, dismissing it as a “political stunt” and the Nationals will follow suit. But at least one Coalition MP, Bridget Archer, will cross the floor to vote with Labor.

Former prime ministers Paul Keating and John Howard

Former prime ministers Paul Keating and John Howard were both censured by the Senate. Source: AAP / MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Has this happened before?

Mr Morrison won’t be the first prime minister to be censured, but this time is slightly different.
John Howard and Paul Keating were both condemned by a vote in the Senate while they were in office.
But this will be the first time it happens in the lower house, and the first time it happens to a former prime minister who is still in parliament.
A sitting MP hasn’t been condemned by their colleagues since 1995, and that was just the second time it had occurred.

The last censure motion was passed in 2018, when the Coalition and Labor teamed up to condemn Liberal MP Bruce Billson. But by that stage, the former minister had already left parliament.

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