House debates

Monday, 20 March 2023


Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

12:07 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022. Let's be clear: this is a bill that should never have been brought to this place. The contents of the bill are matters that every single member in this place, especially those in leadership positions, should have respected in the first place. The former Liberal Prime Minister turns out to be a man with many hats, a so-called jack of all trades but, as the Australian people know all too well, the master of none.

It was Simon Benson and Geoff Chambers' book Plagued that first revealed the former Prime Minister's secret ministries. From their interviews, we discovered that between March 2020 and May 2021 the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, still sitting in this chamber, was appointed by the Governor-General to administer not one, not two, not three but five additional secret portfolios. As the member for McPherson, the former Minister for Home Affairs, which was one of the departments the former Prime Minister appointed himself in charge of, said:

This is totally unacceptable, for a prime minister to behave in this manner undermines everything that a federal government constitutionally should stand for.

I couldn't agree more.

To add insult to injury, just last week it was revealed in documents published under freedom of information laws that the former Prime Minister appointed his former assistant minister Ben Morton, no longer in this place, to administer the home affairs department in March 2021—a move not publicly disclosed at the time in the official ministry list or in a swearing-in ceremony. The secret promotion for Ben Morton was made two months before Morrison's controversial decision to appoint himself, and happened on the exact same day that former home affairs minister Karen Andrews was appointed to the ministry. Former minister Andrews blasted the member for Cook after discovering these new deceits by the former prime minister, and she said:

Given what we've heard, it's not surprising that I wasn't told about it.

It's not okay to behave in the way the former prime minister and others have in relation to keeping information secret.

'It's extraordinary,' she said. Well, that is the understatement of the year. Who knows what the reasoning was behind any of that.

It has also emerged that the member for Capricornia, a Nationals MP, was appointed to administer the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet at the same time and in the same manner as Ben Morton, in moves that were gazetted but not widely known—let's be honest—at that time. It begs the question: what more are we to find out? The secret, scheming grab for power beggars belief. It flies in the face of what a democratic government should stand for, and that is transparency, accountability and integrity, amongst other matters. The former prime minister's senior ministers were totally blindsided.

I have every reason to believe the member for McPherson was genuinely devastated to hear the news of what had gone on behind her back. But so, too, were the Australian public. Following the expose of the former prime minister's secret ministries in mid-August last year, did the former prime minister apologise to the Australian people or his colleagues? No. He spent much of that night sitting at home, creating memes or commenting on Facebook jokes about his five secret ministry positions. It was all a big joke to him. Personally, I think that this undermining of our parliamentary system of government—of the whole Westminster system—and of our democratic traditions of accountability is no laughing matter. If the member for Cook thinks his behaviour is so funny, I suggest he resigns from this parliament immediately. Perhaps he should try his hand at being a comedian, but this parliament is not a sitcom. We're not here to play out that kind of despicable behaviour.

The people of Newcastle feel especially aggrieved by the former prime minister's decision to appoint himself on 15 April 2021 as the Minister for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. We understand that the member for Cook did so because the then minister for resources, the current minister for Hinkler, apparently had no intention of rejecting the PEP-11 licence off the coast of New South Wales. Now, the PEP-11 issue—for those who don't understand acronyms, the petroleum exploration permit—has reared its ugly head again in my community as a direct result of the former prime minister's utter disregard for proper governance. What this shows is that the former prime minister understood from the get-go that he could take on specific extra portfolios and make determinations. He understood that by taking on those portfolios he could use his power and responsibilities against the wishes of his current ministers, who had been sworn in under those very portfolios. In doing so, he jeopardised due process and the entire functions of our system of government.

His disregard for our democracy has been very costly for the Commonwealth, which has to fight battles in the Federal Court, and for the people in Australia and for my community of Newcastle, in particular, because it means now that the application for PEP-11 must be brought back for a decision by the joint Commonwealth-New South Wales authority. I share my community's frustration and anger that this issue was so grossly mishandled by the former prime minister. I can assure the people of Newcastle that there is only one Minister for Resources in this Albanese Labor Government, and she will be diligent in doing her job properly. That's what a responsible government does. I say unequivocally to my community that due process will be followed to deal with this matter once and for all.

