“These were extraordinary times in which I had the great honour and privilege to serve as Prime Minister,” he said at a press conference in Sydney.
“No Prime Minister has faced the same combination of circumstances, be it the pandemic or indeed the drought, the global recession and the Australian recession caused by the pandemic and the many other natural disasters that befell the country over that period of time.”
Morrison took ministerial responsibilities in the Health, Treasury, Home Affairs, Resources and Finance portfolios.
“I sought those powers but I was only going use them in an emergency,” he said.
The former prime minister claimed he had acted in accordance with public expectations.
“There was a clear expectation established in the public’s mind, certainly in the media’s mind, and absolutely certainly in the mind of the Opposition, as I would walk into Question Time every day, that I, as prime minister, was responsible pretty much for every single thing that was going on, every drop of rain, every strain of the virus, everything that occurred over that period of time,” he said.
Morrison feared ‘misunderstanding’ over secret roles
Morrison dismissed the suggestion he didn’t have the courage to tell his frontbench colleagues he had secretly taken their jobs.
“I think there was a great risk that in the midst of that crisis those powers could be misinterpreted and misunderstood, which would have caused unnecessary angst in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
“I did what I thought was necessary in the national interests to ensure the government continued to perform well.”
He said he had apologised for the offence caused to the ministers, but did not concede he had done anything wrong.
“I regret that offence and I apologise for that offence, but I am pleased that through the course of the pandemic my confidence was in them to keep just doing their job,” Morrison said.
“The fact I didn’t interfere in doing their job shows the confidence I had in them.”
He said the ministers in the portfolios in question had continued to act as ministers, and that he did not instruct any department that he had jurisdiction over their duties.
But he did distinguish between taking on pandemic-related ministerial roles, and his assumption of the Resources Minister role, in which capacity he blocked a gas project that minister Keith Pitt favoured.
“I don’t regret that for a second,” he said.
“I’m very happy with that decision.”
In spite of that, Morrison said Pitt did an “outstanding job” as minister.
He also addressed why he did not remember being sworn in to the Treasury portfolio.
“I was administratively sworn in which gave me authority, like many other ministers had, to exercise decisions in an emergency situation,” Morrison said.
“It was something that was done on an order of many other issues we were dealing with at the time.”
He insisted he was not co-administering any of the portfolios.
“I didn’t recall,” he said.
“It would be wrong to characterise it, as you have, that I was taking over the portfolio because my actions demonstrate that I did no such thing.
“I didn’t intervene in one decision of the Treasurer.”
At the time, Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg were housemates at the Lodge.
Morrison said he will be happy to cooperate with any process investigating “gaps” in the government’s system.
“Our system was put under the microscope and put under strain, he said.
“I hope that the experience of this time will assist those in the future to better understand how these issues could be managed.
“There are gaps in how systems work and we sought to overcome them.”
The former prime minister said he was “acting in the national interest in a crisis”.
“I believed it was necessary to have authority, to have what were effectively emergency powers, to exercise in extreme situations,” he said.
“I’d rather be having this conversation about what I did do, instead of what I didn’t do.”
Treasurer Jim Chalmers described Morrison’s behaviour as “dictatorial” earlier today.
He then labelled current Opposition Leader Peter Dutton as Morrison’s “chief apologist”.
“The Morrison Government is just as guilty as Scott Morrison himself,” he said.
“They have emboldened, they have empowered, they have encouraged this kind of behaviour.
“The idea that they didn’t know that Scott Morrison had these dictatorial tendencies is absolutely ridiculous and absolutely laughable.”
Former Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has called on Morrison to resign from Parliament.
But Morrison said today he would remain as MP for Cook, and that his commitment to the seat was total.
‘Broke the first rule of power grab club’
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese didn’t tone down his rhetoric today, speaking in Queensland following Morrison’s press conference.
“The first rule of power grab club is don’t talk about power grab club and Scott Morrison broke that rule today,” Albanese said.
“Scott Morrison was evasive, passive aggressive and of course he was self-serving so at least he was true to himself today.”
Albanese said Morrison had not accepted responsibility and instead blamed others for his actions.
“Mr Morrison spoke about apologising to his ministerial colleagues for how they felt but he accepted no responsibility,” Albanese said.
“How about an apology to the Australian people?”
The government will seek advice on the legalities of Morrison’s appointments from the solicitor general.
“This only came about to be very clear, because Scott Morrison was writing a biography with a couple of journalists… and bit by bit information came out,” Albanese said.
He criticised Scott Morrison’s comments on 2GB that he didn’t remember several self-appointments.
“He couldn’t remember that he’d been appointed to the ministry of the treasury, I mean give me a break,” Albanese said.
“I don’t think it’s possible to take what he has said at face value.
“We have asked for advice, we await that advice.”