House debates

Wednesday, 30 November 2022


Member for Cook; Censure

9:06 am

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Given the nature of the motion I am about to move, I think it would suit the convenience of the House for the normal speaking times which apply to all members to not apply to the member for Cook, should he rise to speak. I think, given the nature of the motion, it's appropriate that the member for Cook, should he wish to speak, be able to make whatever length of contribution he chooses.

I move:

That the House:

(1) notes:

(a) the Constitution provides for 'responsible government', described by the High Court of Australia as a 'system by which the executive is responsible to the legislature and, through it, to the electorate';

(b) in the Inquiry into the Appointment of the Former Prime Minister to Administer Multiple Departments, the Honourable Virginia Bell AC found that while the Member for Cook was the Prime Minister of Australia he:

(i) had himself appointed to administer:

(A) the Department of Health on 14 March 2020;

(B) the Department of Finance on 30 March 2020;

(C) the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources on 15 April 2021;

(D) the Department of Treasury on 6 May 2021; and

(E) the Department of Home Affairs on 6 May 2021; and

(ii) did not inform:

(A) Cabinet;

(B) the relevant Departments;

(C) the House of Representatives; or

(D) the Australian public;

about these additional appointments; and

(c) as found by the Honourable Virginia Bell AC, the actions and failures of the Member for Cook:

(i) 'fundamentally undermined' the principles of responsible government because the Member for Cook was not 'responsible' to the Parliament, and through the Parliament to the electors, for the departments he was appointed to administer; and

(ii) were 'apt to undermine public confidence in government' and were 'corrosive of trust in government'; and

(2) therefore censures the Member for Cook for failing to disclose his appointments to the House of Representatives, the Australian people and the Cabinet, which undermined responsible government and eroded public trust in Australia's democracy.

Today's motion is not how any of us wanted to make history. In any other circumstance, for any other former Prime Minister and, certainly, even for the member for Cook, had the disclosure not been made available about the multiple ministries, we would not be here now. But a censure, while rare, has its place. The last time this parliament censured a member of parliament, it was a former minister, and it was done so unanimously. It was done so unanimously in relation to a former minister on the following basis: the decision was made that he—and I'll read this—'fell below the standards expected of a member of the House'. It wasn't that he had acted unlawfully; it was that he had fallen below the standards expected of a member of the House. That is the test. The test for censure, while rare, is not the test: would the courts overrule it? The courts are the place to determine whether or not something was lawful. In the parliament we determine whether or not something was appropriate.

I ask all members to think back to the first moment they heard about the multiple ministries and what their reaction was. Some gave their reaction on the record and many more gave their reaction off the record. Nobody, except the member for Cook himself, had the reaction or said that this was acceptable or it met the standards expected of this House.

There are many democracies that have a system different to ours. There are many democracies around the world where the system of government is that the executive are quite separate to the legislature. Our system is responsible government. The executive are here in this room for the purpose of being held to account every day the legislature sits. That entire concept of responsible government only works if the parliament and, through the parliament, the Australian people know which members of the executive are responsible for what.

This is not some small matter. It goes to the absolute core of the principle of responsible government. Responsible government was what Ms Bell referred to specifically. In her report she said:

… the principles of responsible government were "fundamentally undermined" …

She also said:

… the lack of disclosure of the appointments to the public was apt to undermine public confidence in government.

She also said:

… the secrecy with which they had been surrounded was corrosive of trust in government.

If we could unanimously determine that the conduct of Bruce Billson fell short of the standards, how on earth can the multiple ministries—and in question time after question time we, in fact, did not know where portfolios had been allocated—meet the standard? Question time is viewed as the most significant part of the parliamentary day. It's when every member turns up. It's not a requirement that every member turns up; it is a convention. We have to defend our conventions too.

The core of responsible government was breached with the multiple appointments. In doing so, the member for Cook did not tell the ministers themselves that he had been sworn into their portfolios. His cabinet was not told. The department secretaries were not told. The parliament was not told. Through the parliament, the Australian people were not told. In doing this, the member for Cook did not just fall below the standards expected; he undermined them, he rejected them, he attacked them and he abused them.

How do we even know that all this happened? We know because at the same time that the member for Cook was not telling his colleagues, not telling this parliament and not telling the Australian people he was telling some journalists writing a book. He thought it was interesting to contribute to the publication of a book, but not important to let anybody know where it was directly relevant to them.

The defences that have been offered, including the defences offered by the member for Cook through his lawyers to the Bell inquiry, are logically impossible. The member for Cook's lawyers said for him:

However, this in no way suggests that he did not expect that the usual practice would apply and that PM&C would publish the appointments in the Gazette.

It beggars belief that the member for Cook is now arguing that it was somehow just presumed it would have been made public in the Gazette and yet he was making sure he didn't tell the ministers themselves. When asked about the ministers, he said on 17 August the reason he didn't want to tell them was, 'I did not wish ministers to be second-guessing themselves.' Both cannot be true. It cannot be the case that it was presumed it was going to come out in the Gazette and that it was important for people to not be told. To this day, the different versions being offered by the member for Cook cannot reconcile themselves with each other.

In the same way, when this started to emerge, when only Health, Finance and Industry, Science and Resources appointments had been known, on radio the member for Cook said this. He was asked, 'Just to be clear: are there other portfolios you assumed any control over?' The answer was: 'Not to my recollection. I don't recall any others being actioned.' It beggars belief that anyone in Australia's history could forget that they had been appointed Treasurer. It beggars belief.

At the start of question time each day, when a minister is not present, every prime minister has an obligation to allow the House to know who is answering questions on their behalf. And, yet, at those exact moments the former Prime Minister never once said that he in fact was sworn into different portfolios and could answer those questions as well. The pathway of question time, the pathway of what this House did last term, was different because we were deceived. It was different. Questions were asked in different forms to different people because we weren't told.

It is true that what happened here was the end of a long process of enabling. When conventions were attacked, one after another, it led in a direct line to where we ended up, when we had the situation of there being constant silencing of opposition voices, when we had a cabinet committee with only one member, when we had a circumstance where, for the first time in living memory, a Speaker, a member of their own party, made a recommendation for a privileges reference which could have led to censure of one of their own. But they used their numbers to prevent the independence of the Speaker being recognised to defend—

An opposition member: It's just politics.

I hear the comment there—'It's just politics.' If that's the attitude then you never would have censured Bruce Billson. Every single threshold that has previously resulted in a censure being given of a member is met today and is met more strongly today than it ever has been before.

This place runs on rules and conventions. The mere existence of the office of Prime Minister and the existence of a cabinet is a convention. It's not in the Constitution. It's not required. It is a convention on which our system of government hangs. The concept that the parliament knows who has which job is essential to responsible government. You cannot have responsible government if you don't know what people are responsible for, and for two years we didn't know. For two years, the ministers themselves did not know. For two years, departmental secretaries were unaware of who the ministers were to whom they had responsibility.

The gravity of what we are dealing with today is a censure motion beyond what the parliament has previously dealt with. Previously what we have dealt with is the conduct of one member being sufficiently bad that we needed to defend the House as a whole to say, 'That is not allowed to happen.' On this occasion, the conduct of one member prevented the House from doing its job. The conduct of one member prevented the House from knowing who was responsible for what. The fact that that one member was also the Prime Minister of Australia means that what we are dealing with now isn't just unprecedented, could not have been predicted, but is so completely unacceptable.

For members today I say to those opposite: there will be some thinking, yes; they oppose it but their party's made a decision. They've got to lock in; they've got to follow what their leader wants, and that's just where they're at. I'd just remind those members opposite of this: that is exactly what happened for the whole of the last term. It is exactly how every precedent was trashed. It is exactly how the principles of responsible government ended up being attacked in ways that hadn't happened before.

There is no previous Liberal Prime Minister where this sort of motion would ever have been moved. But the conduct that happened in the last term, that we now know about, was unacceptable, fell below the required standards and we have no choice but to support a censure.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I refer members to the statement made to the House about time limits during this debate.

9:21 am

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Australian people for the privilege to serve as their Prime Minister. I thank the people of Cook for the privilege they have given me to serve in this House as their member. I thank my colleagues, here in this place and in previous parliaments, who have asked me in the past to lead and for the faith they have placed in me. I am proud of my achievements in this place and I am proud of my government. I am proud that at a time of extreme trial my government stood up and faced the abyss of uncertainty that our country looked into and the coercion of a regional bully and saw Australia through the storm. Australia emerged stronger under my government.

I have no intention now, Mr Speaker, of submitting to the political intimidation of this government using its numbers in this place to impose its retribution on a political opponent. In addressing the matters that are the subject of the motion, I repeat that I have welcomed and supported the recommendations of the Bell inquiry, and I note the following facts for the House.

The authorities to administer departments were established as a dormant redundancy only to be activated in extraordinary circumstances, evidenced by the fact that no powers were exercised under these authorities, except in the case of the PEP-11 decision, as such circumstances were not realised and, therefore, none of these authorities were misused.

The Solicitor-General found that the authorities established to administer departments in this way were valid and were not unlawful. Other than in the case of the PEP-11 decision, ministers exercised their portfolio authorities fully, without intervention or the threat of intervention, and departments supported their ministers in that capacity without uncertainty regarding their ministerial authorities.

As Prime Minister I did not act as minister or engage in any co-minister arrangements, as suggested, including requiring the receipt of any parallel briefing or co-authorising arrangements, except in the very specific case of the PEP-11 decision and not otherwise for that department. On the PEP-11 matter, this was done lawfully from first principles and I consider my decision was the correct one. My intent to exercise these powers was also advised to the minister in advance of exercising those powers.

The ministry list tabled in parliament referenced, as it does, that ministers may be sworn to administer additional departments. The requirements requiring notice purported to constitute convention in the motion were not identified or recognised by officials advising on these matters from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and cannot therefore be clearly regarded as established convention. The Solicitor-General found there is no consistent practice for a publication in the Gazette of appointments to administer particular departments of state. The Bell inquiry noted there was a different understanding of the process of publication between myself and the department and that no instruction was given by me as Prime Minister or my office not to publish those arrangements in the Gazette. In relation to communication with my ministerial colleagues on these matters I note that I've addressed these issues privately with my colleagues and publicly in my statement of 16 August 2022.

I also note, as is particularly relevant to this House and this motion, that I was present each and every day at that dispatch box to answer any and all questions in this House regularly directed to me as Prime Minister on all matters involving all portfolios that were the subject of the Bell inquiry and, indeed, all other portfolios. The suggestion that, as Prime Minister, I was not available to do so in this House or that the opposition failed to ask such questions in those portfolios is absurd and completely false.

I also note that, in my earlier portfolio responsibilities where I was sworn to hold the office of Treasurer, Minister for Social Services and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, my appointments as minister of state specifically made reference in the documents authorised by the Governor-General that I was sworn to hold the office as minister in each of these portfolios. In my appointment as a minister of state to administer the departments that were the subject of the Bell inquiry this was not the case. The documentation authorised by the Governor-General carefully does not include any reference to being sworn to hold the office of minister for any of the portfolios that were the subject of the Bell inquiry, simply to administer the department. This can be seen in appendix A, at pages 107 to 110 of the Bell inquiry report. This is a very important distinction. Just because a minister is sworn to administer a department does not mean they hold the office of minister in that portfolio.

I should say, the contention that the public would also be popularly under the impression that the Prime Minister did not have authority over government departments is extremely unlikely. Furthermore, the proposition that the public would not hold the Prime Minister accountable for the actions of the government is also not credible and counter to the argument that was put forward by the opposition when I was Prime Minister each and every day that I sat in this House.

Returning to the issue of being sworn, I was not sworn to hold the office of any of those ministerial portfolios, and, as a result, any contention that I served as minister of those portfolios in that office is false.

On the substantive matters—I return to those now—in each of the decisions taken during my time as Prime Minister to administer departments I note again that our nation faced the greatest challenges we had experienced since the Second World War: a drought, natural disasters, a global pandemic, the global and domestic recession, the pandemic cause, and a rising and coercive China seeking to coerce Australia into submission. These were extremely challenging times.

To put the economic challenge in context, according to the IMF, during the first year of the pandemic the global economy shrank by 3.1 per cent. This is more than 30 times the magnitude of the economic decline during the global financial crisis of 2009. That was a crisis. During this period, we were fighting for our very survival from a public health, economic and national security perspective.

As Prime Minister I sought to exercise my responsibilities during this extremely difficult period in a manner that would best advance and protect Australia's national interests and the welfare of the Australian people. That is what I had pledged to do, and I am pleased that, through these efforts and the efforts of so many others I worked with closely, Australia was able to emerge from this period of significant crisis in a safer and more prosperous position than almost any other country in the world. That was the objective of my government and, together with my colleagues here and those who formerly sat with us, that was achieved.

