What happens next in the saga of Scott Morrison and his secret ministries? Stay tuned for Monday

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The man who shapes what happens next for Scott Morrison is an unrecognisable figure in the public domain. 

The nation’s second law officer,  solicitor-general Stephen Donaghue, is a man who separates his personal opinion from his work. 

A graduate of Oxford, where he obtained his PHD, he embodies Theodore Roosevelt’s famous advice to speak softly and carry a big stick.

The stick he carries is the constitution and it is his interpretation of that document that will shape what happens next for Scott Morrison. 

Stephen Donaghue walks past the media as he leaves the High Court carrying a red bag
Stephen Donaghue is rarely heard from publicly outside the courts.(AAP: Darren England)

Morrison, the brash and unrepenting former PM, is in the eye of a storm after a week of revelations about his secret centralising of power in assuming five ministries with barely anyone knowing it was happening. 

Labor is having a political field day, dining out on Liberals publicly admonishing the man who once led them. 

It’s Morrison’s prime ministerial successor, Anthony Albanese, who has called the solicitor-general in to review Morrison’s ministerial moonlighting. 

The advice Donaghue gives Albanese on Monday will not just affect what happens to Morrison but also likely go some way to shaping the powers Albanese’s government can use to lead the nation. 

It started with the Biosecurity Act

Morrison’s embrace of additional powers started with the innocuously named Biosecurity Act. 

That act was the Coalition’s creation well before COVID-19 arrived — designed to give special emergency powers to the health and agriculture ministers depending on the nature of the threat the nation faced. 

Its powers were wide-ranging and allowed the health minister to lock Australia off from the rest of the world when he closed the border. 

Morrison argues he secretly became a fellow health minister at a time when Australia faced an unprecedented threat and as a backup in case anything happened to Hunt. 

As was so common through Morrison’s tenure, the assuming of the powers wasn’t the biggest issue. Many on his own side and some across the political aisle would have willingly defended the additional health responsibilities, if they’d known about it. 

It’s the secrecy that has angered so many who sat in cabinet with him.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the Coalition was willing to work with the Labor government to prevent future prime ministers from being privately sworn into ministries.

Former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth told The Australian the Biosecurity Act should be reviewed to limit the power of the health minister.

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“Stealth bulldozer”: PM calls out predecessor’s secret appointments.

Unclear consequences from resources ruling

Once the solicitor-general’s report is released, the conversation will turn to other problems that may be left over from the former government.

One of them might be the only ministerial decision Morrison took from the five portfolios he added to his workload.

Morrison used his power as resources minister to overrule Nationals cabinet minister Keith Pitt and reject an offshore gas exploration permit, something Liberals under political threat at the looming election were seeking.

Like the health minister with the Biosecurity Act, the power to reject the exploration permit rested solely with the resources minister, hence Morrison’s need to assume the role. 

Multiple conventions breached

The failure to publicise the secret ministries is not the only convention that Morrison has been accused of breaching. 

There was, for example, that call on election day that never needed to take place. 

Morrison, in his dying hours in charge of the nation, called then-home affairs minister Karen Andrews to demand the unorthodox disclosure of a suspected asylum seeker boat arrival.

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