Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has released the much-anticipated advice on the legality of his predecessor’s appointment to the resources portfolio, after first sharing it with Cabinet.
Albanese said there was a clear need to ensure absolute confidence in political processes from now on.
“Our system relied upon conventions, accountability, checks and balances – those have been thrown out,” he said.
The specific question put to the solicitor-general was: “Was Mr Morrison validly appointed to administer the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources on 15 April 2021?”
Dr Donaghue found the appointment was valid under section 64 of the constitution.
“The governor-general, acting on the advice of the prime minister, has power under section 64 of the constitution to appoint an existing minister of state, including the prime minister, to administer an additional department of state,” he said.
“The governor-general has no discretion to refuse to accept the prime minister’s advice in relation to such an appointment.”
Dr Donaghue said it was impossible for both Parliament and the public to hold ministers to account when the identities of those responsible were not public.
“That conclusion does not depend on the extent to which Mr Morrison exercised powers under legislation administered because from the moment of his appointment he was responsible for the administration of the department,” he said.
Inquiry planned but exact nature to be determined
Albanese announced he intends to launch an inquiry into the appointments.
“The Cabinet has determined that there will be a need for a future inquiry,” he said.
“We’ll give proper considered thought into what the structure of an inquiry should be, based upon proper advice that I have asked the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to give me.
“The inquiry will need to examine what happened and what the implications are for what occurred over whether there are any legal issues that are raised, which is why we would be looking at someone with a serious legal background to undertake the inquiry.
“Thirdly, it needs to look at future reform, how we can ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future … so making positive future recommendations as well, which I can’t envisage that the government would not act on all of the recommendations which are made.”
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet referred the matter to the solicitor-general last Monday.
The following day, Albanese announced he was also seeking further legal advice, accusing his predecessor of orchestrating an “unprecedented trashing of democracy”.
Albanese revealed the former prime minister had taken on five additional portfolios already held by other ministers, and the majority were unaware of the move.