In February this year Bill Gates was asked at the Munich Security Conference whether it was possible to prevent the next pandemic. He answered by citing Australia's response to the pandemic, referring to it as 'the gold standard', and that standard was one we met. He said, 'If every country did what Australia did then we wouldn't be calling it a pandemic.' That is something any government could be proud of. The New York Times calculated in May this year that, if the United States had the same death rate as Australia, about 900,000 lives would have been saved. Johns Hopkins University ranked Australia second in the world in pandemic preparedness. Bloomberg ranked Australia the world's fifth most COVID-resilient nation.

Shortly after I left office after the last election, Australia had the third-lowest mortality rate in the OECD from COVID at 401 deaths per million population. This can be compared with Canada at 1,106 per million, the United Kingdom at 2,688 per million and the United States at over 3,000 per million. During the pandemic it was estimated that, when compared to the average fatality rates of OECD countries, Australia's response saved more than 30,000 lives. More than 95 per cent of Australia's adult population had been administered two vaccine doses and we had commenced fourth doses. Unlike in so many other countries—advanced, developed countries—our hospital system had not been overrun by the pandemic. And since December 2019, when the pandemic first struck, Australia's economy had grown by 4½ per cent. This compares to growth of 3.9 per cent in Korea, 2.7 per cent in the US, less than one per cent in the UK, Canada, and France, and the Japanese and German economies remained in negative territory.

Australia's success was also achieved by limiting the scale of the economic decline during COVID. In Australia the economic decline caused by COVID was 2.2 per cent. This compares to 3.4 per cent in the US, 4½ per cent in Japan, 4.6 per cent in Germany, eight per cent in France and 9.3 per cent in the United Kingdom. At the same time, Australia's unemployment rate fell to below four per cent, the lowest in almost half a century, with almost 600,000 more jobs than we had before the pandemic began. During this time the government made unprecedented investments in our health and economic response. JobKeeper kept 700,000 businesses in business. It kept more than one million Australians in work. And despite these unpredicted outlays, Australia, through the pandemic and the crisis, was one of only nine countries in the world to retain our AAA credit rating.

Our response was timely, it was targeted, and it was temporary. We responsibly retired measures as soon as it was prudent. This led to an historic reduction in the budget deficit in our final year of more than $100 billion. During this time, I and the government made many decisions, from closing our international borders to making our own vaccines and directly manufacturing PPE. We tried many things. We were dealing with extreme uncertainty and unpredictability. The Australian people were rightly fearful for their own health and economic security. The mindset at this time was to seek to prepare as best as possible for as many contingencies as possible. This was not always successful, as was the experience of all countries around the world at the time. No leader and no nation had a perfect record, but Australia can be proud that we had one of the very best.

At the same time, significant powers were activated by the government, including under the Biosecurity Act and in financial delegations to the Minister for Finance, that were beyond the oversight of cabinet. I elected to put in place a redundancy to those powers and an oversight on those powers in the departments of Health and Finance. I do not resile from these decisions and believe them entirely necessary, mirroring many arrangements similarly being implemented in the private sector at the time. My omission was not having personally informed the Minister for Finance, who I believed had been informed through my office. I was mistaken about that, which was only brought to my attention when I made these matters public. I've addressed this issue directly with the then Minister for Finance. Had I been asked about these matters at the time at the numerous press conferences I held, I would've responded truthfully about the arrangements I had put in place. The recommendations of the Bell inquiry will appropriately remedy this deficiency in the future, and I support them.

The decision to take on authority to administer the departments of Treasury and Home Affairs in 2021 as a dormant redundancy for decisions that were not subject to cabinet oversight was to be able to take swift action, if necessary, in the national interest at a time when Australians' interests were under constant threat. I now consider that these decisions, in hindsight, were unnecessary and that insufficient consideration was given to these decisions at the time, including nondisclosure. I therefore accept the recommendations put forward by the Bell inquiry as an appropriate remedy to these shortcomings. I note again that these authorities were never exercised and, as a result, had no impact on the functions or actions of the government. It is strange to describe such actions as a power grab, as they were never exercised or even used to exercise influence over the relevant ministers. They were simply a dormant redundancy.

In relation to the decision to take authority to administer the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources for the purpose of being able to consider PEP 11, I do not resile from that action. The authority was lawfully sought and exercised on a specific matter solely. I considered it unnecessary to dismiss the minister to deal with this matter, as he was doing a fine job, and unlawful to inappropriately pressure him in relation to this decision. I therefore lawfully took the decision from first principles in his place. I believe the decision I made on PEP 11 was the correct one.

I note the criticisms made of my decisions to be authorised to administer a series of departments have been made from the safety and relative calm of hindsight. I also note that as Prime Minister my awareness of issues regarding national security at this time and the national interest was broader than known to individual ministers and any third party. This limits the ability for third parties to draw definitive conclusions on such matters and sit in judgement. During the course of my prime ministership I made many decisions. These decisions were taken during an extremely challenging period where there was a need for considerable urgency and there was great stress on the system and individuals. None of us can claim to be infallible in such circumstances, and I do not. There are always lessons to be learned from such times and events.

I acknowledge that the nondisclosure of arrangements has caused unintentional offence and extend an apology to those who were offended, but I do not apologise for taking action, especially prudent redundancy action, in a national crisis in order to save lives and to save livelihoods. I also agree with and thank the many who have expressed their support that any perceived deficiencies in the handling of these matters must be reasonably and fairly weighed against the overarching success of the numerous other decisions taken and efforts made under extreme pressure to save lives and livelihoods. This motion fails to do this and, sadly, therefore betrays its true motive that is entirely partisan. The government's response to censure and prosecute this motion is to engage in the politics of retribution and nothing less. These are the behaviours of an opposition, not a government who understands that grace in victory is a virtue. I recommend that their response as a government should simply be to implement the recommendations of the Bell inquiry, which I support, and focus their attention on their current and urgent responsibilities to address the many challenges Australians are now facing on their watch, especially the cost of living.

How we respond to these events is up to each and every one of us. For mine, I will take the instruction of my faith and turn the other cheek. Since the election, I have refrained from public comment, despite provocation, other than on local issues and to note the actions and achievements of my government. I accepted the result—as I should, willingly and happily—of the last election and wished the new government every success, and I have sought to move on with my life with my family and to continue to serve the people of my local electorate in Cook. I voluntarily stepped down from the leadership of my party and gave my full support to the new leadership, whom I commend. I thank them for their support, especially the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and I thank all of my colleagues, both former and current, both now and over a long period of time, for the same. In that, I particularly acknowledge the former Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, the former Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, and the member for Riverina, who together, the four of us, dealt with so much of that crisis each and every day together.

I have seen bitterness destroy people who have come to this place, and it continues to gnaw away at them each and every day of their lives for even decades after they leave this place. I am not one of those, nor will I ever be. I am proud of the many achievements that I have been able to accomplish in this place, especially as Prime Minister, and I am very grateful for the opportunities and to all of those I worked with to achieve them. We saw Australia through one of our most difficult times. We stood up to a bullying Chinese regime which sought to coerce and impose itself on our democracy through threats, sanctions and intimidation. I was pleased to establish the AUKUS agreement and tighten our partnerships with all our key partners, especially the United States, Japan, India, the United Kingdom, across our region in ASEAN—we were the first country to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN—and, of course, our dear Pacific family. I was pleased to have strengthened our economy through the pandemic and to have seen electricity prices fall by 10 per cent on my watch as PM; for individual and small business taxes to be cut and more than 300,000 Australians directly assisted into homeownership. And, by strengthening our economy, I was pleased we were able to guarantee the essential services that Australians relied on during times of great uncertainty, with record Medicare bulk-billing rates, PBS listings at record levels and record funds for aged care, disability care and mental health.

For those who now wish to add their judgement today on my actions, in supporting this censure motion, I simply suggest that they stop and consider the following: Have you ever had to deal with a crisis where the outlook was completely unknown? In such circumstances, were you able to get all the decisions perfectly right? Where you may have made errors, were you fortunate enough for them to have had no material impact on the result, and for the result itself to prove to be world-leading? Once you have considered your own experience, or perhaps when you have had more in government, then you may wish to cast the first stone in this place.

Perhaps the response to these difficult times and events is not to go down that path but down the path of thankfulness that Australia's performance through the pandemic was one of the strongest in the developed world; to appreciate in humility, not in retribution, that no country and no leader got all the decisions right, and gracefully take up the lessons that have been learned and equip us to do even better in the future.

It is an honour to serve in this House, and I have done that for these past 15 years. I am grateful again to the people of Cook for their strong support during this time, including most recently. I thank them for their encouragement, their many messages of support, as I and my family have returned to our dear home in the shire. I also thank my local Liberal Party members for their constant support, my local church community at Horizon Church for their prayers, and people of faith from all around the country who have extended the same. I have been humbled by your messages of support and encouragement.

I also thank again my colleagues here in this place, and formerly, for their support. It is indeed an honour to serve alongside you. I especially thank my wife, Jen, our daughters, Abbey and Lily, and my family and friends for their love and support, as well as my former staff for their great loyalty. You must always be proud of what you accomplished during our time working together. I conclude by thanking the Australian people for the privilege of being able to serve my country in so many roles, but especially as Prime Minister. I gave it everything I had. I did it to the best of my ability and in the best of faith each and every day I had the privilege to serve the Australian people.

9:45 am

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this motion because it is absolutely right that this House censure the member for Cook for undermining the basic principles of our system of government. I say that even more so after the speech that we've just listened to from the member for Cook, because, in all too familiar fashion, the former prime minister has sought to obfuscate and hide his errors. Even now, the member for Cook is failing to admit the errors that he made. Extraordinarily, he said in the course of that speech, 'If people had asked, I would have answered.' I'll repeat that: 'If people had asked, I would have answered.' So, apparently, it's the fault of this House that these errors were made. Apparently, it's the fault of this parliament that this misconduct occurred. Apparently, it's the fault of the fourth estate that these errors occurred and this misconduct occurred because, as the member for Cook says, 'If people had asked, I would have answered.'

Censure is the appropriate response to the findings by the Hon. Virginia Bell AC that the member for Cook, while Prime Minister of Australia, appointed himself to administer five additional departments and failed to inform the cabinet, failed to inform the relative departments, failed to inform the House of Representatives and failed to inform the Australian public. As the Solicitor-General found:

… the fact that the Parliament, the public and the other Ministers … were not informed of Mr Morrison's appointment was inconsistent with the conventions and practices that form an essential part of the system of responsible government …

Australia is a proud democracy and one of only a handful of nations to have maintained a democratically elected government throughout the whole of the last 122 years. An absolute principle of our democracy is accountability—knowing who is responsible for the decisions that are taken in our name. That's why the Prime Minister publicly announces the ministry. That's why the media attend the swearings-in at Government House. It's why we have question time and it's why ministers appear before the media—so they can be held accountable for the decisions in their name. But how on earth can you do that if you don't even know who the minister is? How on earth can there be any accountability in a government where even the Treasurer doesn't know whether the Prime Minister has taken his job? Again, as the Solicitor-General found:

… 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.

The Solicitor-General also said, 'The principles of responsible government are fundamentally undermined.' That bears repeating: 'The principles of responsible government are fundamentally undermined.'

Those opposite—almost all of them—have apparently declined to support this motion. I would respectfully suggest that they are wrong to decline to support this motion. As the member for Bass declared yesterday, you've put loyalty to the member for Cook ahead of 'your loyalty to the Australian people, to the institution to that you are elected to serve'.

Let's hear what some of their former colleagues think. Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said:

This is sinister stuff. This is secret government.

…   …   …

We, the people, are entitled to know who is governing our country. We need to know who is the minister for this, who is the minister for that. If, in fact, these things are all being done secretly, that's not a democracy.

I gather from the comments from the member for Bradfield that he doesn't have much regard for Malcolm Turnbull anymore, so how about this one?

… it is just highly unconventional, highly unorthodox, and shouldn't have happened.

That was Tony Abbott, another former Liberal prime minister. And, if that's not good enough for you, how about this one?

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.

Who said that? John Howard. You might remember him.

Those were the last three Liberal prime ministers before the member for Cook, and each one has the same view as the current government. These actions were unprecedented, and they were unacceptable. Here's one final quotation for you:

… it's inappropriate for him to be assuming this power.

…   …   …

There was an error of judgment, a very serious one. And our party is rightly hurt by that and upset, as many people in the public are.

Any guesses who that was? It was not a former prime minister but the current Leader of the Opposition—one of the few people on the opposition front bench not to have had their job secretly stolen by the member for Cook.

One thing we do know for sure is that, even today, the member for Cook is not in the least bit sorry—not to the Australian people and most certainly not to those who trusted him most, those opposite. Here's what Niki Savva wrote on the weekend about what happened to former treasurer Josh Frydenberg when he sought an apology from his former leader:

What really stuck in Frydenberg's mind, and his craw, was Morrison's response in that initial conversation when a profoundly disappointed Frydenberg put it to him that: "You wouldn't do it again if you had your time over!" Morrison replied: "Yes I would."

