- Molly Bloom ran high stakes poker parties in LA and New York, which Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Tobey Maguire visited, making up to $4m a year
- Speaking to DailyMailTV, she says: 'I was in so deep and it had become so dangerous. I was assaulted by a mobster and it was just so stressful'
- The 39-year-old was busted by the FBI in April 2013 and charged along with 33 others over a $100m illegal gambling ring and money laundering operation
- Bloom has since returned to her hometown near Denver, Colorado, and lives a quiet life – hanging out with her grandma and going to bed at 8.30pm
- The former millionaire said she hopes she can pay back her mother Charlene, who remortgaged her home to pay for Bloom's legal bills
- Bloom said: 'I'm still in debt, I'm still upside down. But I have faith if I just keep suiting up and showing up, moving the needle forward, it's going to be resolved'
- Her memoir, Molly's Game, was picked up as a movie, which stars Jessica Chastain, and was nominated for a Golden Globe
Published: 14:36 EST, 12 January 2018 | Updated: 16:06 EST, 12 January 2018
Molly Bloom seemed to have it all: a job hosting high stakes poker parties for the super-rich and super-famous that brought in up to $4 million a year in tips and a chic Manhattan apartment.
But in April 2013, it all came crashing down when she was arrested by the FBI and charged along with 33 others over a $100 million illegal gambling ring and money laundering operation.
Now her dramatic fall from grace is the subject of Golden Globe nominated movie Molly's Game, based on a memoir she wrote while living at her mother's home in Keystone, Colorado, on bail.
But as she exclusively told DailyMailTV, her new life in a quiet suburb of Denver couldn't be more different: meditating, spending time with her grandmother Donna and going to bed at 8.30pm.
Donna, 92, has an apartment in a sheltered living complex seven minutes' drive from Bloom's own home and, says the 39-year-old, has no idea that a movie based on her granddaughter's life exists.
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Molly Bloom ran high stakes poker parties in LA and New York, which Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Tobey Maguire visited, making up to $4m a year. But the FBI busted her in April 2013, charging her snd others over a $100m illegal gambling ring and money laundering
Now, the convicted 39-year-old leads a very different life than her fast-paced life in LA and New York City. Bloom returned to her home state of Colorado, where she spends time with her grandmother Donna (pictured together) and goes to bed by 8.30pm
The former millionaire said she hopes she can pay back her mother Charlene (center), who remortgaged her home to pay for Bloom's legal bills. She is also close to her grandmother Donna and younger brother Jeremy (front), an Olympic athlete
Hollywood version: Molly's Game, which was nominated for a Golden Globe, tells the story of Molly Bloom's astonishing rise – and fall. Pictured: Jessica Chastain who plays Bloom
In part, the quietness of her new life is due to the money she still owes – mostly to her mother Charlene, a nature guide and a fishing fashion designer, who remortgaged her home to pay Bloom's legal bills.
Charlene, who supported her daughter throughout, has no doubt that she'll get paid one day: 'I'm here for my kids no matter what and if Molly were not able to pay me back, I would find a way to make that work regardless.
'But I know Molly and I'm totally, 100 percent convinced that she's going to have a career and she'll be able to pay those attorney fees back. It's not anything that keeps me up at night.'
Bloom, who turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with the stress of juggling big money clients, is also now clean – telling DailyMailTV that she has been 'leaning in' to her 12-step rehab program.
'I was in so deep and it had become so dangerous,' Bloom told DailyMailTV.
'I was assaulted by a mobster and it was just so stressful that finally when the Feds raided my game – it was terrifying but there was a part of me that was relieved.'
Her permanent return to Colorado has come as a surprise to her family who thought she would never want to live in the Centennial State again.
'I don't think anyone in the family would have thought Molly would have ended up back in Colorado,' says younger brother Jeremy, 35, who also lives in Cherry Creek.
'Growing up, she always had a desire for big cities, bright lights and more opportunities – and she obviously experienced that and more, after she moved to LA and New York.
'But we're all just so happy she's back and home, that she loves living here. It feels good to have her around again.'
