Enter your email to read this article
Read news on any topic, in one place, from publishers like The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more.

Scott Morrison's secret appointments nowhere to be found in reports about Governor-General

David Hurley said Scott Morrison's appointments to five ministries were consistent with the constitution.  (ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Governor-General David Hurley's busy schedule of public events is on display for all to see.

A quick glance through the online Governor-General's Program reveals plenty of public activities — from formal engagements to meetings and phone calls with government officials. 

Ordinarily, when a minister is appointed to an office at a swearing-in ceremony, virtual or in person, this is also listed in his program.

But the appointment of Scott Morrison to five secret ministries is nowhere to be found.

Retired General Hurley found himself at the centre of a political controversy that engulfed Australia over the past week, as it emerged that former prime minister Scott Morrison had secretly sworn himself into five separate ministries, in some cases without telling the colleagues he shared power with.

David Hurley has declined to comment further on Scott Morrison's ministerial appointments. (AAP: Lukas Coch)

A spokesman for General Hurley issued a statement defending the role of his office earlier this week, setting out "any questions around secrecy after the Governor-General had acted on the advice of the government of the day are a matter for the previous government".

"It is not the responsibility of the Governor-General to advise the broader ministry or parliament (or public) of administrative changes of this nature," the statement said.

"The Governor-General had no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated."

While General Hurley's office has said he had no reason to believe that Mr Morrison's appointment would not be communicated by the government, the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, which is an independent agency, does already disclose a good deal of information about the Governor-General's activities — both official and unofficial — in a variety of ways.

The official program sets out many different types of events, including his attendance at the 175th anniversary of the consecration of St John's Anglican Church and his presentation of the Duke of Gloucester Sash at the National Sheepdog Trial Championship.

The program also discloses some occasions he has had telephone calls with public officials, such as a March 30, 2020 phone call with the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor.

They also reference some meetings he held with the former prime minister, such as four breakfasts with Mr Morrison on July 24, 2019, September 11, 2019, December 4, 2019, and February 12, 2020.

The Governor-General's Program does list instances of meetings between General Hurley and Scott Morrison.  (Supplied: Governor-General of Australia)

Federal Greens senator David Shoebridge told 7.30 he believed the extent of publication of the Governor-General's activities showed his office had further questions to answer.

"Some people might be fascinated to hear when the Governor-General has hosted a dinner, made a phone call, or awarded a dog," he said.

"I believe the Australian public is more interested in who he has appointed under the constitution to act as [a] minister of state."

David Shoebridge says the Governor-General's office has further questions to answer.  (AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

Constitutional experts have suggested that it appears the appointments were constitutionally valid, and have pointed out there was no clear constitutional requirement for the Governor-General to make these types of administrative appointments public.

But there are other general requirements on all government agencies to publicly disclose some information about their activities in annual reports.

No mentions in annual reports

7.30 reviewed the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General's annual reports, which have been available online since 2014.

Under the heading Constitutional Activities, the independent entity has routinely disclosed Instruments of Appointment issued during swearing-in ceremonies.

The office also sets out the number of federal executive meetings the Governor-General attends.

In his 2019-2020 annual report, in the section Constitutional Activities, the office disclosed that: "On 6 February 2020, the Governor-General hosted a swearing-in ceremony to issue the Instruments of Appointment and the Oaths and Affirmations of Office to five ministers and one parliamentary secretary at a ceremony at Government House."

However, the issuance of the Instruments of Appointment to Scott Morrison to the Department of Health on March 14 and the Department of Finance on March 30 — which were not made during a swearing-in ceremony — were not disclosed.

Scott Morrison has rebuffed calls to resign over revelations he secretly appointed himself to several ministries. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Similarly, in the 2020-2021 annual report, the section Constitutional Activities discloses swearing-in ceremonies on October 30, 2020, December 22, 2020, March 30, 2021, and June 22, 2021.

The Instruments of Appointment to Scott Morrison to the Department of Industry on April 15, 2021 and the Department of Home Affairs and Treasury on May 6, 2021 were also not listed.

The Official Secretary does not appear to be under any specific obligation to disclose these types of instruments in these annual reports.

It also appears he has not done so previously with other forms of administrative appointments to ministerial offices in the past, and that the annual reports only disclose when swearing-in ceremonies have occurred.

But Mr Shoebridge believes it raises questions over whether the secretary's office was under any general obligation to make this kind of information public, and whether it would be prudent from a policy perspective in the future.

"There is little argument that the Governor-General should include these critical constitutional activities in his annual reports: this is part of the obligations he held under annual public reporting rules," he said.

A spokesman for the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor General told 7.30: "There is a difference between the Governor-General swearing in a minister to hold office and approving an existing minister to administer a department … The instances in question are examples of the latter."

"How these appointments are communicated is the prerogative of the government of the day.

"The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is responsible for the process … Questions about the process — including communication within government or more broadly — are a matter for the government of the day."

The Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, which is independent from the Governor-General, is required to comply with the federal government's Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act, which requires government entities to produce annual performance statements.

Those statements impose a vague obligation on agencies to provide information about the entity's performance in achieving its purposes, but do not tell agencies precisely what they need to set out in these reports.

A spokesman for the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General told 7.30: "The Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General is not responsible for publishing these sorts of administrative appointments. As such, they are not included in the Office's annual reports."

The spokesman also referred 7.30 to the statement made this week and said he was content for the process the Prime Minister has put in place to be completed.

Related Stories
Why didn’t the governor general push back against Scott Morrison’s secret ministries?
Legal experts say a constitutional crisis could have been triggered had David Hurley refused the PM. Here’s what we know…
From analysis to the latest developments in health, read the most diverse news in one place.
Calls for governor general to explain exclusion of Morrison ministries from official diary
Greens want to know if decision not to disclose extra ministerial powers was David Hurley’s or then prime minister’s
Governor-General David Hurley declines to comment further on Scott Morrison's secret ministerial self-appointments
The Governor-General is standing firm on his actions around Scott Morrison's appointment to five additional portfolios, declining to comment on…
Governor-General diary blank on ministries
Governor-General David Hurley’s diary details various events and phone calls but says nothing about handing extra ministerial powers to Scott…
Greens question governor general’s ‘non-disclosure’ of Morrison powers – as it happened
Albanese government awaits legal advice from solicitor general over former prime minister’s power grab. This blog is now closed
One place to find news on any topic, from hundreds of sites.
‘Trashing democracy’: Australia gripped by scandal over ex-PM Scott Morrison’s secret jobs
A nation is struggling to understand how a prime minister could take on five ministerial roles without anyone knowing