'Yes, I would.' He refused to cooperate with Ms Bell's inquiry, responding only through lawyers and, even then, still obfuscating. As Ms Bell found in a devastating indictment:

Mr Morrison's choice not to inform Mr Cormann, Ms Andrews or Mr Frydenberg of his appointments to administer departments of which each was portfolio minister out of the wish not to be thought to be second guessing them remains difficult to reconcile with his understanding that each appointment had been notified in the Gazette. One might have expected Mr Morrison to have informed each of these Ministers of the appointments had that been his understanding. While few members of the public may read the Gazette, any idea that the gazettal of the Prime Minister's appointment to administer the Treasury (or any of the other appointments) would not be picked up and quickly circulated within the public service and the Parliament strikes me as improbable in the extreme. Finally, Mr Morrison was repeatedly pressed at his press conference on 17 August 2022 about his failure not only to inform his Ministers but also to inform the public of the appointments. The omission on that occasion to state that he had acted at all times on the assumption that each appointment had been notified to the public in the Gazette is striking.

So he gets his lawyers to tell Ms Bell one thing, that he believed the appointments would be announced in the government Gazette, while telling the media and the Australian public something entirely different, that he deliberately kept the appointments secret to avoid alarming his colleagues.

As his speech today confirmed, the former prime minister is still, even now, trying to defend the indefensible. Today he put forward another bizarre argument, which he did not put to Virginia Bell for the purpose of her inquiry. In today's failed attempt at justifying his misconduct, the former prime minister made more references to COVID than to ministerial responsibility. In all-too-familiar fashion, the former prime minister has sought to obfuscate and hide his errors. He's not sorry, and he never will be. As his closest colleague, the member for Mitchell, told Niki Savva, 'He got addicted to executive authority.'

In 2018 the coalition, in government, moved a censure motion against a former minister, Bruce Billson, for failing to inform the parliament that he had been a paid lobbyist while in parliament. The former Prime Minister secretly having himself sworn into multiple ministries and trashing our democracy is much more serious, and much more deserving of censure. If the coalition is serious about integrity and accountability and restoring trust in politics, they will join with us to censure the member for Cook, just as we joined with them to censure Bruce Billson. The entire parliament has to take a stand to show that we will not tolerate the culture of secrecy enabled by the former government which the Bell inquiry found to have a corrosive impact on public trust and confidence in government. More importantly, we have a duty to the Australian people—the people we represent—to honour the trust they place in us when they elect us to govern in their name.

The Australian people were rightly shocked by recent reports of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in our parliament. They highlighted the need for urgent reform and the parliament acted swiftly to enact a code of conduct to ensure all parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful places to work. We showed the Australian people that we accepted that this sort of behaviour was unacceptable and we had to do better. So it is with the censure motion today. The actions of the former prime minister in undermining the basic principles of our system of government cannot be swept under the carpet. If the members of this House have any respect at all for this parliament and the people who trust us who represent them in this place then they must support the censure. All of us must come to gather to declare as a parliament that a prime minister who fundamentally undermines the principles of responsible government is deserving of censure. We need to make sure that this can never happen again, and the one way to do that is to send the clearest possible signal that this behaviour is unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

9:56 am

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition will not be supporting this censure motion, and that is for three reasons. Firstly, this motion is not an appropriate use of the forms and procedures of this House. Secondly, what we are seeing is an exercise by this government in political payback and distraction. Thirdly, the right way forward here is to adopt recommendations made by former High Court Justice Bell in her report.

This is not an appropriate use of forms and procedures of this parliament. The government has sought to ventilate this issue through a number of processes, but what it's now seeking to do is use the forms of this parliament to, for essentially political reasons, bring further scrutiny to bear on this issue. It's very clear that this censure motion makes no practical difference. It's also very clear to any objective observer that this is simply a naked political exercise seeking to damage the reputation and standing of the former Liberal prime minister and by extension all on this side of the House.

The standing orders are very clear as to the proper purpose of censure motions. Indeed, standing order 48, which deals with censure motions, specifically refers to censure of the government, which is a pretty big clue that the proper purpose of such a motion is for the parliament—the legislative branch of government—to hold to account the government—the executive branch. The very terms of this motion note this fundamental point. The terms of the motion refer to a system—and this is a correct description—by which the executive is accountable to the legislature. The Practice notes on page 325 that it is very rare for there to be a censure motion against a private member or a backbencher. Indeed, they have only been moved on two occasions, and both times that was by agreement. We have had a number of references from the Attorney-General to one of those instances, but I make the fundamental point: that was by agreement. There is no agreement here. Let me quote the Practice, which is very clear in relation to this matter. It says:

A motion in the form of a censure of a Member … not being a member of the Executive Government, is not consistent with the parliamentary convention that the traditional purpose of a vote of censure is to question or bring to account a Minister's responsibility to the House … given the relative strength of the parties in the House, and the strength of party loyalties, in ordinary circumstances it could be expected that a motion or amendment expressing censure of an opposition leader or another opposition Member would be agreed to, perhaps regardless of the circumstances or the merits of the arguments or allegations.

In other words, the Practice very clearly says that what the government is seeking to do here is not in accord with the forms and procedures of this parliament. What the government is doing here is at odds with the traditions and practices of this House. It is nothing more than a political exercise designed to damage the standing and reputation of the former Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister presents himself as a champion of parliamentary process—he frequently makes that point in the public domain—but it seems he is quite prepared to trash longstanding conventions to seek to gain short-term political advantage.

We hear the argument that, in the circumstances that occurred, the then Prime Minister, the member for Cook, was not accountable to the parliament, because he couldn't be questioned in relation to the portfolios that he had been sworn into. That proposition does not stand up to a second's scrutiny. The simple fact is that every Prime Minister—and this was certainly the case when the member for Cook occupied that high office—can be, and is on a daily basis in this place in question time, asked questions across the gamut of the issues for which the Prime Minister is responsible as the person who leads the executive government. When it comes, therefore, to the question of the accountability of the then Prime Minister to this parliament, the case has not been made that that accountability in any way had been compromised.

It is the task of the government to make the case that there is a need for a censure motion. Indeed, on the contrary, what they are proposing is something clearly at odds with the forms, procedures and traditions of this place. The simple fact is that, from the moment this matter came into the public domain, the overriding objectives of this government have been, first of all, to exploit this as an exercise in political payback, designed to damage the reputation of the former Prime Minister and in turn all of those on this side of the House, and, secondly, to use it as a diversionary tactic so that the government can avoid awkward questions about its lack of progress on the real issues facing Australians—the cost-of-living crisis, the sharp increase in the prices of gas and electricity, and the sharp increases in interest rates—and the lack of any plan on the part of the government to deal with these matters.

From the time this matter came into the public domain we've heard repeated exaggerated and over-the-top claims from Labor ministers and members of parliament about this matter. We heard the claim that the conduct of the former Prime Minister was illegal. The government sought advice from the Solicitor-General. Inconveniently for the government, that advice did not back up the hysterical claims that were being made on a daily basis by the Prime Minister and his ministers.

The Solicitor-General's advice found that the appointments were valid. It found that there is no constitutional requirement or statutory requirement for the appointments to be publicised. The Solicitor-General confirmed in his advice that multiple ministers can be appointed to administer a single department and noted that this commonly occurs. The Solicitor-General also acknowledged that this is a political issue, not a legal issue. At paragraph 33 of his opinion, he said:

The conventions and practices are generally enforced politically, not legally.

He highlighted that departure from conventions and practices does not result in invalidity.

The government, not content with obtaining and publicising that advice, sought to have a second bite at the cherry and keep this issue in the media cycle for several more weeks and months. It appointed former High Court Justice Bell to prepare a report into this matter. That report said, amongst other things:

Given the appointments were not disclosed to the Parliament or to the public, and that Mr Morrison did not exercise any of the powers he enjoyed by reason of his appointments apart from making the PEP-11 decision—

which, of course, was publicised—

the implications of the appointments are limited.

The Bell report also says:

As long as the appointments remained secret and Mr Morrison elected not to exercise his powers as the minister administering a department, it is not apparent that there was any impact on the structure of the ministry.

These are clear findings, inconsistent with much of the exaggerated commentary that we have heard from ministers today and that we've heard repeatedly from the Prime Minister and Labor figures.

There is an obvious question as to whether it was even necessary to commission the Bell report, given that it largely covers the same ground as the opinion from the Solicitor-General, and its recommendations are quite similar. I emphasise that I make no criticism at all of either the Solicitor-General or of former Justice Bell, both of whom were asked to do a job and they did it conscientiously.

The way forward here is clear. The right way forward is to get on with addressing the issues raised in both the opinion and the Bell inquiry. A number of sensible recommendations have been made for improving the clarity and transparency of ministerial appointments. The question that Australians might reasonably ask is, 'Why has the government taken so long to do anything about it?' The Solicitor-General delivered his opinion on 22 August. There are clear reform options set out in that opinion. Very similar recommendations were made by former Justice Bell.

The government's been on notice for more than a month about the recommendations for legislative change from former Justice Bell. She wrote to the Prime Minister on 26 October advising of the recommended legislative change that she'd be proposing. The government could have had that legislation ready to debate today. That would have been a sensible way forward. Instead, what they're seeking to do is leverage this for maximum political advantage. This is nothing more than a grubby political exercise.

10:06 am

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me no pleasure to speak on this motion. It's something that none of us in this place should have to be in a position to do. I've been a member of this parliament for over 20 years. It is a job I take very seriously. It is an enormous privilege to be here. I say, particularly to some of the newer members of parliament, who have only really been here for six months or shorter times than that than me: who is the custodian of this institution? It is us. It is our job to uphold the traditions of this place. Who else is going to do that? It is our job to make sure that we uphold this institution, this incredibly privileged place that we stand in.

That is what this censure motion is about. It is not about whether the previous government did a good or poor job at COVID. There are other places where that will be debated and examined, and I think in history that will happen. It's not about that. It's not even about, as the member for Cook tried to put the proposition, whether he exercised any of the powers to which he had administrative responsibility. It is actually about the traditions of this place and the fundamental principle upon which we know our Westminster system relies—that is, ministerial responsibility.

When we have the privilege of being elected in this place, we take on incredibly important responsibilities. We are all here for different reasons, but for all of us it is to make this place a better nation. As I said, I've been a member of this place for over 20 years, and I care deeply about its institutions. We are here for a reason, and those institutions are here for a reason. We are here to represent the Australian people. Parliament is a place where we get things done. We serve the people. We improve the places they live and we improve the circumstances in which they live. None of us are here for ourselves.

Our very democracy is built on the simple idea that our government is accountable to the Australian people. This is the people's House. That is what it is. It is built fundamentally on the Westminster tradition, hundreds of years of democratic evolution. That is what we are custodians of in this place. That's why this censure motion matters so deeply.

A government is not just accountable to the people every three years; it is accountable to the people every day and every hour. That is what being voted into this place means. Every time we sit in this place, the government—the executive—is accountable to the Australian people through their elected representatives, or at least that is how it is supposed to be. That is how our democracy is supposed to work. It is called responsible government. Schoolkids learn about it every year when they come here. First-year law students learn about it. It is the fundamental basis for our administrative law system.

While we might have political differences, there should be one thing we absolutely and utterly agree on, and that is that the traditions of this place matter because they underpin the democratic traditions of this country and the hundreds of years of democratic evolution that they are based on. But what we have seen with the actions of the member for Cook, the former Prime Minister, is that they undermined the accountability, they undermined responsible government and they undermined the institutions of this parliament. As I said, it's not about whether he actually exercised those powers—in one instance, we do know that he did—it is the fact that he had these powers and that they were not disclosed to his ministers, to his cabinet, to the parliament or, through the parliament, to the people and that, therefore, that principle of responsible government and of ministerial accountability could not be upheld. That is what this censure is about.

For ministers to be accountable to the parliament and to the Australian people, you have to know who they are. It's that simple. You need to know who to hold to account. Who is responsible for making decisions? Who holds the power to administer the laws of that department? Nobody knew that the member for Cook was also the Minister for Health, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Home Affairs, the Treasurer and the Minister for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. The Australian people certainly didn't know it, we in the then opposition certainly didn't know it, his own cabinet didn't know it and not even the other ministers holding those portfolios knew it.

Many of us would remember, during the election campaign, when the then Prime Minister, in reference to workers getting a dollar pay rise, said, 'You can't afford a loose unit in the Lodge.' Well, that seems to be what we had with the member for Cook. It's simply extraordinary. Without accountability, you don't have democracy. That's why I'm speaking in support of this motion. Censuring any member of parliament, especially a former prime minister, is not something that we take lightly. It's a big thing to do. We understand that. And, again, it is something that this chamber should never, ever really have to do. But the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, has shown through his actions—and even in his defence today—his disrespect for this place and, through us, for the Australian people. That cannot go unacknowledged.