Bloom's father Larry said: 'Today, Molly is real, authentic, not in that world, not using any substances, caring, feeling, being of service and getting a great deal of satisfaction from it, apologizing, taking responsibility.' Pictured: Bloom with her brothers and parents
Before her arrest, Bloom had begun guaranteeing the pot for games worth $100m. And fatally, she began keeping a percentage of the pot – or a rake – at which point her legal poker games crossed the line into criminal. Pictured: Bloom in her poker days with her brother Jordan
Her father Larry, a 60-year-old clinical psychologist from Fort Collins, Colorado, who describes Molly as 'my miracle', adds: 'It’s like night and day.
'When Molly was running the poker game in New York, she was caught up in an unreal world under massive amounts of pressure using substances to deal with the pressure she was under in a very scary and intimidating environment.
'Today, Molly is real, authentic, not in that world, not using any substances whatsoever, caring, feeling, being of service and getting a great deal of satisfaction from it, apologizing, taking responsibility. She’s a completely different person.'
Bloom herself says she has no desire to return to the whirlwind lifestyle of drug binges, celebrity parties in high-end hotels and multi-million dollar poker games that dragged on for two days or more.
Although she has spent the past two months living a version of her old Hollywood life as she promotes her film, she is also setting up a project to encourage female entrepreneurship called Full Bloom and is planning to use her fame to inspire others via social media.
Beyond that, she wants to start a family of her own and relax into a lifestyle where she doesn't have to spend every evening catering for celebrity clients around the gambling table.
'The sequel is Molly Has No Game,' she says. 'I hang out with my grandma, go to sleep at 8.30 and that's it.'
Her simple new life is a far cry from her old existence, lavishly detailed in Molly's Game in which she is played by Jessica Chastain.
Directed by Aaron Sorkin, the film is based on Bloom's book which she wrote during her trial and which charts her rise and fall in the world of high stakes poker.
Bloom's mother Charlene said of her only daughter: 'She's always liked to write so I thought she might be a writer.' Pictured: Bloom with her parents, Charlene and Larry
Born in the small town of Loveland, Colorado, to psychologist Larry Bloom, now 60, and his wife Charlene, Molly is the eldest of three – all of whom have gone onto excel in different fields. Pictured: Molly with her brothers Jordan (left) and Jeremy (right)
Growing up in the mountains, it was almost inevitable that Bloom, and her brothers, would be drawn to skiing and she was herself tipped for Olympic glory until an accident put an end to her fledgling athletic career
'This entire experience has been surreal,' says Bloom, who spent Sunday night at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles attending the Golden Globes with Sorkin and Chastain.
Her trip down the red carpet at the Golden Globes – during which she wore black to support Hollywood's legion victims of sexual assault – is the latest twist in a tale so extraordinary that it could have come from the pages of a novel.
Born in the small town of Loveland, Colorado, to psychologist Larry Bloom, now 60, and his wife Charlene, Molly is the eldest of three – all of whom have gone onto excel in different fields.
Middle child Jordan, 37, is a heart surgeon based in Massachusetts, and the youngest, Jeremy, 35, made the Olympic ski team twice while also playing professional football for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
'My dad pushed us and pushed us to be great,' Jeremy told DailyMailTV. 'And my mom did such a great job of making us understand and believe that if there is anything in this world we want to accomplish, we could.'
He continued: 'I remember telling my mom and dad at 10 years old, I wanted to ski in the Olympics and play in the NFL.
'They said you can do it if you put your mind to it and you attack your dreams. That was the type of climate we grew up in.'
Larry, who was played by Kevin Costner in Molly’s Game, says he was tough but fair and always encouraged his children to have fun, while never making excuses.
'As a family, we went skiing a lot, we went waterskiing a lot and hiking and so on, and speaking for myself, I was the kind of father that wanted them to see that,' he told DailyMailTV.
'I wanted them to never make excuses for not living life and experiencing life to the fullest.'
Bloom's brother, Jeremy (pictured), said: 'I went to one of her games in New York towards the end and actually called my dad and said, "Dad, I think this is getting pretty dangerous."' Jeremy, 35, made the Olympic ski team while also playing in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers
Bloom says she has no desire to return to the whirlwind lifestyle of drug binges, celebrity parties in high-end hotels and multi-million dollar poker games that dragged on for two days or more. Pictured: A town outside of Keystone, Colorado
But while Jeremy's future was clear, Bloom's was not, according to her mother. 'She's always liked to write so I thought she might be a writer,' Charlene, who is now divorced from Larry, said.
