House debates

Thursday, 23 March 2023


Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

11:29 am

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

I can't wonder! I don't know! It's a very peculiar state of affairs. It's a symptom of the crazy dysfunction and personal, individual megalomaniacal nature of that member for Cook and his personal weirdness about Australia's national interest. And, really, this was a bloke worried about national security leaks! That was his justification for not telling his own foreign affairs minister. This is a bloke who gave a TikTok of the deliberations of the National Security Committee to journalists writing a book about him. The calls are coming from inside the building. The threat to the national security comes from the member for Cook, not the people he was keeping on the outside.

This had real consequences for the announcement of AUKUS in our region. Our partners in the region weren't appropriately briefed when AUKUS was announced in South-East Asia, in the Pacific. If the member for Cook had brought the department of foreign affairs in on the process, this could have been remedied. That initial announcement could have better served the national interest.

Prime Minister Albanese trusts his ministers and runs a functioning cabinet government, and the recent announcement of the Optimal Pathway for the AUKUS agreement benefited as a result. Minister Wong; the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, beside me; and the Prime Minister made more than 60 calls into our region—calls with our partners, calls with people who we wanted to understand our rationale of why we were entering into the biggest investment in our defence capability in our history. These calls, this groundwork, this diplomacy, this exercise of our foreign policy, paid dividends. It's reflected in the way that the optimal pathway announcement was received in our region by our partners.

Our democracy matters. It's our most precious national asset. Those of us in this building, and particularly in the ministry, hold it in trust for the Australian people. But it's not an abstract concept; it underpins Australia's freedom, Australia's prosperity and the way that our society operates. It only exists because of the norms and the laws and the constitutional arrangements that our country operates under. We all have an obligation in this building and in the cabinet to put this institution, our democracy, before our own individual political interests.

The previous government trashed this institution, and all of us suffer as a consequence. It's good gossip for the political mills—who left who out of the loop. Journalists like to write about these things, but there were real consequences for the Australian national interest from this, and that's what this bill is designed to remedy.

We believe in responsible government on this side of the chamber. We believe in defending our Westminster institutions. It's one of the foundations of Australia's security, freedom and prosperity. We will do what is necessary to invest and renew these institutions going forward. I implore those opposite to learn a few lessons from the dysfunction of the previous government. Don't tie yourself to the toxic legacy of the member for Cook. We can all do better than that. The sooner he is out of this building the better. But we all need to move on from this and invest in this institution for the benefit of the Australian people.


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