I commend members of the crossbench who are supporting this motion, and I encourage members, particularly those who might be new to this place and who are potentially going be here for a long time, to ask themselves: if we don't stand up for this institution then who will? That is what this censure is about. Long after the member for Cook has gone and many of us here have gone, that's what you'll have to think about on this censure motion: did I stand up for the traditions of this parliament? Before you cast your vote, think about that. If this place doesn't stand up for responsible government, if this place doesn't stand up for the institutions, then who will?

We've seen in recent times in so many other countries the deliberate undermining of democratic institutions, and we've seen where that leads. We know that we don't want that to happen here in this country. If you don't add your voice to those calling out for even the most minimal level of ministerial accountability—actually letting the Australian people know who their ministers are—what will you support? What is important to you in the traditions of this place?

Of course, this censure is important, but it's not where we should end this topic. We have to make sure that this does not happen again. This wasn't an accident. This wasn't just an administrative failure where the former Prime Minister thought someone was going to do something and they didn't. This was deliberate. This was absolutely deliberate and intended. If the former Prime Minister would have us say that it was all for good reasons, I'm not sure that many of us here believe that.

That's why we all, in this place, must listen to the Bellreport, vote to enshrine the principles of responsible government and make sure that this does not happen again. The censure motion is important because it is saying: 'In this point in time, we want to defend the traditions of this parliament. We believe in responsible government. We know that that underpins the very principle of the democratic tradition that we uphold and that the former Prime Minister should be held to account for those actions.'

Of course, that's not the only thing this parliament needs to do. We need to establish the NACC, which I'm pleased to see we are very close to doing. We need to enforce tighter ministerial standards, embrace the recommendation of the Jenkins review and understand that we have an incredible privilege to be in this place. That privilege comes with enormous responsibilities, of which today is one. It will be a long road to restoring faith in our institutions—but do that we must, because we have seen the results in other countries when we do not do that—strengthening our democracy and moving past what is, frankly, a shameful episode in our political history. But this censure motion and our accountability reforms are the first step in this parliament taking control of its destiny and making sure that this does not happen again.

10:16 am

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I really do think that this is a very important debate. One of the most highly respected and most long-serving Labor ministers wanted me to come down and see him. Before I could even sit down, he said: 'Politicians today—it doesn't matter what their party or where they come from—do not govern. They do not govern.' As a long-serving minister myself, albeit in a state government, I said, 'When did you come to that conclusion?' He said, 'Three years ago.' I said, 'Well, you're beating me, mate, because I came to that conclusion three months ago.' It is not that you're evil or that you're wrong in what you decide, Mr LNP or Mr ALP; it's that you just don't govern. I can go to you with an issue and you'll listen to me—you'll agree with me—but I absolutely know: nothing will happen. If two very long-serving ministers say that, then I think there has to be a little tiny bit of substance in that observation.

In my opinion, the Prime Minister was desperate to try and get something to happen. In discussions with senior leaders—I won't mention names over here—I said, 'Please don't be like this government: 4½ years, and not one single thing done.' I think, if you asked the average Australian what happened in those 4½ years, they would say the same thing. But he was in a desperate effort.

I make this point and I say it in defence of Scott Morrison: he is very proud of his forebears. One of them, his great-aunt, is on the $10 note. That's Dame Mary Gilmore, who came from my hometown of Cloncurry, where she is buried. She was the great La Pasionaria of the labour movement. There would have been no labour movement without Dame Mary Gilmore, that wonderful poet—and I'm not going to recite her poetry, although I know many of her poems!

Now, this man, carrying on that tradition, desperately wanted to do something for his people. But he was hit with a situation which the government now is hit with: they just can't govern. There's the enormous power of the media and the social interactions happening on social media. I don't know what people's reasons are and I don't intend to canvass those reasons here today. But you have to govern. In a desperate effort to govern, he went to very excessive—and I agree with the government—unusual and unconventional actions. Of course, he brought opprobrium upon himself. But he did that in a desperate effort.

If you, the ALP government of Australia, think you're going to get out from under, then let's take just one issue. It's a very simple, tiny issue.

We were all saying we're going to vote for the first changes to the Australian Constitution and aren't we wonderful people because we really love my blackfella cousin brothers. Do you? They've got a life expectancy of 56. Not one single market garden has been put there by the ALP government of Queensland or the LNP government of Australia—not one. After 4½ years of screaming and yelling and pleading—nothing, nothing. And it's not because the ministers were bad people or that the present minister is a bad person; it's just that they can't govern. As a person that did govern, I know you need—and I will not hesitate to use the word—'brutality'. If I want you to go in that direction and you don't go in it then, if it's the Queensland government, God help you.

Why I'm so concerned and why I'm so interested in this censure motion today is that, in Queensland, we had exactly that situation. We had a premier, Bjelke-Petersen, who for some reason or other had a very funny attitude towards First Australians and a very unpleasant and unfortunate attitude towards First Australians. I was put in as minister, and I was absolutely determined that I would give the people what they wanted, which was a freehold private title to land, the same as was enjoyed by everyone else on earth. I did give them self-management powers, which arguably exceeded state government and federal government powers—to some degree they were a government within a government, and people can criticise me for that.

For the committee of the National Party, I selected every single one of the members because they'd either played rugby league or mustered cattle. I knew if they'd either mustered cattle or played rugby league they would have great respect for First Australians as people. They would not see them as blackfellas or whitefellas; they'd just see them as people. That committee stood 100 per cent behind me, and Doug Jennings, a famous man for moral integrity who brought down the Victorian government with the land scams—God bless him—said to Bjelke-Petersen, 'You touch Katter then I'll touch you!" Bjelke-Petersen knew that that committee was standing four square behind me, so we had a clash here. The bloke who was elected to be the boss of Queensland said, 'You're not going to do that!' But I'd been given by the Governor a piece of paper saying I had the power to do that.

Here we arguably have the same sort of situation that may have occurred with the last Prime Minister. In that situation you fight the battle. He could sack me. The boss rang up six and said, 'I'm going to sack this bloke.' That's when people have to make an intelligent and a moral decision. Are you going to back Bjelke-Petersen or are you going to back what needs to be done here? I'm very proud to say that the overwhelming majority of my party said, 'No, we're backing the bloke that's doing the things that need to be done.' In fairness to the memory of Bjelke-Petersen, I've got to say that he swung back the other way and started championing all of those changes. His critics would say he did that because he always saw which way the political wind was blowing. Other people say that he just went back to the old missionary that founded Hope Vale, the home of Noely Pearson and most of the great leadership of Australia. Some of the great rugby league players in Australia also come from Hope Vale. He founded that with Leo Rosendale, one of my blackfellas brother cousins.

Overlaid on this issue is the volatility of the leadership in the LNP. We have volatility in the ALP as well, but these were not things that existed in the days of Howard or in the days of Menzies or in the days of Curtin or Chifley, going way back. But now there is volatility of leadership, and if you try to overrule a minister, he'll get his nose out of joint and he'll come gunning for you—not overtly, of course, just with quiet talks with the media or quiet talks with key people on the backbench you want to get on the frontbench. We have this volatility element overlaid on it, but this is the most important point I want to make, and Ms Bell did not understand this. It amazes me how lawyers simply don't understand the law. When I want to law school I was taught that there are conventions, constitutional conventions. We come into this place—not me, but the rest of you—and swear allegiance to a lady in England, so if you want to read the letter of the law, will you do what the lady in England tells you to do? You swore allegiance to her. I didn't, but you did. The constitutional convention says, 'That's rubbish; no-one's going to take any notice of a lady in England.' Well, that's the law. The constitutional convention is the law, and the constitutional convention is that Menzies and McEwen ran this place. Ministers may have had powers, but they didn't have ultimate powers.

This cuts to the very heart of the modern quandary of why governments can't govern, and the desperation of a Prime Minister resorting to what is not only unconventional but also very unusual behaviour was forced upon him because he was trying to govern. If you think on the government side of this parliament that you're going to be able to govern—well, you've been there for six months, and I don't know anything that has changed in the six months. You can run around talking about your IR legislation that I voted for and supported you on, but is it going to change anything? No. We'll just see next year whether there's anything that you do that actually indicates that you govern. I highly respect and like many of the mob on this side and their leadership, but did they govern? Point out something out to me you did? Did you build a factory? Did you build a dam? Did you change some law that enabled the First Australians to have a private freehold title like everyone else on earth? Did you do any of those things? No, you did none of those things.

In conclusion I say this cuts to the very heart of modern government. Prime Minister Albanese was voted for by the people of Australia. They expect him to govern. Now, whether you say that he is in the position of a monarch or whether you don't, the Australian people decided that he is the boss. He has the ultimate say and the ultimate responsibility, and he should not have to go to the lengths to which the last Prime Minister went to take action, whether you agree with him or whether you don't. You can have the situation where you have your beliefs, as I did in state parliament, and alright, he can sack me, because he has the last say. But in the end if you stand your ground and you try to do something, you'll be surprised how many people back you up, and that's the message that I'd like to leave with this place. If you make a stand on what you believe is the right thing and the intelligent thing to do, then people will back you. Even though no-one bet that I would win, in the end I did very comprehensively—no, I didn't; the people did. The people who knew it was the right thing to do won in the end.

10:27 am

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of this motion. All of us who are elected to this place have a responsibility to contribute to decisions that will make a difference to our nation and to its citizens. That includes a responsibility to uphold our constitutional conventions and democratic norms which are the bedrock of our liberal democratic system of government. Students of Australia's political history will be aware that our federal constitutional arrangements borrow from the system of responsible government from Westminster, while also incorporating the notion of a strong Senate and systematic checks and balances from Washington. This arrangement is referred to in the political science textbooks as the Washminster mutation. There is an internal theoretical inconsistency between these two approaches. Responsible government suggest governments can act as they will but will be held accountable at each election. Checks and balances, meanwhile, constrain government power, meaning that the executive alone cannot be held solely responsible for decisions taken by the whole parliament. Even from our foundation Australia's political culture has tended toward the pragmatic rather than the ideological.

However, the member for Cook's behaviour and choices undermined both the Westminster and the Washington philosophical underpinnings of our constitutional arrangements, thereby diminishing our polity, to cater for his unabated hunger for power—the ultimate indicator of self-centred entitlement that took nearly everything for himself, an egocentric belief that no-one but the chosen could possibly be acting in the national interest quite so well as he. The other members and senators swore oaths to serve in the national interest. Each of those oaths was diminished by the actions of the member for Cook. Our foundation documents seek to set out the role of the legislature to constrain the worst excesses of the executive. As members of this place we cannot stand idly by when we witness such an affront to good governance and our democratic norms as has been displayed by the member for Cook as the former Prime Minister, the former Treasurer, the former Minister for Finance, the former Minister for Home Affairs, the former Minister for Health, the former minister for industry and science, and, of course, as he was, the former minister for resources. We cannot allow what he did to undermine democracy to go unremarked or set a precedent for any future Prime Minister to secretly govern in the shadows.

Mr Speaker, the former Prime Minister secretly had himself sworn-in to a number of portfolios, including resources. Whatever tenuous COVID continuity argument he may make about other portfolios, the principal reason for seizing the resources portfolio was to make a decision that he did not believe the publicly acknowledged and recognised minister, the member for Hinkler, would make. The only decision that the member for Cook appears to have made in any of his additional portfolios was in relation to the PEP-11 title in the resources portfolio. It's not just a matter of principle. The decision was a real one that has real-world consequences. The consequences are so significant that impacted parties have challenged the decision through the courts, and that case is ongoing. With that in mind, I will be very circumspect in my remarks and confine them to what is already on the public record, lest I add to the current contention before the courts.

The Bell report shows us that the member for Cook secretly appointed himself minister for resources on 15 April 2021, then called in the PEP-11 decision in December 2021. I want to express my sincere sympathies with the member for Hinkler. Those who have been undermined, who have worked in toxic workplaces, might be familiar with the kind of boss who gaslights one and undermines one's work. I commend the member for Hinkler for the grace with which he has responded to the revelations of the member for Cook's behaviour, and I thank him for his collegiality during his time as resources minister, when I was the shadow minister and, like the rest of the nation, entirely unaware that there were indeed two ministers for resources in this country.