'She's always been very creative and artistic and very strong. There were times when I thought she would be a good attorney.'
Growing up in the mountains, it was almost inevitable that Bloom, and her brothers, would be drawn to skiing and she was herself tipped for Olympic glory until an accident put an end to her fledgling athletic career.
Aged 24, she decamped to California 'to feel warm for a year' where she landed a job as a cocktail waitress, working for Darin Feinstein – the owner of the Viper Room.
In 2004, he was approached by Tobey Maguire, who asked him to set up high stakes poker games for himself and his friends, among them Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck.
Bloom was recruited to host the events. 'I knew nothing about poker, I was googling what kind of music poker players like to listen to, what they eat,' she said.
'So I showed up to this game with my cheese plate from a supermarket and this mix CD that had songs like The Gambler on and walked into this room where sat business titans, Wall Street guys, heads of studios, A-list actors.
'I'm just pretending like I know what I'm doing but really having zero clue.'
Learning quickly, Bloom soon realized she had an opportunity on her hands and wrested control of the games from Feinstein, switching the venue to upmarket hotels and eventually raking in upwards of $4 million a year in tips alone.
But while she got along with DiCaprio and Affleck, remarking that the Batman actor is 'very nice, very nice', Maguire proved a more difficult proposition – once, infamously, telling her to bark like a seal for chips.
Running the poker games, Bloom rubbed shoulders with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio (pictured playing poker in Las Vegas)
Bloom said she got along with Ben Affleck (left), remarking the Batman actor is 'very nice, very nice.' But Tobey Maguire (right) proved a more difficult proposition – once, infamously, telling her to bark like a seal for chips
'Tobey Maguire and I had a tough relationship – it was a tough working relationship, we butted heads and ultimately, I lost the Los Angeles game because of differences with him,' says Bloom.
'But then I moved to New York and built a bigger game, five times bigger, making more money and that was pretty exciting.'
It was at that point that Jeremy began to become concerned for his sister, as did Larry and Charlene.
'I went to a lot of the poker games,' Jeremy told DailyMailTV. 'I was kind of blown away by the kind of people in the room and the amount of money people were losing but towards the end, it definitely took a turn.
'I went to one of her games in New York towards the end and actually called my dad and said, "Dad, I think this is getting pretty dangerous".'
Bloom was also doing drugs in order to keep up with the demands of three-day games and demanding clients, all while trying to keep it hidden from her mother.
Charlene said: 'There were times when I wondered if she was doing drugs but she would just say, "Mom, I'm exhausted, I've been up two or three days" and I believed her.'
She continued: 'Obviously as a mom, I had my concerns. Not so much because it was poker games but anybody who has a child who is out at night in a big city would have some concerns.'
And Bloom was in trouble. She had begun guaranteeing the pot for games worth $100 million or more and became too exhausted to properly vet her players.
As a result, shadier characters, including members of the Russian Mafia, joined in. And fatally, she began keeping a percentage of the pot – or a rake – at which point her legal poker games crossed the line into criminal.
Speaking to DailyMailTV, Bloom said: 'I was in so deep and it had become so dangerous. I was assaulted by a mobster and it was just so stressful'
As for poker, Bloom says there is no chance of her attempting to reclaim her crown – especially not if Charlene has her way. 'If she said she wanted to do poker again, I'd say, "I want to hear more about that",' the mother told DailyMailTV. 'I would definitely not encourage it!'
In March 2017, Bloom set up home in a small apartment in Cherry Creek. A leafy Denver suburb with a mix of modern apartment buildings and old-fashioned colonial style homes. Pictured: Keystone, outside of Denver
She said: 'The days ran into nights. There was no specific work day. It was wake up every day, set up for the game, update spreadsheets on who owed what, do as much collection as I could.
'Set up for the game and then host the game. Then there was an uncertainty as to when it would end.
'I remember sometimes when I would host the games at the Plaza, I would be at the penthouse and I would take breaks and go out on the patio and I would watch people as they were walking home from their jobs and then I would watch the same people walk to work the next day.'
Ultimately, it took her arrest, in Los Angeles on April 16, 2013, to cut her ties to poker.
'She called me – it was around 6am in the morning,' Charlene told DailyMailTV. 'That was unusual for Molly.
