WEDNESDAY, 17 AUGUST 2022
SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s secret ministerial appointments.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Let’s go to Canberra now for more reaction and bring in the Minister for Education, Jason Clare. Minister, good morning. Good to see you.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, mate.
STEFANOVIC: With the cost of living, China on the verge of reclaiming Taiwan, how much of a priority is it for your government to pursue Scott Morrison and his secret ministries?
CLARE: Look, the top priority is the cost of living. Australians are worried about their bills, they’re worried about the inflation genie out of the bottle, and we are focused on that as well as delivering our election commitments to help Australians to pay the bills.
But, you know, Australians are shocked, I’m sure, when they wake up this morning and they see this story on the front page of the newspapers. We’re indebted to the investigative journalists at The Australian that have exposed this. In 120 years of constitutional democracy this has never happened before. It was wrong in principle for the former Prime Minister to try and accumulate all of these powers for himself, and made even worse by the cover-up. As Paul Murray and Andrew Bolt just made the point then, it’s the secrecy that makes this even worse. The fact that they kept this secret from their own members of parliament, from the whole parliament and from the Australian people tells you that they thought this was dodgy as buggery.
STEFANOVIC: As John Howard just said then, he believes that there’s been no damage to the body politic. Do you agree with him?
CLARE: I disagree with him on that. You know, by that logic the accumulation of all of these powers secretly, if they’re not used, did nothing wrong. I don’t think that’s right. You’ve had arguments from people like Peter Dutton saying, “Hang on a second, this was a war-like situation. We needed to take extraordinary measures.” Well, we’ve been to war before. When war broke out in Europe Menzies didn’t do this. When the Japanese were on the march over the Kokoda track John Curtin didn’t do this. There’s no good reason for the former Prime Minister to have done this at all. And it’s made worse by the fact that he decided to conceal this and cover it up. And it was only exposed now by The Australian newspaper.
STEFANOVIC: So, will there be a Royal Commission into it, amongst other things, and will Morrison then be dragged into it?
CLARE: Well, the Prime Minister yesterday made the point that he thinks it is inconceivable that there wouldn’t be some form of inquiry into the pandemic itself. Once the pandemic, or the worst of it has past we do need to examine how this happened, what we got right and what we got wrong to prepare ourselves inevitably for the next challenge that is going to confront us.
Scott Morrison is yesterday’s man. He’ll leave the Parliament eventually. The question here is what’s left. You’ve got the rump of the Liberal Party in the parliament now. Half of them didn’t know what was going on. Others knew but copped it and did nothing about it and didn’t reveal what was going on. And now you’ve got these mealy-mouthed limp excuses trying to defend what Scott Morrison did. And I think most Australians when they look at the front page of the paper today would be shaking their heads and saying this is not the party of Menzies anymore.
STEFANOVIC: Is the Governor-General free of fault?
CLARE: I’m not criticising the Governor-General. I think John Howard’s right on this point – the Governor-General acts on advice from the government of the day. And so, I’m not in for criticising the Governor-General. The advice we’ve got from the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet so far indicates that it was Scott Morrison who asked for these powers. So, blame lays at his feet for thinking this was a good idea in the first place.
Throughout the last two years he kept saying, “It’s not my job. It’s not my job. It’s not my job.” It turns out that was a very specific statement about only a couple of portfolios. It was his decision to do this and his decision to keep it secret from the Australian people. And now we’ve got, extraordinarily, the remnants of the Liberal Party defending this and making excuses for it. I think most Australians would think that’s wrong.
STEFANOVIC: But should the Governor-General have pushed back? Because Governor‑Generals have in the past at least sought legal advice or at least sought more information about what was being presented to him.
CLARE: The Governor-General may have. I just make the general point that former Prime Minister John Howard made as well, is that ultimately, it’s for the Governor-General to act on the advice of the government. What was wrong here was the initial advice given to him by the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
STEFANOVIC: There’s also another angle to all of this, too, an interesting report, again from Geoff Chambers, that Scott Morrison personally rang the former Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews on election day ordering her to release a statement about the interception of a Sri Lankan asylum seeker boat, as you are well aware of. What does this say about the dying hours of the former Morrison government?
CLARE: Well, here’s the irony in all of this. He threw Karen Andrews under the bus on the last day of the former government, forcing her out to effectively break convention and break rules over a boat that was at sea. It turns out he had the power to do all of that himself. So, no wonder Karen Andrews is as angry as she is for calling for him to leave the parliament.
What it suggests is chaos. Scott Morrison either didn’t have the guts to make the decision himself and forced the minister to do it or forgot that he even had the power. This time yesterday, Peter, he said he’d accumulated three portfolios. Turns out now it’s five. By the end of the day it could be seven. All this suggests is a government in chaos in its dying days and dying hours, and we still have a Liberal Party in disarray and chaos today not sure whether they should be condemning him or whether they should be supporting him.
STEFANOVIC: It’s a political gift for you, though, right?
CLARE: Well, look, this wasn’t something that we discovered and released to the Australian people. We’re indebted, as I say again, to those investigative journalists at The Australian who exposed this. It’s our responsibility as a government to seek advice from the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet about what happened. They’ve given us that information, and we’re grateful for it. It helped to clarify some information yesterday about whether it was three, four or five portfolios or, God forbid, even more. I think it’s incumbent upon us now to seek advice from the Solicitor-General about what happens here and what the legal consequences of this are.
CLARE: But, Peter, this should never have happened in the first place.
STEFANOVIC: Jason Clare, the Minister for Education, joining us live there from Canberra. Thank you, Jason. We’ll talk to you again soon.
CLARE: Good on you.
Media Contact: Korena Flanagan – 02 9790 2466