House debates

Monday, 20 March 2023


Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

12:37 pm

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make contribution on the Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022. This bill provides greater transparency and accountability in Commonwealth administration. It will ensure the Australian people are able to access information related to the make-up of the Federal Executive Council, those appointed to administer certain departments of state and the high offices that ministers of state hold. These reforms are a vital part of the government's response to the Report of the inquiry into the appointment of the former Prime Minister to administer multiple departments, which was led by the former High Court justice the Hon. Virginia Bell AC.

I, like so many other Australians, was completely and utterly disgusted by the actions of the member for Cook. In August 2022, media reports began detailing that the former Prime Minister the member for Cook had appointed himself to administer multiple portfolios during the 2020 and 2021 period—namely as Minister for Health, Minister for Finance, Minister for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Treasurer and Minister for Home Affairs—on top of his appointment to administer the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. As a community we expect our leaders to uphold the highest standard of ethics and transparency. We trust them to act in the best interests of this country and its people. However, the actions of the member for Cook and former Prime Minister were a violation of this trust and a violation to the Australian people. It's not only a matter of legality but a matter of morality and integrity.

The decision of the member for Cook and former prime minister to appoint himself in secret undermines the fundamental principles of democracy and fairness. It shows a complete disregard for the rule of law and the principle of accountability. We cannot accept this behaviour from our leaders. It's a betrayal of the trust we place in them. It damages the very fabric of our society. We need leaders who are committed to transparency and honesty, who put the needs of the people before their own personal interests. As a community we must hold our leaders accountable for their actions. We must demand that they uphold the highest standards of ethics and transparency. We must work together to ensure that our democracy is strong and resilient, and that it serves the best interests of all Australians.

We must unite in the condemnation of the member for Cook and former prime minister's actions, and let's demand that our leaders always act with integrity and in the best interests of our community and also every Australian. The disgraceful actions of the former prime minister and member for Cook have been condemned not just by the Australian public but by multiple former Liberal prime ministers. Former prime minister John Howard said:

I don't think he should have done that., I don't think there was any need to do it, and I wouldn't have.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said,

I'm just not going to defend what was done. … it was just highly unconventional, highly unorthodox and shouldn't have happened.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said:

This is sinister stuff. This is a secret government.… this is one of the most appalling things I have ever heard of in our federal government. I mean, the idea that a prime minister would be sworn int o other ministries, secretly, is incredible.

It's pretty simple stuff. We need to know who is responsible for the discharge of what responsibilities. In August last year the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, the Hon. Mark Dreyfus, announced the appointment of a former High Court justice the Hon. Virginia Bell AC to lead the inquiry into the appointment of the former prime minister as the head of multiple departments. I need to state before those opposite start with their crocodile tears that this inquiry wasn't about politics. Instead, it was essentially an analysis into how and why this occurred, and, more importantly, it was an analysis of who knew about the events that transpired.

It is important, it is vital and it is crucial that we have integrity and that we have accountability and transparency in our system of government and the processes within it because our parliamentary democracy relies upon these conventions and relies upon the Westminster traditions of checks and balances. This was made abundantly clear by the Solicitor-General who said it is impossible for the parliament to hold ministers to account for the administration of departments if it does not know which ministers are responsible for those departments. The Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022 forms one part of the government's response to Ms Bell's recommendations. Specifically, the bill will require the Official Secretary to the Governor-General to publish a notifiable instrument register of the federal registration of legislation, as soon as reasonably practicable, advising the Governor-General has chosen, summoned and sworn an executive councillor to the Federal Executive Council, appointed an officer to administer a department of state or directed a minister of state to hold an office. It will also require such notification of revoking any of these positions. A notifiable instrument will include the names of the persons, the department of state where appropriate, and the dates on which they were sworn, appointed or directed. In the case of revocations, the notifiable instrument is to include the name of the person, the name of the former officer and the date that such membership, appointment or direction was revoked. The notifiable instrument may also comprise of a copy of an instrument issued by the Governor-General.

This bill demonstrates the government's readiness to act promptly to restore the Australian people's confidence in our federal system of government and to rebuild integrity into public sector institutions and processes and its officials. In my first speech in this place, I said that, as I campaigned around the Hunter electorate, a common theme and discussion from blue-collar workers was that politicians are dodgy, politicians are on the take, politicians are on the gravy train and they're only in it for themselves. Despite repeated promises from those who are now opposite us, we now have a government that will actually bring in a national anti-corruption commission, an independent authority with some teeth so, once again, the people of Australia can look at us—politicians—with respect and pride, knowing that we are doing the absolute best we can for the Australian public.

I for one am proud that we have now delivered on our election promise to restore trust and integrity within our federal parliament and within our community, with the National Anti-Corruption Commission to begin work soon. The measures in this bill will go some way to providing greater integrity and transparency around the process of appointing elected officials to high office and especially to ensuring that we have a system of government where we are able to have checks and balances and where one person cannot gain powers without adequate and warranted accountability to the Australian people and to the Australian parliament.

Integrity, accountability and transparency are vital in this place. We know that we must restore trust in the integrity of politics, and this bill, in the timely manner in which it has come to this place, shows our commitment to achieving that. I wish there had been no need for this bill. Obviously everyone does but, clearly, we must do this because of the former actions of the former Prime Minister and member for Cook. I commend this bill to the House.


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