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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Doug Dingwall

'Political stunt': Morrison faces rare parliamentary action

Member for Mitchell Alex Hawke and Scott Morrison during Question Time on Tuesday. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong

The federal government will move to censure Scott Morrison in parliament for eroding public trust in Australia's democracy by appointing himself to several ministries in secret.

Labor's censure motion will say the former prime minister undermined responsible government in failing to tell the public, parliament or cabinet he was minister for the health, finance, home affairs, resources and treasury portfolios during the pandemic.

Leader of the House Tony Burke is expected to introduce the motion in parliament on Wednesday, after the release of former High Court justice Virginia Bell's report on the saga last week.

The report described the appointments as "unnecessary" and said the decision to hide them from the public and parliament was "corrosive of trust in government".

Labor will move a censure motion saying the constitution provides for "responsible government" - described by the High Court as a "system by which the executive is responsible to the legislature and, through it, to the electorate".

The motion will say Mr Morrison undermined responsible government by failing to disclose his ministries to the public, parliament and cabinet.

Justice Bell's 159-page report also revealed Mr Morrison had planned to appoint himself to the environment and water portfolio - but chose not to go ahead with it.

Most Coalition MPs won't support the motion, labelling it "payback" and a "political stunt" by the Labor government.

Censure motions do not have any legal consequences, but they are rare and give parliamentarians the chance to formally note disapproval with their colleagues.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the censure motion was political revenge by Anthony Albanese.

"A Labor government should in fact be using the time that we have left in parliament to deal with the real problems that are facing Australians, like the cost of living and energy prices," he told a Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday.

"Instead, they've chosen to use the time for political stunts and payback - so much for a kinder, gentler parliament."

Mr Morrison spoke briefly at the party room meeting, thanking Coalition members for their support since the inquiry report was released and since his election loss.

Liberal MP Bridget Archer plans to speak and vote in favour of the censure motion.

"These actions of the former prime minister are intrinsically linked to lessons we need to learn if we are going to move forward ... if we are able to get out from the shadow of that time and reset," she told the ABC.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Bell report into Mr Morrison's conduct was "devastating" for the Coalition.

"We can never go back to the chaos and dysfunction of the previous government," he told a party room meeting.

Mr Morrison's conduct was criticised by key factional ally Alex Hawke, with the Nine newspapers reporting he described the former prime minister as addicted to power. Mr Hawke on Tuesday rejected the upcoming censure motion.

"The pointless and unnecessary political manoeuvring of the Australian Labor Party in proposing to censure a former prime minister ... is wrong," he said.

"I have caught up with Scott Morrison and like every day, look forward to joining him in parliament and, in particular, supporting him against the Labor Party's divisive political tactics."

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said it was important for parliament to show its disapproval of Mr Morrison's conduct.

"These are the actions of a prime minister who had himself appointed to some five ministries and kept it secret from the parliament," he told Nine's Today program.

"It's a very serious attack on our democracy, and we can't let it go unmarked."

The last MP to be censured was Liberal MP Bruce Billson in 2018 for not declaring payments while he was still in parliament.

"(Being) censured by the parliament is a very, very unusual step, and I think that in itself is a very serious punishment," Mr Dreyfus said.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said while he did not support Mr Morrison's secretive ministries, a censure was not necessary.

- With AAP

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