Interview - ABC News Breakfast
NOUR HAYDAR: Welcome back on this Wednesday morning. You’re watching News Breakfast. There’s growing backlash today to Scott Morrison’s secret ministerial appointments this morning with questions about whether he undermined Australia’s constitution. The former Prime Minister apologised to his colleagues yesterday, but unrest is still simmering within the Coalition over Mr Morrison’s five secret jobs, with calls for him to resign.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Labor is promising to investigate exactly how the silent ministry of one came about, and questions have been raised about the role of the Governor-General in this strange saga. For more on this frontbencher, Education Minister Jason Clare joins us now from Canberra. Jason Clare, good morning.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning, Michael.
ROWLAND: So, what can we expect today? Any further revelations?
CLARE: Well, who’s to tell? This time yesterday Scott Morrison said he’d been sworn in to three portfolios. By lunchtime it turned out that he’d been sworn in to five portfolios. I think there’s a lot more information to come out here. Throughout the last two years Scott Morrison kept saying, “It’s not my job. It’s not my job.” It turns out that was a very specific statement about only a couple of portfolios.
ROWLAND: Will Labor move to censure the former Prime Minister when Parliament returns?
CLARE: Well, Michael, look, maybe go back a couple of steps. We only know about this because of a book. We’re indebted to the investigative journalists at The Australian for exposing this. We've sought advice from the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet which has revealed what has happened here. This is mind boggling stuff, crazy stuff. It’s wrong in principle that the former Prime Minister did this at all. I think it’s made worse by the cover-up, by the secrecy with which he went about it. He hid this from his own ministers, hid this from the parliament, hid this from the Australian people. You know, the fact that this was kept secret tells you that they knew this was dodgy as buggery.
What happens next? We’ll wait for the Parliament to decide. We’ve sought advice from the Solicitor-General, and that will arrive on Monday.
ROWLAND: Well, the Parliament will decide, of course, but the government does hold the numbers in the House of Representatives. Will the government move to censure Scott Morrison?
CLARE: Well, that’s a decision for others to make. The point I would make here is there’s no good reason for the former Prime Minister to ever have done this. We heard yesterday some pretty weak, mealy-mouthed excuses by Scott Morrison’s colleagues, including Peter Dutton, saying that “Well, hang on a second, two years ago we were in the teeth of a pandemic and these were war-like situations.” Well, we’ve been to war, Michael, and we never did this. When war broke out in Europe Menzies didn’t do this. When the Japanese were on the march on the way to Port Moresby, John Curtin didn’t do this. In 120 years of constitutional government something like this has never happened before – and should never happen again.
ROWLAND: An investigation is underway into the legalities of all of this. Could the Commonwealth be in a situation of potentially ministerial decisions in those five portfolios being potentially challenged by people unhappy with them as a result of what Mr Morrison did?
CLARE: I don’t know. We have to wait and get that advice from the Solicitor-General. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on that until we see that advice.
ROWLAND: Okay. Now, one of your colleagues Julian Hill, Labor MP, has focused very squarely on the Governor-General and he is quoted this morning as saying he believes the Governor‑General’s position is untenable. Do you agree?
CLARE: I take a different view. The Governor-General acts on advice, always has. It’s my view that he’s done exactly that in this situation. I think the blame lays squarely at the feet of the former Prime Minister, who asked his department to take steps to give him this power. And the ministers that did know what was going on – most of them were kept in the dark - but Greg Hunt knew about this, Keith Pitt knew about this, people who sat there and copped this and let this happen and didn't tell anybody that it was happening. We were kept in the dark. Arguably the Parliament was misled. It’s a serious contempt of the Parliament to mislead the Parliament, and if the former Prime Minister was vested with powers of five portfolios and never told the Parliament then I think that is a very serious situation.
ROWLAND: Okay. Just before we go, moving to your portfolio on the back of the education ministers summit last week, it turns out – or we knew already – we do have a lot of teachers watching this program, Jason Clare, and they get on to us unprompted talking about the stress they suffer, the burnout, the poor pay. They are dedicated, dedicated professionals. Talking is one thing, but they want to know when are they going to see action to improve their lot?
CLARE: There aren’t many jobs more important than being a teacher, and a quick shoutout to everybody that’s a teacher that’s getting ready for school now. This idea that teachers start at 9 o’clock and finish at 3 o’clock is rubbish. Work starts very early in the day, whether it’s preparing lessons or getting everything ready for school, and then all of the work that happens after. We don’t have enough teachers at the moment, and part of the reason for that is burnout – people that are worn down by the job.
Last week was about listening to teachers and getting their advice about the things that we can do as a government but also other governments around the country to encourage more people to want to be teachers. Fewer are signing up to go to uni to study teaching. How we can better prepare teachers that are at university getting ready to become a teacher – so it’s things like prac as well as paid internships and better preparation in terms of the teaching of reading and maths – and how do we keep the great teachers that we’ve got? That goes to pay and conditions. And ministers across the country committed to an action plan that we’ll release in December.
ROWLAND: Okay, a lot of teachers who get in touch with us say they are barely hanging on. So, the sooner the better, obviously. Minister, thank you so much.
CLARE: Good on you thanks Michael.