While the public hearings for the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme have now ceased, our nation remains aghast. Day after day, the robodebt royal commission outlined processes and practices of the former government that were both unethical and illegal. Let me repeat that—illegal. These were matters that brought untold suffering for hundreds of thousands of Australian people. The royal commission laid bare the former government's total disregard for its duty to the wellbeing of its citizens in using a flawed and dangerous mathematical algorithm to go after some of the most vulnerable in our community. A total of 764,000 Australians who had received welfare payments in the past were unlawfully accused of defrauding the government and slapped with robodebt notices. Of them, 348,000 Australians were subsequently notified there was an apparent discrepancy during the scheme and did not have the debt raised against them. However, the remaining 416,000 Australians were still issued unlawful robodebts after July 2017. That's hundreds of thousands of Australians, including many Novocastrians in my electorate of Newcastle, who had unlawful debts raised against them by the most powerful entity in Australia, the Commonwealth.

It went on for 4½ years. Let that sink in. Illegal practices with devastating consequences under the watch of the former government went on for 4½ years. If that government had heeded the repeated, numerous and now well documented warnings and stopped the robodebt scheme in its tracks, as it should have, 764,000 of our fellow Australians would not have been subjected to this stressful and unlawful behaviour by their own government. Not only did the Morrison government continue this illegal scheme for more than three years, until it was eventually stopped by a class action that started in November 2021; we know from evidence at the recent hearings of the royal commission that they were continuously dismissive of all those warnings I just spoke about.

We heard from the former cabinet minister and now member for Fadden, who sits in this parliament, on those benches opposite. The member for Fadden admitted that he made false statements in support of robodebt because—and this is going to floor most Australians—he wasn't permitted to tell the truth due to cabinet protocols. Rather than exercising ministerial agency and pushing back against an unlawful program, the then minister and now member for Fadden noted:

… you generally don't have the luxury of saying no.

Doesn't that give us every indication of the type of government that the member for Cook was running? What a terrifying state of affairs. The legacy of the Morrison government is in tatters. When you hear former ministers were more committed to shaking down vulnerable Australian citizens for unlawful debts than they were to standing up for them in their own cabinet room, it's no wonder the Australian people voted for change last May.

The Albanese Labor government has been fast to act on restoring integrity to the political system. Of course, we had the Bell inquiry. Following revelations of the former Prime Minister's secret ministries, the now Prime Minister and the Attorney-General announced the establishment of an inquiry into the appointment of the former Prime Minister to administer multiple departments, led by a former High Court justice, the Hon. Virginia Bell AC. Part of the recommendations of this review was to amend the Ministers of State Act to provide for greater transparency and accountability for Australia's system of government at the Commonwealth level.

It's extraordinary that this new government had to call an inquiry and have a former High Court justice provide a recommendation to this parliament that we should ensure that all of the business we transact here or in the name of the Commonwealth should be aboveboard, lawful and filled with integrity and that we should be accountable to the Australian people. I would have thought that was a given. I think most members in this House would have thought that was a given. But these amendments are clearly necessary given what we now know about the former administration. These amendments that the Labor government is introducing are essential to restoring trust in government. They ensure that the Australian people are able to access information in relation to the composition of the Federal Executive Council, those who have been appointed to administer certain departments of state, and the high offices that ministers of state hold.

When the Albanese Labor government was elected, we knew we had a big job in front of us to restore the public's trust in government following almost a decade of mismanagement and rorts. Little did we know the extent of the chaos and dysfunction amongst the coalition ranks. Introducing this bill demonstrates this government's readiness to act promptly to restore the Australian people's confidence in our federal system of government and to rebuild integrity in the public sector, our institutions, our processes and our officials. It ensures that we have a system of government where there are checks and balances and where one person cannot again garner power without adequate and warranted accountability to the Australian people and the Australian parliament. This, I say, is the very least we can do. It is in the interests of all of us to restore public trust and confidence in our political institutions. The Australian people deserve nothing less than the very best from each and every one of us in this Australian parliament.