'She said, "Mom, don't freak out but I'm being investigated by the FBI, can you get here?" So I just grabbed the clothes I was wearing the day before, booked a ticket and drove down to the airport.'
She added: 'It was terrible. It was absolutely terrible to see my daughter in handcuffs. Fortunately, I got there just as she was being called up [to make her plea] and it was just horrifying.
'But I'm glad I was there, glad I got there in time so that she would know I was there to support her.'
Larry added: 'Watching her from the audience in a Federal court – it was frightening, scary and just completely unreal to me that the United States Government was trying our daughter on these [felony] grounds. That was very frightening to me.'
Bloom said: 'I remember sometimes when I would host the games at the Plaza, I would be at the penthouse and I would take breaks and go out on the patio and I would watch people as they were walking home from their jobs and then I would watch the same people walk to work the next day'. Pictured: Bloom leaving court in 2013
With Bloom's assets frozen, her game gone and her life in tatters, she was forced to move back to Colorado, living with her mother in Keystone. While on bail, Bloom wrote Molly's Game. Pictured: Bloom leaving federal court in 2013 (left) and 2014 (right)
Charlene put up Bloom's bond and the following day, the pair flew to New York where she was arraigned that Friday, three days after her arrest.
With her assets frozen, her game gone and her life in tatters, Bloom was forced to move back to Colorado, living with her mother in Keystone.
While on bail, Bloom wrote Molly's Game, which was released a month after she was convicted and sentenced to a year's probation in May 2014.
Between completing her community service, which she did in Colorado and California and which involved sorting clothing donations for a charity, she began pitching her memoir in Hollywood.
Bloom had hoped Sorkin might be interested and, after being set up by a mutual friend, the pair eventually met in July 2014 at Soho House in West Hollywood.
According to Bloom, he maintained a poker face throughout but later admitted he was sold on the book from the moment he left the parking lot.
For Bloom, it meant being able to finally begin paying off her debts, which also included an outstanding Federal tax bill, and a second chance.
She moved back to Los Angeles and worked with Sorkin at his office for eight months; enduring a grilling lasting five hours each day and batteries of questionnaires.
In March 2017, as filming got underway, Bloom returned to Colorado, this time for good, and set up home in a small apartment in Cherry Creek.
A leafy Denver suburb with a mix of modern apartment buildings and old-fashioned colonial style homes, the area is a middle-class haven famous for its upscale shopping malls – not that Bloom visits them often.
Instead, she says she has used the past year to come to terms with what happened to her, learn how to meditate, throw herself into getting healthy and plot her next step.
Bloom wrote about her dramatic fall from grace in her memoir Molly's Game. It is now the subject of Golden Globe nominated movie with Jessica Chastain playing Bloom. Pictured: Bloom and Chastain at a premiere in December
Directed by Aaron Sorkin, the film is based on Bloom's book which she wrote during her trial and which charts her rise and fall in the world of high stakes poker. Pictured: Still from the film
She has also been working with her brother, who in 2008 founded Wish of a Lifetime – a non-profit that grants low-income senior citizens their hearts' desire.
One fundraiser involved Sorkin. 'She asked the studio to do a premiere in Denver to benefit Wish of a Lifetime and they agreed,' explains Jeremy.
'We did a big premiere in Denver, we sold out 2,000 tickets, Aaron Sorkin came and we raised a lot of money.'
Along with spending time with granny Donna, Bloom's main focus is now a new non-profit initiative aimed at boosting female entrepreneurship, which she has named Full Bloom.
Due to launch this spring, the 39-year-old variously describes it as a mentorship program and a co-working scheme, adding: 'I think the next steps are to nail down what the mission is, nail down what the strategy is and see if we can raise some money.'
But there will be no return to Hollywood. 'I don't really miss the Hollywood lifestyle,' she told DailyMailTV. 'It was really fun, it was a great experience but I just feel like a different person now.
'I'm still in debt, I'm still upside down. But I have faith that if I just keep suiting up and showing up, and moving the needle forward, it's going to be resolved.'
Larry hopes his eldest child will go on to find romance and says he is hoping to see her lead a life of 'quiet success in future'.
As for poker, Bloom says there is no chance of her attempting to reclaim her crown – especially not if Charlene has her way.
