Radio Interview - ABC Melbourne Mornings with Virginia Trioli

16 Aug 2022
Prime Minister
Scott Morrison’s secret appointments to multiple portfolios; shadow government; PEP-11; beef exports; Australia’s relationship with China; COVID; National Cabinet

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: So, is there another shoe to drop? Are there more portfolios and ministries to be revealed that Scott Morrison secretly had himself sworn into while Prime Minister? Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, joins you this morning on the show. Prime Minister, thanks for making yourself available to us again. Good morning.


TRIOLI: There are reports about this morning that according to government sources, there's more to come on this portfolio scandal. Have you uncovered any more appointments made by Scott Morrison of himself that we don't know about yet?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll be receiving a briefing this morning, after we speak. And if there are more details to be revealed that the Australian people are entitled to know, I'll certainly be doing so. What's very clear is that Scott Morrison and the Coalition were running a shadow Government. We know that I was in charge of a Shadow Ministry. But Australians didn't know that we had this, quite frankly, bizarre circumstance. But also, you could sort of look at it if it was something in a novel or something in fiction, and say, 'Oh, well, that's an interesting plot and twist'. But this is something as precious as our democracy. And this was a clear undermining of our Westminster system of accountability, because the Australian people, as well as parliamentarians, and others, of course, simply weren't aware of who was responsible for what portfolios.

TRIOLI: Well, constitutional lawyers are saying what he's done is not technically unconstitutional, even though it is odd, unusual and as Anne Twomey says, frankly, bizarre. So, what's the point of an investigation by you? And what kind of inquiry will it be?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it'd be handy for us to know who was in charge of what portfolios in the former Government because decisions are made. One of the things about the Westminster system is it's very different from a presidential process such as they have in the United States. And so Ministers, for example, are responsible for particular decisions in their portfolio that they've got to make based upon the merits of the arguments. So, the Environment Minister, for example, is responsible for environmental approvals. The Immigration Minister, we saw in the Djokovic case, was solely responsible for that decision with regard to a visa for Mr Djokovic and whether he was entitled to stay in Australia. The Resources Minister is responsible for particular decisions as well. Now, if you have this circumstance whereby you have multiple ministers, effectively, for the one job, then that can create not just a confusion, but can create real issues as we're seeing in the legal action being taken about the PEP-11 project off the coast of New South Wales at the moment.

TRIOLI: And I've got a question for you about that. Scott Morrison has actually just been on 2GB radio in Sydney, and says the arrangements were fine. I'm just paraphrasing here from reports that are coming through, that arrangements were fine as, quote, 'The buck stops with me as Prime Minister', is he right?

PRIME MINISTER: No, he's not right. Because on issues like resources, that the buck actually stops with the Resources Minister under legislation to make particular decisions. The same as the buck might stop on foreign investment issues or stops with the Immigration Minister, as I said, on migration issues. We don't have a one-person band here. What we have is a Government that has inbuilt checks and balances. And that's why this is such a breach of convention. It's a breach of processes. And it is typical of someone who, of course, set up a Cabinet committee of one so that he could have meetings with various people and say that it was a meeting of that subcommittee of the Cabinet. It would appear that the former Government went out of its way to hide information and to be to have a lack of transparency. No wonder they objected to having a National Anti-Corruption Commission. This went to the very nature in the heart of the Coalition Government that governed for a period of time and simply lost any perspective about accountability to the Australian people on the way through, that operated in the shadows. And Australia's deserve better. And our democracy, frankly, deserve better as well.

TRIOLI: I know your time is tight. So, we'll try and get to a couple other questions on this and some other matters too, Prime Minister. Does the Governor General have questions to answer in your view? Are you critical of the role that he's played?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Governor General acts upon the advice of the Government of the day. And he did that. And it was the Government of the day that also made a decision for a lack of transparency here. One of the things that concerns me about this is that, and there are multiple concerns, is that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition table in the Parliament who's responsible for particular ministerial portfolios. And that hasn't occurred here. There's a very clear breach of the obligations that the Prime Minister has to the Parliament.