The member for Cook and his government treated the resources portfolio and, by extension, the whole industry and all of its workers with contempt. The resources industry of Australia and its quarter of a million workers carried our nation through the COVID pandemic. While the world was in lockdown, offshore oil and gas projects in the north-west and the Northern Territory powered on, powering the west coast of this country and most of our region. Coal exported from Queensland and New South Wales made its way to Ukraine and powered economies in North Asia; Victorian gold fetched record-high prices as uncertainty led people to swap currency for bullion; nickel projects in Tasmania and Kalgoorlie provided a key component for batteries of electric vehicles; South Australian copper supported the world's growing need for electrification; and 916 million tonnes of iron ore left Western Australia, adding to the critical export earnings the resources sector delivers to this nation. Without this export wealth, our lucky country would never have been able to pay for the social health infrastructure that literally saved lives during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the coalition undermined Australia's resources industry. They refused industry's calls to act on climate change, putting our key trade relationships at risk and setting our country back a decade in the effort to decarbonise. They failed to land an energy policy and risked our energy security, upon which minerals processing is dependent. They even dropped the portfolio out of cabinet due to internal Nationals bickering and a backroom deal to give the member for New England a promotion. They treated taxpayers' money as their own, creating colour-coded spreadsheets to favour their seats in the sports rorts scandal. And now there has been this sordid episode in Australia's political history. Mr Speaker, is it any wonder that the previous government consistently avoided introducing an anti-corruption commission? They voted against the banking royal commission 26 times. They concocted the robodebt scandal that destroyed lives. They used Australian Defence Force footage of flood disasters as a political fundraiser for the Liberal Party.

Perhaps those opposite are frustrated by accountability. Perhaps they find democracy inefficient. Like everyone in this place, I love Australia and I love our representative democracy—the fairest, most accessible egalitarian democratic institution in the world. Yesterday, scientists from Geoscience Australia showed me around the geological unconformity deep underneath Parliament House. I touched the 440-million-year-old sandstone upon which this House is built. But our freedom and democracy are built on a much more fragile bedrock that is at risk of erosion and decay by the actions of those who, craving power above all else, simply take it for themselves.

When trust in public institutions around the world has receded, I know I'm not alone when I say I was proud of how ours fared against the headwinds of the pandemic. Anything that seeks to circumvent or otherwise tarnish our precious democratic institutions should be called out for what it is: a fundamental undermining of the principles of responsible government and the sovereignty of the Australian people.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Others opposite may now be claiming Stockholm syndrome had led them astray, as they were shocked by the member for Cook's grasp for the levers of power. But those members opposite now have an opportunity to reflect on how they may redeem themselves for enabling the member for Cook's democratic deceit. Those whose roles were diminished by these undemocratic acts have an opportunity to acknowledge this wrong, by supporting the motion—which leads me to ask: what legacy do those opposite wish to leave? How do they explain themselves to their electorates when they go to their mobile offices or when they have people on the phone? How will they explain that they enabled this wrong during the last term of government, and then they continued to not acknowledge it by opposing this motion? By opposing this motion, members are endorsing this behaviour that undermines our democratic system of government—it is no less than that. And it is their responsibility to acknowledge what has gone on. The member for Cook took us through his way of thinking, and that's entirely up to him, but the thing is: what he did reflects on us all in this place.

I signed an oath earlier this year when I became minister. The weight of responsibility when you are signing that oath is unbelievable. My signature is basically unrecognisable, because the weight of the moment and the pressure of it is overwhelming—and so it should be, because it is an extraordinary responsibility and I take it very seriously.

So, to each of those seven ministers that really had that responsibility diminished by the member for Cook: this is your opportunity—and not all of them are in this House anymore, but they have friends here; this is your opportunity to redeem what happened to them and to acknowledge the wrong that was done toward our system. Our names here in this place will be enshrined in the Votes and Proceedings; our words will remain inscribed in Hansard forever. And that record will remain for a long time—long after we have all left. Voting against this motion will tell a history of those members that were unmoved by the unjustified assault on our democracy. I urge all members to support this motion, in the interests of this chamber, of the other place and of the representative democracy of Australia.

10:38 am

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion is just about settling scores. It's not about the Australian people. The Australian people cast their votes on 21 May. The Australian people elected the Albanese Labor government with the lowest primary vote in Labor's history. Nevertheless, they elected the Albanese Labor government to govern. They elected the government to look forward, to the future, and not constantly in the rear-view mirror. They elected the Albanese government to deal with the issues people face today, like the rising cost of living, rising energy costs, rising housing costs, rising interest rates and rising grocery prices.

Instead of doing these things, the government has brought forward this wasteful, ineffectual and wholly unnecessary political motion. Let's look at what this motion does not do. This motion does not help Australians put food on the table; it does not help Australians fill their car so they can drive to work or take their kids to school; it does not help them bring down power prices; it does not make their mortgage cheaper. This motion fails to do anything of substance for the Australian people, and the government should be condemned for using the parliament's time for cynical and self-indulgent political opportunism.

There's good reason to call out the opportunism that this motion represents, because the Solicitor-General delivered his opinion on 22 August, more than three months ago. That opinion set out a number of reforms. The reform options were sensible and clear. Yet, instead of drafting legislation the Solicitor-General proposed back in August, the government has spent the last three months sitting on that road map for reform. For more than a month now, the government has been on notice about the recommendations for legislative change from former Justice Bell. On 26 October this year, she wrote to the Prime Minister to advise of a recommendation for legislative change that she intended to make in the report. The report makes clear that this was to enable the government to pursue legislative changes this year. The government seems to have ignored Ms Bell's sensible and generous approach and has sat on its hands. They could have brought the legislation to the parliament at any time after 26 October.

Twelve sitting days have passed since they were put on notice of that recommendation. Today, instead of discussing that legislation, we are now debating a censure motion. Even today, the day when legislation is traditionally introduced into the House, there is no amendment to the Ministers of State Act at all on the Notice Paper. It shows that Labor's first act is always politics. That's the Labor way. Even the day that Labor chose to have Ms Bell report was chosen for political reasons. The government wanted Ms Bell's report to have the maximum political effect, so they set the reporting date as the day before the Victorian state election. So let's stop pretending that this is about anything other than politics.

Contrast that cynical position of the government with the mature approach taken by people on this side of the chamber. We've acknowledged the Solicitor-General's opinion and have taken it very seriously, indeed. That opinion made clear that the appointments made were legally valid. It rejected the idea that in making the appointments there's some sort of constitutionally required procedure that wasn't followed. The Solicitor-General expressly noted that the Constitution, in his words, 'deliberately leaves room for the further evolution of the institution of responsible government'. He made sensible, straightforward suggestions for that further evolution.

We've also noted the release of the Bell report. The Bell report builds on the Solicitor-General's advice. It makes sensible recommendations for improving the clarity and transparency of ministerial appointments. There is no recommendation or even mention of a censure motion in that report. We on this side of the House will consider any proposed legislation flowing from the Bell report when it's presented to parliament. But instead of discussing that legislation we are discussing this frivolous and wasteful censure motion. That's the nub of the issue.

The government now has received the Bell report. It could be implementing the recommendations already, but there's no legislation before this House, only a vague promise to introduce something later this week. It should be using the time that it has in this chamber to deal with the real problems facing Australians, including the cost-of-living crisis. Do we have any attention to that cost-of-living crisis? No. Instead, what we have is this politically motivated censure motion. Let's be clear. This motion does nothing to improve the clarity and transparency of ministerial appointments. It does not take up the proposals made by the Solicitor-General three months ago or the recommendations about which Ms Bell wrote to the Prime Minister over a month ago. It's a motion designed for political payback rather than for taking the sensible next steps on the issue.

Censure motions are a way of the parliament holding ministers to account. They're not a tool for a new government to play politics with a former Prime Minister. House of Representatives Practice makes clear that it's not the purpose for which a censure motion is designed. As Practice notes, if you leave out attacks on leaders of the opposition, a motion of a censure of a private member has been moved only twice in the 121 years since Federation. Let me quote to you from Practice:

A motion in the form of a censure of a Member … not being a member of the Executive Government, is not consistent with the parliamentary convention that the traditional purpose of a vote of censure is to question or bring to account a Minister's responsibility to the House. Furthermore, given the relative strength of the parties in the House, and the strength of party loyalties, in ordinary circumstances it could be expected that a motion or amendment expressing censure of an opposition … Member would be agreed to, perhaps regardless of the circumstances or the merits of the arguments or allegations.

The member for Cook has already had adverse reflections from the Solicitor-General and Justice Bell, and he was voted out of office by the Australian people. That is the ultimate censure. He has accepted that decision as he accepts the recommendations of the Solicitor-General and Justice Bell. He has had enough censures.

Sometimes I think the Prime Minister never stopped being the professional protester of his youth. Every day, he comes in here not to govern for the future of Australia but to attack the member for Cook. Sometimes I wonder why Labor hasn't changed the standing orders—to put an effigy burning of the member for Cook, at the beginning of the day of parliament, along with the prayers and welcome to country. It's time the government stopped obsessing about one man and started thinking about the 26 million Australians who pay them to look after their interests. The government's failure to do so and its decision, instead, to spend parliament's time on a frivolous censure motion shows the government's all about politics and not about making things better for Australians.

You'd be forgiven for asking what the government hopes to achieve through this motion. But, if we look around, it rapidly becomes clear why the government is so keen to spend parliament's valuable time on this issue. It is distraction politics. The motion is intended to draw attention away from the government's inability to provide for the economic security that makes things better for Australians. Despite having repeatedly told the people during the election that Labor would reduce their power bills by $275, that is one number the Prime Minister refuses to say in this place. This is a government that is making Australians $2,000 worse off by Christmas. Right now we have an economy with high inflation, high interest rates, rising costs of living, along with Labor admitting that over the next two years electricity prices will go up by 56 per cent and gas prices up by 44 per cent.

Just this week in the other place we had an industrial relations bill that will make things worse—a bill that will force many small businesses to bargain against their will. Businesses with more than 20 staff will be dragged onto multi-employer arrangements with much larger competitors. The government's own modelling shows that small and medium businesses will have to pay between $14,000 and $18,000 in bargaining costs as a result of these changes. These changes will result in more strikes, put pressure on supply chains and could even see an increase in the price of everyday items.

What do the government do? Are they addressing the concerns of Australian families and small businesses? No. They're playing politics, doing stunts and moving this motion, instead of delivering for the Australian people. This is a pea and thimble trick to distract from the fact that the government are pressing ahead with their backward-looking industrial relations laws this week. It's an attempt to draw attention away from the fact that the government are fumbling the economic strength gifted to them by the coalition. This is a government that inherited the largest budget turnaround since Federation from the coalition, yet, as the Leader of the Opposition so aptly puts it, under Labor everything is going up except your wages.

Instead we have stunts like this to try and distract from the fact that Labor's decisions are making difficult economic conditions worse. What this motion also demonstrates is that, despite the clear and present economic threats, the government is so focused on settling scores that it's losing sight of the issues that matter to Australians. Right now we could be talking about how to provide the economic security that Australian families so desperately need. We could be engaging in a debate about reducing power bills. We could be discussing the best way to make mortgages more affordable. But this censure motion will not help one Australian business or family to respond to the challenges they are facing today. Rather than focusing on things that make a substantive difference, this motion demonstrates the government is less interested in the lives of Australians than it is in settling old political scores.

The government should bring forth the amendments to the Ministers of State Act today. They are the amendments that have been recommended by the Bell report, which the government has had for over one month—that recommendation from Ms Bell. That should be the focus of the government if it wishes to deal with the issue. This motion is unworthy of the House's time and ought to be rejected.

10:47 am

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

We could have had a really important moment in this parliament this morning. We could have stood up from all the different political parties that we represent from all the areas of our beautiful country that we represented and made a really strong statement about what our democracy means to us. It is enormously disappointing to me that we have people like the member for Berowra, who I think has huge respect, usually, on this side of the chamber, give a speech like that, pretending that this doesn't matter. This is the thing that I cannot fathom about this entire debate about the conduct of the member for Cook: the willingness of those opposite me to continuously play this down when they know that this matters. We take an oath, as members of parliament, to come to this chamber to represent and protect our communities, and the member for Cook failed to do that not just in his capacity as a member of parliament but in his capacity as Prime Minister.

We are learning some things about our parliament this morning, and one of those is that the member for Cook still does not believe that he has done anything wrong. How is it possible that the member for Cook can still not do the right thing by this parliament? We saw 15 minutes of obfuscation and excuses—nonsensical excuses—that do not justify in any way the conduct that was undertaken. Why can't the member for Cook see what the Australian people need from him at this moment? They need an apology, some amount of reflection about his conduct and a willingness to take responsibility for what he did wrong. Those are normal human reactions, and that is what the nation demands of its national leaders at this time, and he has utterly failed to do it.

I don't know what to say to the modern Liberal Party. This morning they have foolishly indulged and enabled the member for Cook simply because he is of their breed, and that is wrong. The behaviour this morning from that party has been bizarre, craven and disappointing. This is a party that's meant to be about conventions, about protecting things that matter and about protecting our institutions and our democracy. What we are seeing is not only that this political party will not support this motion, which would've made a clear public statement about the meaning of democracy, but also that they lined up to shake the member for Cook's hand after he'd spoken. What sort of message does that send about how much they value this institution versus their political interests?