'If she said she wanted to do poker again, I'd say, "I want to hear more about that",' the mother told DailyMailTV. 'I would definitely not encourage it!'
'There is zero, zero, zero, zero chance of her going back to poker,' adds Larry. 'That does make me happy, yes it does. There’ll be no more poker in the Bloom family!'
Ben Roberts-Smith: Top soldier won’t apologise for alleged war crimes
Ben Roberts-Smith is proud of his actions in Afghanistan, the former Australian soldier said in his first comments since a judge ruled claims he committed war crimes were true.
A landmark defamation case this month found Mr Roberts-Smith was responsible for the murders of four Afghans.
The Victoria Cross recipient says he is innocent and will consider an appeal.
“I’m devastated… It’s a terrible outcome and it’s the incorrect outcome,” he said on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters from Nine as he returned to Australia for the first time since the judgement was delivered, Mr Roberts-Smith also said he would not apologise to those affected by his alleged crimes.
“We haven’t done anything wrong, so we won’t be making any apologies,” he said.
Mr Roberts-Smith sued three Australian newspapers over a series of articles alleging he had carried out unlawful killings and bullied fellow soldiers while deployed in Afghanistan between 2009-2012.
But Federal Court Judge Anthony Besanko threw out the former special forces corporal’s case against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Canberra Times, ruling it was “substantially true” that Mr Roberts-Smith had murdered unarmed Afghan prisoners and civilians, and bullied peers.
The 44-year-old, who remains Australia’s most-decorated living soldier, was not present for the civil court ruling, having spent the days leading up to it on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
Mr Roberts-Smith, who left the defence force in 2013, has not been charged over any of the claims in a criminal court, where there is a higher burden of proof.
None of the evidence presented in the civil defamation case against Mr Roberts-Smith can be used in any criminal proceedings, meaning investigators must gather their own independently.
This week it was confirmed that the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) – which is responsible for addressing criminal matters related to the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan – would work alongside Australian Federal Police (AFP) to examine three alleged murders local media say involve the former soldier.
The killings allegedly took place at a compound codenamed Whiskey 108 and in the southern Afghan village of Darwan.
The OSI was set up following a landmark inquiry in 2020, known as the Brereton Inquiry, which found “credible evidence” that Australia’s special forces unlawfully killed 39 people in Afghanistan.
There are currently 40 matters that are being jointly investigated by the OSI and the AFP.
Earlier this year former SAS soldier Oliver Schulz became the first Australian defence force member to ever be charged by police with the war crime of murder.
Why Australia decided to quit its vaping habit
He’s talking about students in his class, teenagers, who can’t stop vaping.
He sees the effect of the candy-flavoured, nicotine-packed e-cigarettes on young minds every day, with children even vaping in class.
“The ones who are deepest into it will just get up out of their seat, or they’ll be fidgeting or nervous. The worst offenders will just walk out because they’re literally in withdrawal.”
Those who are most addicted need nicotine patches or rehabilitation, he says, talking about 13 and 14-year-olds.
is enough and introduced a range of new restrictions. Despite vapes already being illegal for many, under new legislation they will become available by prescription only.
The number of vaping teenagers in Australia has soared in recent years and authorities say it is the “number one behavioural issue” in schools across the country.
And they blame disposable vapes – which some experts say could be more addictive than heroin and cocaine – but for now are available in Australia in every convenience store, next to the chocolate bars at the counter.
For concerned teachers like Chris, their hands have been tied.
“If we suspect they have a vape, all we can really do is tell them to go to the principal’s office.
“At my old school, my head teacher told me he wanted to install vape detector alarms in the toilet, but apparently we weren’t allowed to because that would be an invasion of privacy.”
E-cigarettes have been sold as a safer alternative to tobacco, as they do not produce tar – the primary cause of lung cancer.
Some countries continue to promote them with public health initiatives to help cigarette smokers switch to a less deadly habit.
Last month, the UK government announced plans to hand out free vaping starter kits to one million smokers in England to get smoking rates below 5% by 2030.
But Australia’s government says that evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit is insufficient for now. Instead, research shows it may push young vapers into taking up smoking later in life.
Vapes, or e-cigarettes, are lithium battery-powered devices that have cartridges filled with liquids containing nicotine, artificial flavourings, and other chemicals.
