Immigration Minister Scott Morrison with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares Immigration Minister Scott Morrison denies he’s pushing for broader responsibilities but colleagues say otherwise. Photo: Andrew Meares
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has brushed aside suggestions he is engaged in a power grab to take over portfolio responsibilities from colleagues including the foreign affairs, attorney-general defence, health, justice and agriculture ministers.
Mr Morrison is overseeing the creation of the Australian Border Force, a new agency that brings together staff from the immigration and customs portfolios.
At the same time, a review of Australia’s security agencies is under way and expected to report back by the end of the year. That review has led to internal speculation that Mr Morrison could be handed additional responsibilities for counter-terrorism, or possibly take over some of the portfolio responsibilities of colleagues amid chatter about the creation of a US-style Department of Homeland Security.
However, the prospect of a Homeland Security-style agency appears to have now receded, though a more slimmed down, UK-style Home office style agency is said to be under consideration.
Ministerial colleagues of Mr Morrison contacted by Fairfax Media have confirmed on the condition of anonymity that they believe the Immigration Minister has been eyeing off other minister’s portfolio responsibilities.
One Liberal suggested that “if Mr Morrison is so worried about Sovereign Borders, maybe he should respect his own”. An ally of the Immigration Minister said, however, that disgruntled colleagues were simply jealous of his success in stopping the boats.
But on Thursday, Mr Morrison denied suggestions he had floated taking charge of agricultural bio-security, which currently resides with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
“What is happening is we are working to implement the decision to establish a single border agency. There’s no question of agricultural bio-security issues being affected at all on these sort of matters,” he told the ABC’s AM program.
“The primary role that is occurring with the single border agency is merging the immigration and customs functions, which are completely within my own portfolio.”
He said it was “simply not correct” that he could potentially take powers from the defence, justice and foreign affairs portfolio, too.
“What has been discussed in the implementation of the single border agency is how we can do things seamlessly at the airports and that does not require the integration of agricultural functions into that agency. And certainly, in relation to agricultural bio-security, then of course that’s the proper domain of the Department of Agriculture.”
During question time, Labor manager of opposition business Tony Burke asked Mr Morrison to make clear “the extent to which his portfolio carries expertise relevant to the work currently performed by the departments of foreign affairs, health, defence, attorney-general, agriculture and prime minister and cabinet”. The question was ruled out of order.
But Mr Morrison indicated in answering a question from a government backbencher that the Coalition had stood resolute in the face of opposition, media and public criticism and would continue to do so.
“Success in policy is its own advocate and when it comes to border protection, success in policy has a strong advocate because it is the policies of this government that we have stood by as a united team for a decade on these issues while those opposite have fought amongst themselves.”
Mr Morrison’s robust defence came after The Australian Financial Review on Wednesday revealed a tussle had been under way since May between Mr Morrison and Mr Joyce over responsibility for bio-security.
That prompted Mr Joyce to argue in question time that government departments, including his and that of Health Minster Peter Dutton, had to work as seamlessly possible together and “we are already doing that”.
Speaking at the end of question time, he labelled an ABC report that suggested he had pushed for his Operations Sovereign Borders team to take charge of Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis as “completely and utterly false”.
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