Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor to condemn what she called “an affront to democracy” while one of Scott Morrison’s former cabinet colleagues abstained from parliament’s historic rebuke of a former PM.
Wednesday’s historic censure motion, which passed 86 votes to 50, has refuelled speculation that Mr Morrison might have ended his parliamentary career on a low note.
“My prediction – he pulls the pin over Christmas,” Environment Minister Tania Plibersek said.
“This is not a game,” Ms Archer, a Tasmanian Liberal who once drew Mr Morrison’s ire for breaking ranks to vote for an integrity commission, said when she spoke on support of the government’s censure move.
“I’m deeply disappointed by the lack of genuine apology, or more importantly, understanding of the impact of these decisions.”
The motion’s passage on Wednesday came just hours before a bill instituting a national anti-corruption commission – one of the Albanese government’s key election pledges – passed the upper house.
Senior Liberal MP Karen Andrews, the former minister for home affairs, said the censure – the first for an Australian prime minister – was a “political stunt”. But she has previously called for Mr Morrison to resign from parliament amid the fallout from his ministries power grab.
On Wednesday, she abstained from voting.
It also emerged on Wednesday that Mr Morrison will appear before the robodebt royal commission next week.
The inquiry into the unlawful debt collection method will examine the scheme’s operation while he was treasurer and social services minister.
In a defiant speech on the motion against him in the House of Representatives earlier on Wednesday, Mr Morrison said he would “turn the other cheek” to “political retribution”.
“I do not resile from these decisions [to adopt multiple secret portfolios] and believe them entirely necessary,” the former PM said.
“This is a clear opportunity for a line to be drawn and to move in the right direction.
Mr Morrison took over five ministries without the knowledge of most of members of his cabinet. Former High Court judge Virginia Bell found Mr Morrison’s explanation for having been secretly sworn into the ministries “improbable”.
On Wednesday, he told parliament the covert appointments were “dormant redundancy provisions”.
“I do not apologise for taking action, especially prudent redundancy action in a national crisis, in order to save lives and to save livelihoods,” he said.
Mr Morrison was not in the chamber for the vote. But he was embraced by some Coalition MPs after his speech.
Opposition MPs engaged in a mass walkout as other MPs began to speak in support of the condemnation.
Mr Morrison’s defence was condemned by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
“I thought this morning that we would see some contrition,” he said.
“We got none of that.
“We got hubris and we got arrogance and we got denial.”’
A short time later in the House, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus hailed the passage of the integrity commission bill, which the government had promised to legislate by Christmas.
“Australians waited years for the former government to implement their pledge for a Commonwealth integrity commission,” he said.
“When you change the government, you change the country, and the national anti-corruption commission will change this country forever.”