The liquid is heated and turned into a vapour and inhaled into the user’s lungs.
Vaping took off from the mid-2000s and there were some 81 million vapers worldwide in 2021, according to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction group.
Fuelling the rise is the mushrooming popularity of flavoured vapes designed to appeal to the young.
These products can contain far higher volumes of nicotine than regular cigarettes, while some devices sold as ‘nicotine-free’ can actually hold large amounts.
The chemical cocktail also contains formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde – which have been linked to lung disease, heart disease, and cancer.
There’s also a suggestion of an increased risk of stroke, respiratory infection, and impaired lung function.
Experts warn not enough is known about the long-term health effects. But some alarming data has already been drawn out.
In 2020, US health authorities identified more than 2,800 cases of e-cigarette or vaping-related lung injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 68 deaths attributed to that injury.
In Australia, a major study by leading charity The Cancer Council found more than half of all children who had ever vaped had used an e-cigarette they knew contained nicotine and thought that vaping was a socially acceptable behaviour.
School-age children were being supplied with e-cigarettes through friends or “dealers” inside and outside school, or from convenience stores and tobacconists, the report said.
Teens also reported purchasing vapes through social media, websites and at pop-up vape stores, the Generation Vape project found.
“Whichever way teenagers obtain e-cigarettes, they are all illegal, yet it’s happening under the noses of federal and state authorities”, report author and Cancer Council chair Anita Dessaix said.
“All Australian governments say they’re committed to ensuring e-cigarettes are only accessed by smokers with a prescription trying to quit – yet a crisis in youth e-cigarette use is unfolding in plain view.”
In addition to the government’s move to ban the import of all non-pharmaceutical vaping products – meaning they can now only be bought with a prescription – all single-use disposable vapes will be made illegal.
The volume and concentration of nicotine in e-cigarettes will also be restricted, and both flavours and packaging must be plain and carrying warning labels.
But these new measures are not actually all that drastic, says public health physician Professor Emily Banks from the Australian National University.
“Australia is not an outlier. It is unique to have a prescription-only model, but other places actually ban them completely, and that includes almost all of Latin America, India, Thailand and Japan.”
‘We have been duped’
Health Minister Mark Butler said the new vaping regulations will close the “biggest loophole in Australian healthcare history”.
“Just like they did with smoking… ‘Big Tobacco’ has taken another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging and added sweet flavours to create a new generation of nicotine addicts.”
“We have been duped”, he said.
Medical experts agree. Prof Banks argues that the promotion of e-cigarettes as a “healthier” alternative was a classic “sleight-of-hand” from the tobacco industry.
As such vaping has become “normalised” in Australia, and in the UK too.
“There’s over 17,000 flavours, and the majority of use is not for smoking cessation”, she tells the BBC.
“They’re being heavily marketed towards children and adolescents. People who are smoking and using e-cigarettes – that’s the most common pattern of use, dual use.”
Professor Banks says authorities need to “de-normalise” vaping among teenagers and make vapes much harder to get hold of.
“Kids are interpreting the fact that they can very easily get hold of [vapes] as evidence [they’re safe], and they’re actually saying, ‘well, if they were that unsafe, I wouldn’t be able to buy one at the coffee shop’.
But could stricter controls make it harder for people who do turn to vapes hoping to quit or cut down on tobacco?
“It is important to bear in mind that for some people, e-cigarettes have really helped. But we shouldn’t say ‘this is great for smokers to quit’, says Prof Banks.
“We know from
Australia, from the US, from Europe, that two-thirds to three-quarters of people who quit smoking successfully, do so unaided.”
“You’re trying to bring these [vapes] in saying they’re a great way to quit smoking, but actually we’ve got bubble gum flavoured vapes being used by 13-year-olds in the school toilets. That is not what the community signed up for.”
Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative
In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.
The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.
But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.
So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?
Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.
Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.
The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.
Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.
Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.
Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.
Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.
It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.
“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”
But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.
Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.
But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.
It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.
Critics push for investigation
Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.
But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.
And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.
Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.
Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.
“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.
“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”
The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.
And she says the same transparency is needed here.
The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them
The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.
“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.
“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”
PM defends governor-general
Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.
“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”
Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.
“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.
“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”
A role fit for purpose?
Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.
She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.
“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”
Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.
“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.
“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”
But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.
“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”
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