12:22 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

If you use ChatGPT in secret, you get kicked out of university. If you pass on team secrets to a bookie, you get kicked out of the team and sometimes kicked out of the sport. If you keep secrets from a royal commission, you get an adverse finding. But, if you secretly swear yourself into five portfolios, the parliamentary Liberal Party and National Party will rush to your defence in a partisan vote on censure.

Every Australian should know that those opposite thought that the activities of the member for Cook were just fine. They stood up and defended his right to swear himself into secret ministries. They questioned it in the media—there were lots of questions in the media—but then, when it came to actually doing their job, how did they vote? The Liberal Party and the National Party made a decision in their party room to vote to protect the member for Cook. What they really did, though, was tell their constituents just how far the standards of the Liberal Party and the National Party have slipped over time. They told those in the gallery and the students who visit this place all of the time that this was okay and somehow was consistent with the parliamentary traditions which they seek to uphold—or, in this case, undermine.

Contrast that with the history of this place, because this is a debate about tradition and about how we uphold standards that have existed long before us and should exist for many, many decades afterwards. If you look to World War II, we had John Curtin holding special private sittings to share secrets with members, trusting every member, from all sides of the parliament. If you contrast the former member for Fremantle with the current member for Cook, you have one who saved us from invasion and one who separated us from information. It wasn't just that he didn't trust the parliament; he didn't trust his own colleagues. The fact that there were so few who were outraged—and I give credit to a number who did express their outrage at the time—shows just how far the standards have slipped in the Liberal Party and the National Party. I say that because, in the darkest days of the COVID pandemic, we had the member for Cook looking for what he could sign and what he could lock away in his safe so that he could 'fundamentally undermine' his own cabinet colleagues.

I didn't like the result of the 2019 election, but I respected it. I respected the decision that the Australian people made, but, clearly, the member for Cook did not. As Prime Minister, he set out, within months of that election, to dismantle centuries and centuries of Westminster tradition. No-one voted for secret ministries and no-one voted for absolute secret power with the Prime Minister. No-one thought that their local Liberal or National would allow this to happen, but they did. Every coalition member failed in their duty. They allowed a silent and secret insurgency here in Australia, and, while the ministries were kept secret, it is no secret that they were too gutless to condemn this behaviour. When it comes to the role of different people in this place, it is the job of those of us in this House to hold ministers to account. We were denied the opportunity to do that job. It is the job of journalists in the gallery to expose secrets. That's what they come here to do, and we give them an entire level of the building to do so. While we might not like it at times, our democracy is all the stronger for it.

I give credit to the member for Cook for one thing. I give credit to him for sharing this secret with Simon Benson, but shouldn't he have told the parliament too? Shouldn't he have at least told the then health minister, the home affairs minister or even his Lodge-mate, the Treasurer? When he did tell one person, the member for Riverina, they should have refused to keep his dirty secrets. But we got one of the most pathetic excuses I have ever heard in my time in Australian politics. The former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, in explaining why he told nobody, said, 'No-one asked me,' as if the only time that the Australian people deserve a full and accurate answer from those in positions of power is a response to millimetre accurate questions from the media.

At the same time that all of the secret ministries business was being shuffled in papers in the Prime Minister's office by the member for Cook, the member for Cook was quoting The Croods and telling Western Australians to 'get out of the cave'. It turns out that not only was he the secret minister for health at the time he was giving this lecture to Western Australians but he was also hiding in a cave himself. That is why this legislation is necessary. It's necessary because, based on the votes in this House in the 47th Parliament, we know that if we don't put this legislation through, this is how those opposite will want to behave again.