TRIOLI: Well, on the issue of what the Prime Minister did when he was sworn in, secretly sworn in, to the Resources portfolio, Asset Energy wants you to review the blocking of its offshore gas permit for the coast of New South Wales. Will you review that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that matters before the court. So, I have no intention of commenting on that detail. What's clear here, though, is that there's a concern that there were two people responsible for that portfolio. And from what has been said publicly, clearly, they had different positions on it, which is why you shouldn't have two people responsible for what is one decision.

TRIOLI: The former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, also said yesterday that he's not engaged with day-to-day politics anymore. And he also, of course, missed the first week of Parliament. Is that kind of disengagement acceptable to Parliament to you, do you think?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it's not acceptable for a Member of Parliament to say they're not engaged in parliamentary processes and politics. The Member for Cook is responsible for representing the people of Cook in the national Parliament. And his comments yesterday were, again, quite extraordinary and showed contempt for the parliamentary processes, but also the people of the Sutherland Shire deserve better than having a representative who dismisses any need for accountability and says himself, in his own words, that he's not paying attention to day-to-day politics.

TRIOLI: Just one more on this before we get to, quickly, a couple of other things. You can't compel Scott Morrison to give a formal statement about this. And I mentioned he's done an interview on 2GB. But are you asking him to? And will you constitute the kind of inquiry where he is compelled to?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm going to get proper advice today about those issues. And we need to know exactly what has gone on here. I think the Australian people deserve that. But they also deserve to have fully considered any recommendations that might be made so that something like this can't happen again. This isn't just an academic exercise. I am running a proper Government with proper Cabinet processes. But this isn't something that has occurred in the far distant past. This is something that has occurred leading up to May 21 this year.

TRIOLI: On another matter, is China about to suspend all Aussie beef imports over concerns about Foot and Mouth here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they certainly shouldn't. There is no justification for any of the economic sanctions that have been put in place by China.

TRIOLI: If it happens, we have to conclude, don't we, that's entirely the responsibility of your Government not taking strong enough action to keep it out of the country, isn't it? You had high-profile figures in the agricultural industry, Prime Minister, calling for the border to be closed in relation to certain countries?

PRIME MINISTER: That's not right, Virginia. With respect, what we actually had was the beef industry, the National Farmers' Federation, and all the peak organisations all opposing the opportunities to call for border closures. Because border closures would have resulted in the impact on our exports have been extremely damaging. What we did was take the strongest ever action that any Government has ever taken to ensure that everything possible was done to keep it out. And it has been kept out.

TRIOLI: On COVID, the rate of lives lost in the last 11 weeks is ten times the average weekly rate of lives lost in 2020 and 2021 combined. I do wonder why your Government hasn't introduced different health settings to the ones that you inherited, in order to stem this awful loss of life. Are you not seriously considering changing direction now, given the state that we're in, the position we're in with the pandemic now?

PRIME MINISTER: We've taken the health advice. And we've done that with consistent national processes through the National Cabinet so that we have a consistent set of rules in place around the country. We, of course, have put in place appropriate actions in venues such as aged care facilities and others. We're running a consistent public health campaign, encouraging people to get their booster shots, encouraging people to wear masks indoors where they can't socially distance. And I'm pleased that the advice from the latest briefing that we've had shows the numbers of people being infected the numbers of people in hospital are all going down. And we certainly hope that continues. That was what was predicted by the health advice that was received and the briefing that was received by the National Cabinet, which met just in the last fortnight.

TRIOLI: Just before I let you go, this has just come through. And I'm sorry to keep you. But AAP is reporting the former Prime Minister was also secretly sworn into the Social Services portfolio. Are you aware of this, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I'm not aware of that particular detail. But I'll be receiving a briefing this morning shortly. And I'll have more to say later this morning.

TRIOLI: I appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Virginia.