House debates

Thursday, 23 March 2023


Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

10:17 am

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It is extraordinary that we're standing here today discussing the need for a bill to ensure that the public is informed when a ministry is assumed. We have a proud Westminster system, which we've inherited from our British brothers and sisters. This is something that's based on conventions and principles, and our great Australian parliament is built on these conventions. The main convention that was breached by secret ministerial appointments was that of accountability. This convention means that the ministerial decision-makers in the executive government are responsible to the parliament and the parliament is responsible to voters. As Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue KC explained:

Plainly enough, 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 which departments.

Justice Bell, from the inquiry into the matter, explained:

Given that the Parliament was not informed of any of the appointments, it was unable to hold Mr Morrison to account in his capacity as minister administering any of these five departments—

Not one, not two, not three but five—

As the Solicitor-General concluded, the principles of responsible government were "fundamentally undermined" because Mr Morrison was not "responsible" to the Parliament, and through the Parliament to the electors, for the departments he was appointed to administer.

The conventions of responsible government are a fundamental pillar of our proud Australian democracy. They are required to maintain the public's faith in our political constitution. This bill, the Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022, is essential to restoring our faith in democracy and upholding the conventions necessary for responsible government.

One of the trends identified in the 2022 CSIRO report, Our future world: global megatrends impacting the way we live over coming decades, was that societies are increasingly demanding transparency and accountability. This underpins trust in governments, trust in science, trust in organisations. What we have seen in this decade is a decay in trust. There have been events such as 6 January 2021, the storming of the US Capitol. This occurred because of the inability of a leader to accept the limits of their power and to be accountable to the people. Then we had the 8 January 2023 storming of the Brazilian Congress, which was born out of the lack of trust in the democratic institutions in Brazil and their ability to deliver a peaceful transition of power. In my home electorate of Swan, one of my Australian-Brazilian constituents was shaken to the core by what was happening here.

Our democracy is precious. I am so proud that we are a part of a democratic nation, but it is fragile, and we need to strengthen it. This is something that's worth fighting for, and this is something that the public wants. Maintaining the trust of the people is so important to make sure that we prevent things such as violent backslides. Whilst we might not have those conditions here, we should always be working to improve the health of our democracy and to strengthen the conventions.

In speeches, sometimes we look at literary references. I think it's unfair to judge people in this place based on the way that they look. Aesthetics are based on your genetics. What I am interested in is character, because character is something that you have the ability to work on, to improve. Following literary references, what the member for Cook did as Prime Minister reminds me a little bit of the Lord of the Rings character Gollum. What Gollum wanted to do with the ring was extend his power and life beyond the realm of the ordinary. That's what Gollum was interested in. He was fascinated by this symbol. He wanted the power. He wanted to extend this power beyond his actual natural capabilities—and that's what we saw in this place. You know what? If people had known the truth, they would have been disgusted and they would have seen the true essence of what it was.

What the member for Cook did as Prime Minister, in secretly assuming five ministries, was well beyond the ordinary and was a total defiance of the conventions of our parliamentary systems. I remember in my former workplace we changed some of the reporting of a particular thing, and I looked to my boss and said, 'I want rules and I want to know how to interpret them.' My boss said to me: 'I don't want to write rules, because I want you to use principles. I want you to orientate your decisions based on the principles.' That is what the Westminster system was based on. It was based on principles. It was based on this fundamental understanding that the people who are elected to this place have principles. What did we see? We saw a government and a leader that didn't represent that. Even though we didn't know this when we were doorknocking during my election campaign in Swan—we knocked on 45,000 doors—people could smell it. People could see it. They knew it. I would talk to people, and they would have the sense of: 'You know what? I just don't trust our Prime Minister. I just don't trust it.' And that smell could be smelt from across Australia.

Not wanting to be held to account was a theme of the previous Prime Minister. I remember having a radio interview with Liam Bartlett, and I said that there are these characteristics of the member for Cook, which are that he's a liar and a bully. He said, 'But you're saying that from your side of politics.' And I was like: 'No. Let's have a look at the conservative side, and let me give you this long list of conservative people that are pretty grumpy about the character of this person.'

First of all, from a WA perspective, the former prime minister's support of Clive Palmer's case against WA's hard borders, which saved lives, was fascinating. This was pushed in question time by the then opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, followed by the member for Whitlam.

We also saw his minimised role in the robodebt saga. Despite being its creator, he passed the buck onto the department and his colleagues. Morrison, in December 2022, in the royal commission, said that legal advice warning that the scheme was unlawful was not raised directly with the ministers until late 2019, when the program was eventually shut down. That was when he left the country during the Black Saturday bushfires and sought to deflect criticism by saying, 'Don't hold a hose!'

When we had the vaccine rollout face delays, the member for Cook stated, 'It's not a race,' rather than acknowledge that it was a failure of his government to ensure that we had secured enough vaccines for our nation. Then, with the 'bully' and 'liar' and 'not a team player' vibes, we had the Liberal senator for New South Wales Concetta Fierravanti-Wells say Morrison is 'an autocrat' and 'a bully who has no moral compass' and 'The fish stinks from the head.' I think that's what people could smell in the heart of Swan.

The former deputy prime minister and member for New England said: 'He is a hypocrite and a liar, from my observations, and that is over a long time. I have never trusted him and I dislike how he earnestly rearranges the truth to a lie.'

Then we have former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate and the way her dismissal was handled, which she explained as 'one of the worst acts of bullying I have ever witnessed'. The member for Cook said that she needs to go. What did she do? She kept post offices open during a pandemic. She kept banking options available to regional Australians. As a girl born and bred in the Goldfields who loved going to the post office, and sitting up on the bench and seeing the wet roly thing that you put the stamps on, I love our post offices! They are the heart of regional towns and this is something that's fundamentally important. The truth is, Christine Holgate is seen as an amazing female business leader. And what did this government do?


No comments