I do want to give credit, though, to the member for McPherson for calling out just how ridiculous this was. She said, 'This undermines the integrity of government.' In reference to the member for Cook, she said, 'It is time for him to leave the parliament and look elsewhere for employment.' This may be advice that is still being considered. But it is amazing that, when you go and look for what you would think would be a few quotes from a few people who really stood up, you don't find that much. The silence tells you more than what has been said by the opposition spokespeople on this particular bill.

For Australians, this just goes so much against what they experience in their working life. I remember when I was 19 years old and working on both sides of the aisle, as they would say—I was working for McDonald's and Domino's Pizza, doing two jobs over the summer—I didn't hide it from anyone. The Australian Taxation Office knew. I disclosed it. It's important to be honest about these things, and that's what most Australians expect. That's what most Australians do when they have to interact with government.

I note what was said by the member for Newcastle about the fact that we had the former government pursuing people for perceived secrets they had supposedly kept from Centrelink through the robodebt scandal—secrets that didn't even exist. They were happy to prosecute that while, at the same time, keeping secrets about how they were running the ministries of this nation.

What gets very interesting is that this was a cultural problem in the Liberal and National parties. It was a cultural problem that was embodied by the former Prime Minister but wasn't exclusive to him. We learnt more last week about the other secret ministries. These are just the latest. They may be more. You never know when it comes to the bizarre breaching of conventions and traditions that has become a hallmark of the Liberal and National parties. We discovered last week that it wasn't just the member for Cook who was secretly appointed to ministries. Documents released under freedom of information revealed an insidious approach in the previous coalition government when it came to appointing ministers. We saw two assistant ministers secretly appointed to other portfolios, with no swearing-in ceremony, no public event, no changes to the public ministry lists and no advice to this chamber—just a breakdown in the trust on which democracy is based.

Again I pay credit to the member for McPherson, who again was one of the only ones who had the integrity to speak out on this. The former Minister for Home Affairs said, 'Given what we've heard, it's not surprising I wasn't told about it,' because one of those secret assistant ministries was within her own portfolio. She said:

It's not OK to behave in the way the former prime minister and others have in relation to keeping information secret.

What we're learning is that more and more on the opposition benches knew about these secrets but none of them ever had the guts to say it and tell the parliament how the government was actually being run.

I would be interested to know if the now opposition leader knew about these secret appointments. He has been very quiet on these matters: 'Oh, look, you know, he probably won't do it again.' But there is no proper explanation from him about a government of which he was a senior minister. Indeed, he held many of the portfolios that would eventually be touched by the secret ministries scandal.

What we know is that, when the now opposition leader was the Minister for Home Affairs, on 11 March 2021 wheels were being put in motion to give him a secret assistant minister—to put in place a secret assistant minister in the Home Affairs portfolio. There was a request from the office of the then Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, for the Hon. Ben Morton MP to administer the Department of Home Affairs. That was communicated on 11 March 2021. The now opposition leader was the minister at the time. If he knew, he should tell this parliament that he knew, and, if he didn't know, he should be as outraged as everyone else about these secret ministries. This parliament deserves an explanation from the now opposition leader about what he knew and what else he might know about the secret ministries and the secret assistant ministries that lived a large life in the secret administration of the Morrison government.

We did see the opposition leader defend these actions. He thought it was basically wrong but excusable, which to me really just spells out a weak culture of leadership and governance and proves to the Australian people why the now opposition leader should never be put in a place where he holds executive power ever again. It basically tells the Australian people that outside the Leader of the Opposition's office hangs a big sign that says, 'Integrity optional.' In other words, the buck does not stop here when it comes to those opposite.

I do give them credit, though. When they are forced to come into this place and vote on things, they will vote in favour of a protection racket for secret ministries, they will vote in favour of higher energy prices, they will vote in favour of stopping action on climate change and they will vote in favour of more debt by refusing to act on unsustainable measures in our superannuation system. But the only time the Australian people actually needed a 'no-alition' was when they started to find out about the secret ministries scandal, when one of them—just one of them—could have said no. They could have said to the Prime Minister at the time, the Hon. Scott Morrison, member for Cook, 'Mate, this is just not the way to run a government,' because it's not the way that government has ever been run in the past. It was without precedent.