I should not have to explain to the parliament why this matters, but I'm going to talk a little bit about the implications for my portfolio of Home Affairs. The member for Cook gave us a long description about how stressful and difficult things were during COVID. He swore himself in as the Minister for Home Affairs in May 2021. If there has been a period of calm in the last three years it was May 2021, and yet he decided to swear himself in as Minister for Home Affairs, which, without question, could have placed our country at a serious national security risk. There is no question about that. My department runs national security issues in this country. In appointing himself as Minister for Home Affairs, the member for Cook also made himself the dual head of ASIO and the Australian Federal Police. He did not tell the public servants in my department that he had done that.

So what would have happened if we had had a significant terrorist attack during the period where we had two ministers for home affairs? Can the member for Cook not see that that would have created a national security crisis for our country? Two ministers would probably have had two different views about how to respond to a crisis. And we had this situation go on for a year. The member for Cook says that he never intended to exercise these powers. Well, why did he swear himself into the portfolio? In fact, he mentioned in his address that there were certain things about national security that only he as the Prime Minister could understand. Well, as the old saying goes, 'Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely,' and we saw it this morning in these justifications.

There are lots of political issues that we deal with in this parliament, and people sometimes give serious speeches about things that are not serious. This is not one of those issues. I say again to those opposite: there are fundamental tenets of our democracy that have been broken here. We are the sixth-oldest democracy in the world. We are, I think, the best quality democracy in the world. We have compulsory voting. We were one of the first countries with women having the right to vote. We have an amazing system here, and that is a critical asset for us as we will be facing some very difficult challenges in the coming decades.

Yet the opposition party come in here this morning and degrade our democracy. They're willing to see it trampled on and debased by the member for Cook. Not only are they not willing to do anything to say that that's wrong; they lined up and shook his hand afterwards. We owe our constituents much better than that, and that is why I'm supporting the censure motion today.

10:52 am

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't intend to speak very long on this issue, but I feel it's important to explain my support for this censure motion. For me, supporting this censure is strictly about calling out actions that are disrespectful to this very institution. This is not an attack on the three years of government under the former prime minister but, rather, a reflection on the specific actions taken that, in my view, defy the expectations we have for our leaders.

As Virginia Bell AC concluded in her report, the actions taken were corrosive to trust in politics. Those actions sit outside the expectations of the Australian people, and they sit outside how we expect elected representatives in the highest office to act. I've relentlessly advocated for more integrity in politics and fought for an integrity commission that would begin to restore the public's faith in elected officials. To sit quietly now would be hypocritical, and I firmly believe we should be intentional in the actions we take to ensure that we do not let this happen again.

Governments of all levels were faced with making tough decisions when the pandemic began to take hold almost three years ago. There were many things that our government got right and a number of correct decisions made at the height of the pandemic which protected the health and economic wellbeing of our country. We fared so much better than many other developed countries due to measures implemented by the government in the midst of the pandemic, and the member for Cook is to be commended for much of his pandemic leadership in Australia.

But a move to ensure direct power was quietly held over a number of portfolios, unbeknownst to our own party, our own ministers and the Australian public, was entirely unnecessary. It is an affront to our democratic Westminster system, which has functioned for well over 120 years. This House has the right to be informed of the appointments. The people of Australia had the right to be informed. In our democracy, what can be more fundamental than this?

I do not accept any of the explanations put forward by the former Prime Minister for his actions, and I'm deeply disappointed by the lack of genuine apology or, more importantly, understanding of the impact of these decisions. I've said time and time again that we talk very much in this House about the great privilege and honour of being here, but we talk less often about the responsibility that comes with that. There is a great privilege that comes with being the Prime Minister, but with that comes great responsibility and accountability, which you can't have without transparency. It might be a shock to some who sit here from all sides, but this is not a game. There are things that sit above the cut and thrust of politics, and this censure motion goes to our system of democracy.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that for me this issue also sits at the heart of the ability of our party to move forward. This is a clear opportunity for a line to be drawn and to move in the right direction. We must heed the message sent to us at the May election, learn those lessons, reset and move forward constructively. In closing I'd just say this: I am a Liberal. I believe in Liberal values, and our statement of values says this:

WE BELIEVE IN THE RULE OF LAW. Under it, there is freedom for the nation and for all men and women. Democracy depends upon self-discipline, obedience to the law, the honest administration of the law.

It is for this reason I'm obligated to support this motion.

10:56 am

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

A censure motion like this is as rare as it is grave. The fact that it has become so necessary constitutes a profoundly sad moment in the life of our national parliament, but to ignore it would to be complicit in saying, 'Well, that was okay.' This House of Representatives has a responsibility to declare its view on what occurred with these extraordinary actions by the former Prime Minister. I wake up every single day very cognisant of the honour that I have in serving as Australia's 31st Prime Minister. I'm also very aware of the responsibility that comes with it. I'm also very conscious of the power that comes with it.

Power should never be abused. This was an abuse of power and a trashing of our democracy, and the Bell inquiry makes that so clear. For this parliament to have an inquiry and then not respond comprehensively to it would not be doing its duty. The explanation for the first two appointments by the former Prime Minister was, 'What would happen if a minister became incapacitated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?' We all know and I know as Prime Minister that, as Virginia Bell found, an acting minister could be appointed if needed, to quote the inquiry, 'in a matter of minutes'. The appointments were unnecessary. The last three appointments had little connection to the pandemic, according to the Bell inquiry, and were made because of the former Prime Minister's view and concern that an incumbent minister might exercise his or her statutory powers in a matter with which Mr Morrison didn't agree. That is what the Bell inquiry found. There was the PEP-11 determination but also FIRB decisions, with the power to stop or undo foreign powers acquiring interests in Australian assets, or the power to strip people of their citizenship.

Cast your mind back to 21 May, when the then Prime Minister made an announcement about the arrival of a boat. Text messages were sent to millions of Australians, in direct contradiction of the guy who had stood up at a press conference after press conference and said that he would not talk about on-water matters. At the time, that was done and authorised by the Liberal Party. That extraordinary attempt to distort an election result was made by the Prime Minister but also someone who had been sworn in with the authority to act in the Department of Home Affairs, which is why the then minister has called for the member for Cook to resign from parliament.

The fact is that our democracy is precious. There's no room for complacency. We've seen overseas, including with the assault on the Capitol building in the United States, that we can't take our democracy for granted. The explanations that were put forward were described by Ms Bell as 'not easy to understand' and 'difficult to reconcile' with the facts. The implications were there in the Bell inquiry. There was a 'risk of conflict' if different ministers wanted to exercise the same power 'inconsistently'. Ms Bell confirmed the Solicitor-General's view that the principles of responsible government were:

… "fundamentally undermined" because—

the member for Cook, the then Prime Minister—

was not "responsible" to the Parliament, and through the Parliament to the electors, for the departments he was appointed to administer.

It undermined public confidence in government. It was, according to Ms Bell, 'corrosive of trust in government'. The public didn't know, according to the Bell inquiry, something it was 'entitled to know'.

Yet, this morning, I came here not certain as to whether I would speak. But I have to respond to the former Prime Minister's comments. He has confirmed again that he just doesn't get it. He said this morning he'd had conversations 'privately with my colleagues'. It's not about Josh Frydenberg; it's about the people of Australia. That's who we're accountable to—through this parliament, at this dispatch box. We asked questions about PEP-11 and we asked questions about health, not knowing that the then Prime Minister was actually responsible and sworn in. The former Prime Minister flicked more questions to ministers than had all previous 29 prime ministers. The former Prime Minister shut down debate at this dispatch box each and every time people attempted to make a contribution about the serious matters.

He goes to the impact of COVID and the responsibility he had. I had that sense, too, as the Leader of the Opposition, which is why we on this side of the House, when we sat over there, took responsible decisions not to play politics but to vote for packages and to declare in advance of packages coming forward that, even if our amendments were not successful and even if there were measures which we did not agree with, such as the raiding of superannuation, we would not stand in the way, even though there was a political cost that we were conscious of.

But we understood our obligation to the national interest. This was not a one-man show. It was the Australian people who stood up and protected themselves, not just in the parliament. It was the people who stayed at home, the people who got vaccinated, the heroes of the pandemic who went out there and worked with people who were sick. All of the unctuousness and self-congratulation we heard this morning should be dismissed. He came up with a different explanation today: 'If only he was asked.' He blames the media and everyone else. Why didn't we come in here and ask if he'd been sworn in as Treasurer or finance minister! It's just beyond comprehension and this parliament should be, as a whole, standing up and voting for this motion—the whole parliament.

I have a lot of respect for the former Deputy Prime Minister, and he knows that. I might speak beyond my allotted time here, Mr Speaker. (Extension of time granted) It began with measures like the former Deputy Prime Minister being told by the Prime Minister's Office not to be transparent about whether he was Acting Prime Minister in 2019. That is how these things begin. And I don't blame the former Deputy Prime Minister for being loyal to his Prime Minister. I respect that. But he should never have been asked to do that and be put in that position; nor should there have been a cabinet committee of one; nor should those people who were aware of this not declared it.

The former Deputy Prime Minister—the second one, Barnaby Joyce—was asked on Insiders why it was that he was aware of the PEP-11 decision and why he did not say something and speak up about this at the time. This was his response, and I quote the member for New England:

I had negotiated an extra minister, which we were not entitled to. I had another person on the ERC, which we were not entitled to. I negotiated more staff for the National Party, which we were not entitled to … If I pursued this, it was quite simple. He just took away the portfolio that we weren't entitled to and took us back to the number we were entitled to. He would have the portfolio back and we lose all power.

That was from 21 August 2022.

People had a responsibility to act. They didn't. It was a slippery slope that undermined the functioning of this parliament and that undermined the democratic institutions that this House has a responsibility to act on. I think that the comments of the member for New England go, in his own words, to motivation—to why people weren't speaking about it. I know that there's a range of different contexts. I've spoken about arrangements that were entered into that were not transparent. I was asked a question this week about the discussions I had with Senator Pocock and asked to be transparent about it—and I have been, as has Senator Pocock.

These things are important. It's actually how our democracy functions. I still cannot conceive of the idea—and this is why questions weren't asked—because it's impossible to conceive that a Prime Minister does not have the authority to have influence over their ministers. I hope I do, to be transparent about it! At the end of the day, I have that great honour of leading this quite extraordinary group of ministers that have been sworn in. I assure you I have not thought for a millisecond about being sworn in in order to override them.

But there's something else that's really serious, and this goes to the PEP-11. There were a range of ministerial responsibilities, including the responsibilities that the Minister for the Environment has, for example. Like the minister for resources and the minister for immigration, a range of ministers have portfolio responsibility. The acts have been written very clearly so that it's not the 'minister in consultation with the Prime Minister or with someone else'. They're written that way so that the ministers can take account of all of the evidence that's before them and then make a decision that is their decision, one that they own. When the PEP-11 decision was made, there was no transparency with the Prime Minister saying he was doing it as the Minister for Resources and Water. The exact opposite occurred, and the minister for resources didn't say that he had been overridden. It was the minister for resources's job to do that.

A Prime Minister who asks for a minister's resignation receives it, without exception—and under the Liberal Party system it's easier than under our system, which elects our ministry. I have never seen that not occur. And then the Prime Minister appoint someone else to that job. That's the appropriate course to take under the Westminster system, and if a decision is made that a minister feels that they can't, in all good conscience, continue to serve then they resign. And that happens under our system. It happened under the former government that I was proud to serve in.

I'll conclude with this comment, and I thank the House for the extension. I thought this morning we would see some contrition—some semblance of contrition. We got none of that. We got hubris and we got arrogance and we got denial. There were a range of things that we could have done as a government; there wasn't a royal commission, like occurred into former Labor leaders' activities, for example, against former Prime Minister Gillard on something that might have occurred or was alleged to have occurred a long, long time before she was in parliament. That's what the former government did. There was none of that from us—none. We appointed a former High Court judge, Virginia Bell, to undertake an inquiry. We did that under the expectation that there would be cooperation with it. But the former Prime Minister chose to only talk to that inquiry through his lawyers, in spite of his public comments at the time that there would be full cooperation.

This morning, what we saw was just a justification of his government's record. Some of that is quite rightly the subject of political debate, and we will agree on some of it and disagree on some of it. There were many things that the former government did to deal with the COVID pandemic that we supported wholeheartedly. There are other things that we think could have been done better—that's quite rightly the subject of political debate. That's not what is before the House today.

What is before the House today is, firstly, whether the former Prime Minister's actions, in being given responsibility to administer a whole host of portfolios—even after the first two came out, as a result of him feeling it was okay to tell two journalists what was going on; that's how the first two came out; then there were further revelations, and we found, through the Bell inquiry, that he also considered being sworn in to administer the Environment and Water portfolio as well, an additional portfolio—were appropriate. Secondly, it's whether there should have been transparency about that. There should have been.

