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The Federal Government has appointed former High Court justice Virginia Bell AC to lead an inquiry into the appointment of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison to multiple ministerial positions.

Bell will examine the facts and circumstances in which Morrison secretly appointed himself to five departments during 2020 and 2021 – the ministries of health, finance, industry science, energy and resources, home affairs and treasury. In her report, Bell may recommend procedural and legislative changes to ensure greater transparency and accountability going forward.

The Solicitor General, Stephen Donaghue QC, held that Morrison’s actions “fundamentally undermined” the principles of responsible government. The inquiry is intended to help restore and strengthen public trust in Australian democracy.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese emphasised the importance of transparency in a democratic system.

Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia

We need to have transparency in the process because our system of parliamentary democracy relies upon conventions, relies upon the Westminster system of checks and balances.

Morrison has not revealed whether he will participate in the inquiry.

While Bell does not have the power to compel Morrison, Albanese said he would “find it extraordinary if anyone refused to talk to a former High Court judge.”

“But if it was the case that Virginia Bell felt like she was not getting the co-operation that was required, then I’m certain that other measures could be considered,” said Albanese.

How the inquiry will run is to be determined by Bell. “It’s very appropriate that we leave to Ms Bell exactly how she conducts this inquiry,” said Attorney General Mark Dreyfus. “One possibility is that she will… invite the public to make submissions to her and, with her permission, those submissions could be made public,” he said.

Bell is expected to report her findings to Albanese by 25 November 2022, leaving time for parliament to consider any legislative changes that are recommended.