The former Prime Minister owes an apology, and not to people who he shared brekkie with at the Lodge. He owes an apology to the Australian people for the undermining of democracy. And that's why this motion should be supported by every member of this House.

11:16 am

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

'Politics is not about power; it is about people—representing those people and speaking up for them loudly, often and passionately. I have lived my life by this motto: I promise not to be silent when I ought to speak. That is my commitment to the people of the Riverina and to this parliament.' They are the words I used to conclude my inaugural speech to the House of Representatives in 2010.

It is with a heavy heart I come to this dispatch box to make my contribution to this censure motion. I don't believe this motion is necessary.

I appreciate what the Prime Minister just said. I absolutely respect the office of the Prime Minister, and it might cause some chagrin to my colleagues, but I respect the Prime Minister himself, the member for Grayndler. He and I have had a very good relationship over 12 years. I'm sure that will continue. He and I got some good things done in the aviation space when, indeed, it probably wasn't popular in his area of the world to do that, and I appreciate what he did. I also appreciate the fact that, when I lost the deputy prime ministership, he, along with everybody else, gave me a standing ovation. That was a hard day. It was a difficult day.

It's been a very difficult day for the member for Cook today. I'm a friend too of the member for Cook, and I respect what he has done for this nation. I can well remember being the Deputy Prime Minister not long after 1 March 2020 when James Kwan in Perth became the first Australian to die from COVID-19. I well remember the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, telling very few members around a very important table in a very high-level meeting, the fact that we could potentially lose tens of thousands—even 50,000—people, and it could be in a matter of weeks, due to a global pandemic. They were extraordinary times. They were difficult times.

I can remember being basically locked up without a phone, without access to much of the outside world, as we heard those grim predictions and forecasts by the Chief Medical Officer. The chief of defence was there, as was the former member for Kooyong, the Treasurer at the time, and the former member for Flinders, the Minister of Health. The member for Cook was there, of course, and so was I. There were others too, but not many. I can remember the eyes darting around the room, as it was explained to us that we had a big, big problem on our hands.

I remember, sometime after that but not long after, that it became apparent that the member for Flinders was not going to be in one of those high-level meetings. The question was asked, 'What will happen if he becomes incapacitated?' We'd already had members of the government hospitalised with COVID. These were extraordinary times. I think we almost live, these days, right now, in a fog of memory lapse about how difficult they were.

We were seeing on morning television—by the hour, every hour—updates on not how many deaths or cases there were but how many suspected cases there were. Police were tasked with the job of running around and making sure that people were in their homes and wearing masks and not being outside their local government areas. These were extraordinary times. We were basically on a war footing. The chief health officers right around the nation were fearful that we were going to have a repeat of the Spanish flu, which happened at the end and a few years afterwards of World War I. We lost tens of thousands of Australians—in already extraordinary times, given the fact that so many were coming back from a war that claimed the lives of 60,000 on the battlefields of Europe and elsewhere.

It sent a shiver down our spines that Mr Kwan had died, that others were dying, and that we needed to close our borders. We need to do whatever it took to keep Australians safe. We put in place JobKeeper. We've heard today—it's not politicising it—that it saved 700,000 jobs. It did. I often hear from those opposite—and I'm not being political; I'm not being partisan—'What did we get for the debt that we're now in?' What we got was people's jobs saved.

I appreciate that, Meryl Swanson. But we also had peoples' lives being protected, being saved. The member for Cook was leading that, and I know he's a man of faith. I know he has his faults. Who doesn't? My goodness, I've got untold faults. Just ask my wife. But he took decisions that he needed to keep Australians alive—not just their jobs protected but them alive.

I know he made the point, and it's one of those difficult points to make, that, had he been asked—he was doing daily press conferences. Being a former journalist, I often wonder why journalists just didn't say to him, 'Prime Minister, what would happen if the Minister for Finance' or the minister for whatever portfolio 'came down with COVID?' I'm sure he would have said, 'I'll fill that role or appoint somebody else.' Maybe that's not an excuse. I see a couple of members murmuring and shaking their heads. But, at the time, it was low level compared to the ramifications of losing 50,000 Australians. The member for Cook knows that some of the things done at the time were not right. There was no book that we could have got down from the shelf and opened to find, 'This is what we do on day 25 of a pandemic.' We made decisions based on what we thought was best for all Australians.

I was asked, when I received the email from former Justice Virginia Bell AC, how I would respond and if I would respond through a lawyer or an email. No, I faced her, because that's the way I am. I spent more than an hour on 18 October answering her questions and telling her what I recalled. Somebody said, 'What are you going to say?' I said, 'I'm going to tell her the truth.' It's always a good place to start. My mother told me that. My mother was always right, as is my wife. And I did tell the truth. It was a long and wide-ranging interview, let me tell you. I spoke honestly and from the heart about what had actually occurred during those darkest days. I made the point to her that, had a journalist asked—and those opposite may say it's no excuse; I should have told them, but there were lots of other things that were going on at the time that took precedence.

I'm not going to say it was just an oversight by the Prime Minister—I wasn't the Prime Minister; I wasn't in his shoes—but he carried the hopes, the weight and the burden of a nation afflicted by a global pandemic. At the same time as Australians were being kept safe by the policies that we were putting in place, people were being buried in mass graves in New York and coffins were being loaded up in Italy to the point where funerals were being delayed and churches were filled with coffins which couldn't be held in morgues. Italy and the United States of America have good health systems, as do we—and I thank those health professionals who kept us safe as well. I thank all Australians for what they did.

I don't believe that this censure motion is necessary. Recommendations have been made by the Bell inquiry. I think they are sufficient. I do believe that we should ensure that parameters are put in place so that, if we were to have such a case again—and God forbid that we do—and if there were to be a conflict or another global pandemic, a future Prime Minister would tell the public, tell the fourth estate, tell colleagues and tell Australia about what is going on. But I earnestly and honestly believe that the former Prime Minister did the very best he could in times which were extraordinary and in times which were unprecedented.

None of those opposite were in those meetings—they were not. They didn't have the weight of responsibility of 16- to 18-hour days, day after day, and being told by the Chief Medical Officer that tens of thousands of people are going to die. They didn't have to deal with premiers, who, quite frankly, could have been a little bit more collaborative and cooperative in the National Cabinet process. Somebody said to me on the weekend: 'Dan Andrews was re-elected. I'm surprised; he's the worst Premier we've had.' I said that Dan Andrews also followed the medical advice he was given, and I give credit to him for that. I realise that Victoria was under very strict lockdowns. My daughter, Georgina, lives there, and I know the difficulty that she had in teaching her classes.

I congratulate Mr Andrews on his election win, and I congratulate Mr Albanese on his back in May. There is no greater privilege and honour than to lead a political party, a state or a nation. I know that the member for Cook held dearly the honour that he was given. I know he is deeply concerned about what this means, no doubt, for his legacy, and I think his legacy should not be one of a censure motion that has been brought into the House today, which I think is partisan. I do believe that.

An honourable member interjecting

I disagree. I'll take that interjection, but I disagree. The great thing about democracy is that we can all have different views, and we can all hold fast to them.

I want Scott Morrison's legacy to be the fact that he led this nation as best he could. He led this nation ably. He led this nation honestly. He led this nation extremely well, and he kept Australians alive and he kept their jobs in place and intact in the most extraordinary and difficult times that this nation has had since World War II. I regard him as a friend. I was proud to serve him as his Deputy Prime Minister. I don't know why you're shaking your head—you were not there; I was. I very much admire the way he led this nation during very, very dark days.

11:29 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Trust in democracy is already fragile. Parliament is already on the nose. Secret power grabs from politicians do not help. The Greens support this censure motion and all the more so after the speech this morning from the member for Cook, which was a logical and moral abyss. It was an embarrassing mess of unapologetic, inconsistent self-justifications that failed to recognise just how fundamentally the Australian people had been betrayed. Former justice Bell nailed the point in her inquiry. You can't hold a minister to account if you don't know who the minister is. That is a fundamental point.

The member for Cook this morning said that he had in part addressed that. He said that when a ministry list was tabled in here, it came with an asterisk and a footnote that said, 'We should note that sometimes people are sworn in to administer other areas.' Now, ministry list after ministry list was tabled in this place, and not once was this parliament told that the Prime Minister had now other ministerial responsibilities. To say, as the former Prime Minister did this morning, that a footnote at the bottom of a ministry list that he tabled was enough tells us two things. Firstly, no reasonable person in this country or indeed in this parliament could look at that and say, 'Oh, that means the Prime Minister now holds a number of secret ministries'—no-one. It beggars belief that any reasonable person could read that and think that. Secondly, the fact that he came in here and relied on that today tells us he knew there was a problem at the time. He knew at the time that what he was doing needed some form of disclosure, and now he tells us a footnote at the bottom of a ministry list was enough. Well, the former Prime Minister knew at the time that this was a problem and did not tell people. That is what we have learnt this morning—that he knew at the time that it was a problem and did not tell the parliament.

Fundamental to the operation of this place is that those of us who aren't in the government are able to get up and ask ministers questions in question time, to move motions about ministers' conduct and to bring legislation in front of this place to regulate how ministers operate, and that's especially important for those of us on the crossbench, who don't have the capacity, as an opposition does, to get up member after member in question time and ask a series of repeated questions. We have fewer abilities than an opposition does to hold a government to account, but so many of us were elected on the basis of improving integrity in this place and improving the standard of debate. So the opportunities that we get are precious, and we use them. We've got to be informed about who we're trying to hold to account, and we can't be asking someone about a decision that they make or that they might make if it turns out that actually someone else is secretly responsible. That is the end of accountability in this parliament, if you don't have to tell this parliament who is responsible for making the decisions.

But the former Prime Minister's speech also contained another glaring inconsistency that shows that he just doesn't get it. He on the one hand told us that all of this swearing-in, this secret power grab, was necessary to get us through the pandemic and then on the other hand said that he never exercised any of the powers anyway. Somehow this secret power grab was the key to maintaining Australia's safety, but the powers were never exercised. The two just don't go together, and it shows this absolute lack of contrition and this lack of understanding that is at the heart of why so many people across the political spectrum feel angry about what happened in the last parliament—the failure to be upfront when he knew he should've been upfront and admitted it today, the secret power grab that he says was responsible for everything but that he never exercised. These glaring inconsistencies have, as Virginia Bell said, undermined trust in this place, and action needs to be taken about that.

One of the matters that was mentioned, where he said he did exercise power, was in the question of resources, and that has been canvassed by other speakers. I want to use this as one example. We know, in this place, that one of the questions about integrity is about the relationship between parliamentarians and what happens outside of parliament—the donations that people receive, the jobs they get when they leave this parliament—and that is critically the case when it comes to the resources industry. One of the reasons that trust is undermined in this place is that people legitimately ask questions all the time about the role of vested interests on decisions that get made in this place. People look at this place when it comes to some of those critical matters and say, 'We want to know that you're making decisions here for the benefit of the Australian people and that external influences are not being taken into account.' If there was any area where utter transparency was needed, this has to be in that list. People are entitled to know that when someone—and especially the Prime Minister—is making decisions they're doing it free from the influence of other interests.

When we come in here and hold ministers to account, it's not just about knowing who the right minister is. When the former prime minister swore himself in to be responsible for other ministers, that was—or at the very least could have been perceived to be—a de facto vote of no confidence in those ministers. If the former prime minister has no confidence in the other ministers on his front bench, we are entitled to know that. The parliament is entitled to know that and the Australian people are entitled to know that.

The reason that this has struck a chord with so many people not only in this parliament but also with so many people across the country and across the political spectrum is that this was a betrayal of trust. At a time when we look around the world and we see what happens in other countries and in other parliaments where trust in democracy is eroded, people want their politicians to start telling the truth. This was not only a failure to tell the truth but also came with a power grab added to it. That undermines our belief in our country's ability to trust our democracy, which as a previous speaker has said is an asset of this country. It is to be preserved, and it starts at the top. And if a former prime minister can't be honest with the people, and engages in a power grab, and then can't even bring himself to say sorry for it and doesn't think he's done anything wrong, then that member deserves to be censured.

11:38 am

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a grave motion, and I don't take this debate lightly. Every parliament is charged with enormous responsibility. Prime ministers and ministers carry more responsibility than many of the rest of us. Every parliament faces a set of circumstances under which they must operate, and there's no question that the former parliament found itself with many extraordinary circumstances. But with those came an even greater responsibility to ensure that our nation, our parliament and our people understood exactly what was going on. The greatest responsibility any parliament has is to maintain the trust of the people who put us here. It's essential to the integrity of what we do, it's essential to the integrity of high office, and what maintains trust is often not a matter of law; it's a norm. That's why, while changing the law may mean that we don't face this particular loophole again, it doesn't negate the importance of recording for history standing up for the people of Australia and standing up for the conventions and honour of this parliament to move a censure motion on the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, when there has been such a substantial breach of trust for the parliament, for us as parliamentarians, for his own ministers, for his own party, but most importantly for the people of Australia.

I listened carefully to what the member for Cook had to say this morning, and I found nothing in his explanation that could negate the need for this censure motion today. It is a strong motion, and history will record it so. I support the motion. It gives me no joy to do so. I feel sadness and disappointment that we are moved to have to do this. But the report of former Justice Bell and her conclusions that the actions and failures of the member for Cook were to undermine public trust and confidence are so serious that I must support this motion. I'm compelled to do so, and I say to this House that I hope we never have to face a situation like this again. I give my support to this motion.

11:41 am

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise with sadness to express the grave disappointment of the people of Kooyong with the actions of the previous Prime Minister, the member for Cook. The concerns of my electorate are not political. They are not ideological, but they go to the expectations and the aspirations of the Australian citizenry. During the last government the member for Cook, while Prime Minister, gave himself powers to cancel visas, to approve citizenship applications, to approve foreign investment decisions and resource exploration licences and to unilaterally authorise billions of dollars of spending as Minister for Finance in National Cabinet negotiations.

In reviewing these appointments, the Hon. Virginia Bell AC found that the member for Cook's decisions to appoint himself to the ministries of health and of finance were unnecessary. She found that they had little to do with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. She found that the secrecy with which these appointments were undertaken was corrosive to trust in government, that they fundamentally undermined the principles of responsible government and that they were apt to undermine public confidence.

The concerns of my electorate are focused on the extent to which the member for Cook has undermined our democratic process. In taking on multiple ministries and in failing to disclose his putative responsibilities and powers to this country, he has eroded the public's faith in our institutions with his secrecy, his deception and his lack of transparency. Why did he do this? None of us know. The member for Cook did not share his rationale with Ms Bell. He referred her to his public statements and to his Facebook posts. Did he share his reasons with those ministers who were aware of at least some of these decisions, the former member for Flinders and the current member for Hinkler? None of us know. What was the rationale he shared with those departmental secretaries and public servants who were aware of these decisions? None of us know. What was the rationale he discussed with our Governor-General? None of us know.

This censure motion goes some way to affirming our respect as a parliament for the traditions of this place. This country has adopted a constitutional model of representative and responsible government. These principles rest on the many conventions that we must insist upon, irrespective of our political party. We rely on them, and we must recognise that it is our job—it is the Prime Minister's job more than anybody's—to respect them. One of my predecessors in the seat of Kooyong, the founder of the modern Liberal Party, Robert Menzies, said in 1977 that the greatest system of political government yet devised is that of responsible government under the Crown. The member for Cook's actions are not in the tradition of responsible government and they are not in the Liberal tradition.

On behalf of my community, I say to the opposition—such that are actually present in the House—if they do not support this censure motion, they will behaving politically rather than ethically. If members opposite were really unaware of the member for Cook's actions then they should condemn those actions as strongly as those of us situated elsewhere in this House. If the opposition really did not know about the member for Cook's actions as leader, that smacks of incompetence. If they did know, they were complicit with deceit. The Leader of the Opposition in the House has said that the member for Cook's behaviour was fine because it was not illegal or in breach of the Constitution. Is that really how low the bar is to be set by the Liberal and National parties?

I call on all members of the House to show the Australian people that they renounce and resile from the member for Cook's actions as strongly as our electorates have. If we do not, we risk shattering the fragile trust given to us by our constituents. If we do not then we will be telling the Australian people that we are content with representatives who undermine the principles of responsible government. If the opposition do not support this motion, they will be telling all Australians that theirs is not a party that has listened to the public and changed, that theirs is not a party of integrity and transparency and that theirs is a party that has made bad choices before and stands by them now. It is a party that will continue to protect its own, even when they act without honesty and transparency, at the expense of the public and the future of our country. For as long as the Liberal and National parties try to defend the member for Cook's behaviour in government, his legacy will be their legacy. They will be defending the indefensible. I commend this motion to the House.

11:47 am

Photo of Kate ChaneyKate Chaney (Curtin, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

My electorate doesn't want to be represented through political pointscoring, so I'll keep my comments brief and focused. Because our democracy is fragile and precious, the censure of the former Prime Minister is important, and I support it, especially in light of his response today. Most in my electorate of Curtin have strong respect for institutions and a desire for transparency. Unfortunately, as recognised by the Solicitor-General, the former Prime Minister's unilateral actions to give himself power to administer multiple portfolios undermine the principles of responsible government. The lack of transparency was the final straw.

At a time when democracy is being threatened across the world in countries we never thought were at risk, it was actually really scary to see Australia dipping its toe in the autocracy pool. The visible lack of respect for our parliamentary institutions was one of the drivers behind the new force in Australian politics that is seated around me as I speak now. It may take some time to change a culture that considers these actions to be acceptable, but, for now, it's vital that we draw a line in the sand and let the record show that the former Prime Minister's actions are unacceptable. This is not how democracy works in Australia.

11:48 am

Photo of Sophie ScampsSophie Scamps (Mackellar, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise in support of this censure motion. I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to address the House, on behalf of my electorate of Mackellar, on the findings of misconduct by the former Prime Minister over his multiple ministries scandal. This occurrence can be considered a nadir in Australian political history—a nadir for transparency, a nadir for political integrity and a nadir in democratic principles in our country. It must be acknowledged that this behaviour of the former Prime Minister was a deeply concerning lurch towards authoritarianism by an individual who was addicted to executive power. It is absolutely telling that soon after his election loss, during a sermon, the former Prime Minister told the congregation, 'We don't trust in governments.' Well, he knew the reason why.

The people of Australia expect and deserve a whole lot better than this. Australians deserve a political system we can trust. This type of behaviour, this attack on the integrity of our democracy by an individual, must never be allowed to happen again. It is incredibly heartening, however, that this censure motion comes a day after the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation was passed in the Senate, something the former Prime Minister promised the Australian people but failed to deliver.

At the last election the people of Australia stood up and demanded a political system that they could trust, and I applaud Australians from all over the country for taking this stand. Sadly, former justice Bell's findings came as no surprise to me and to so many people in my community of Mackellar. As we have all heard, the secret appointments to additional ministries were 'apt to undermine public confidence in government' and were 'corrosive of trust in government'. Her Honour described the member for Cook's behaviour as 'exorbitant', 'extremely irregular' and 'bizarre'.

Such conduct obviously has widespread ramifications, and none of the appointments could have been closer to home for my electorate of Mackellar than the former Prime Minister's secret appointment as the Minister for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. One of my key objectives, from the first day I launched my campaign for election, was to end the PEP-11 licence. The PEP-11 licence is a petroleum exploration permit granted by the Commonwealth government for an area of ocean floor that extends all the way from Manly to Newcastle. Community opposition to any drilling for oil and gas off our coastline was as broad as it was strong. Clearly, the former Prime Minister was aware of the political expediency of abolishing the PEP-11 licence. We now know that, with the election looming, he stepped in and secretly appointed himself as minister to override the existing resources minister and reject the renewal of the permit.

That announcement was made by the Prime Minister in December 2021, 10 days after I launched my candidacy. It was clear there was a political purpose. Whilst the community welcomed this decision as a win for the people, there is now deep concern that a lack of proper procedure will expose this decision to challenge in the Federal Court. I welcome the government's confirmation that it will accept Justice Bell's six recommendations to correct the serious deficiency in governance arrangements exposed by the member for Cook's unfathomable conduct. I support this censure motion.

11:53 am

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a solemn and sad occasion, and nobody wants it to be like this. But, to me, public trust is too precious to waste, and the quality of our parliament and our democracy must be defended at all costs. The pandemic days were truly dark, and I pay my respects to everybody in this House who played a role in keeping our country safe and prosperous. I also pay my respects to the member for Cook, who led the government of the day. It could not have been easy. Equally, I pay my respects to the Australian people, who, in their homes and in their businesses, faced enormous challenges with courage.

That is the point I want to make. The people of Australia understood how difficult a challenge we were facing. They faced their own darkest days. We owe to them transparency and accountability of government in the most difficult times. They can handle that truth. If those powers that the member for Cook spoke about were indeed needed, then the people of Australia would have understood, because we do understand and trust our governments and we have that maturity in our democracy. We owe the people of Australia the transparency and accountability of actions in this House.

So I rise in support of this censure motion. As I said, it is a sad day and a very solemn day to pass a censure motion on any member of the House, particularly a former Prime Minister. But trust in government, in democracy, in this House and in our institutions is precious. It is a gentle flame. We can feed it so it glows, or we can snuff it out so it flickers. We will know when the trust is completely gone. Our job in this House is to stoke the fire so it brightens and lights all of us in our country.

11:55 am

Photo of Zoe DanielZoe Daniel (Goldstein, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

A censure motion is one thing; an apology is quite another. Had the former Prime Minister taken appropriate responsibility for his actions, I would not have stood up today. We are all privileged to stand in this place, and I am keenly aware of the trust placed in me by my community, a community who in large part voted for integrity out of frustration and a deep desire for a return to trust in leadership. Therefore I do stand today to say that accountability is at the heart of the Westminster system of government and at the heart of our democracy. If members of our parliament and our country don't know who is responsible for what, how can there be any accountability? Unfortunately, what we've learned in the months since the election was all too evident in the lead-up to polling day, and the voters had already worked it out.

I came to this place after I'd learnt that the previous government had refused to listen to experts and experienced emergency services chiefs in the lead-up to the Black Summer bushfires. The former Prime Minister was fond of talking about the Canberra bubble, but if anyone was living in a parallel universe it was him. And the penny has apparently still not dropped. Others can say more, but I will add that, having directly witnessed the evolution of destructive gaslighting in the United States and its damage to trust and democracy, I believe this has been a dangerous moment in our history. I won't labour the point other than to say that this is a disappointing and sad episode and that it's unfortunate that it's come to this.

A unqualified apology from the former Prime Minister would have shown that he finally understands the series of mistakes he made and how damaging it was to the integrity of our democracy and to the voters who elected him to the highest office of the land in good faith. But, yet again, what the Australian people got from the former Prime Minister was more of the same. Therefore, I support this motion.

11:57 am

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Standards are expected of a member of this House, and I think it's really important that we remember that. It's so important that Australians have trust in government. We know that transparency and accountability have to be, absolutely, the most important values. It's also really important to show leadership. At times it will be easy, when circumstances are going well and in your favour, and sometimes it will be hard. It may be pride-swallowing hard. But leadership, a real moral compass and real strength of character is about acknowledging errors and apologising.

I wasn't going to speak on this motion. I think it's an incredibly important time in our political history. It's a very important motion, a censure motion on a former Prime Minister, and I am very aware of the risk of it descending into political tit-for-tat—that this becomes too much of that. The wording of the motion—and I thank the Leader of the House for that—included the very important and stern findings of the Hon. Justice Bell, and I think the words of the report say it all. There really was very little that needed to be said beyond that, beyond acknowledging the importance of her findings. I disagree with some of the more political comments that have been made in some of the speeches this morning.

Unfortunately, the facts raised in justification by the member for Cook make it necessary to speak and to indicate why I do support this motion, because what was said did not in any justify the secrecy, and I strongly reject the attempt to justify it based on the extraordinary circumstances of COVID, in particular in relation to the resources portfolio and PEP-11. Democracy is fragile, and we all have a responsibility to protect it. In politics, accountability is important, and so I support the motion.

11:59 am

Photo of Kylea TinkKylea Tink (North Sydney, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Rising today to speak on this current motion is not something I do lightly. In fact I rise with an incredibly heavy heart and, indeed, like many of my other crossbench colleagues, would not have risen today had we had a different response from our previous Prime Minister, the member for Cook. As we've heard from the member for Hotham, the member for Bass, the member for Indi, the member for Wentworth and the member for Goldstein, this is indeed a day where we should all feel very sad about what is currently occurring.

I've seriously considered my position. At the time these actions came to light, I indicated very clearly that I wasn't interested in playing the man. I have run businesses during incredibly intense times, including the downing of the World Trade Center towers in New York, where a number of people from my company were lost during that time. I'm not saying that's the same as running a country, but I do know what it's like to lead in an environment of extreme uncertainty, panic and fear.

The reality is the outcome that we saw of this decision has reduced faith in our federal parliamentary system. Fewer than half of all Australians currently trust us. Fewer than half of all Australians currently trust our federal parliamentary system. We must do better, and so this censure motion today—as taxing as it is, as emotional as it is and as worrying as it is—must be passed, because we must say to Australians more broadly: 'We see you, we hear you and, more importantly, we undertake to represent you. We are here at your behest.' As such, issues such as integrity, transparency and accountability matter every day, especially when you're under pressure.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is the motion be agreed to.