What we've seen in the language from the now former Prime Minister is that he did go 'through a phase'. It was a trend at the time to claim 'fake news' from time to time, but in this action he did more than most in this place to undermine faith in our democracy. While he ran around saying 'fake news', he was secretly creating real news, real swearings-in to real positions, and creating a new secret service in Her Majesty's government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

I am going to end with a story which I feel will have a good lesson for the member for Cook. He should read up on George Lazenby. Lazenby was born just down the road, in Goulburn. He spent his teenage years in Queanbeyan. As the Minister for Defence Personnel would say, many should follow his lead in his service in the Australian Army. But it wasn't service in the Army that turned out to be his true passion; it was acting, and he got his big acting break in 1968, the same year that the member for Cook was born. That big break made him, to this day, the only Australian to play James Bond. He played James Bond in a movie that many of us love, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Yes, the title gives it away. Bond is secretly doing a mission without authorisation from MI6. Moneypenny secretly alters Bond's resignation paperwork without telling anyone. The head of SPECTRE is using brainwashed agents. Not telling anyone, secret paperwork, brainwashed ministers—sound familiar? But here's where Australia's James Bond, George Lazenby, got it right: he only played James Bond once. He only had one job, and he focused on doing that one job well.

I'm proud to be part of a government that is bringing integrity back to this matter; I'm proud that, when we found out about this outrageous breach of Westminster convention, it was referred for a proper, thorough inquiry; and I'm proud that we have acted by bringing this legislation, which I urge every member—whatever your political stripes—to vote for.

12:37 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said,

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

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

12:46 pm

Photo of Cassandra FernandoCassandra Fernando (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022. The passage of this bill is essential to preserve our Westminster style of democracy and prevent actions like those of the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook from ever taking place again.

In May of last year, Australians across the country and in my electorate of Holt spoke loudly at the ballot box, and they backed in the only party with a proper plan to bring integrity back to our political system. This Labor government has kept to that plan by acting urgently as a matter of priority on moving to establish an independent anti-corruption commission. In layman's terms this bill ensures that the actions taken by the former Liberal Prime Minister can never happen again. Going forward, this bill will significantly increase the accountability and transparency of government by providing everyday Australians with the information to know who is responsible for what ministry, who is appointed to the federal Executive Council and who administers the departments of state.

You may be wondering why this legislation is necessary now. After all we have enjoyed 122 years of successful Commonwealth governments without it. It is only because of the actions of the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, and his five secret ministries that this legislation became necessary in order to protect our democracy for the next 122 years. This bill also forms part of this Labor government's formal response to the Bell inquiry which was led by former High Court Justice, the Hon. Virginia Bell AC, with the final report being handed to the government on 25 November 2022. We have wasted no time since then in formulating this legislation to address these important sections of the Bell report to safeguard Australian democracy.

Even now, I sometimes struggle to wrap my head around the actions of the former Prime Minister. When the news broke in August of the member for Cook's secret power grab of five of his own government's ministries between March 2020 and May 2021, I was truly shocked. To remind the House, those were the departments of health, finance, industry, Treasury and home affairs. It is not often that a politician is lost for words, but I certainly was. Thankfully, the Solicitor-General, Stephen Donaghue KC, wasn't. In the wake of these revelations, he said the principles of responsible government were 'fundamentally undermined' by the actions of the former government.

To assure the public that the government took this seriously, we ensured the inquiry was nonpartisan by appointing someone independent like Ms Bell from the very beginning. The review heard from both current and former public servants, advisers, former ministers and experts in the field of constitutional law and public administration. For members of the opposition to label the Bell inquiry as anything less than extensive and nonpartisan is dishonest. In fact, three former Liberal prime ministers expressed their shock at the secret ministries revelation; it doesn't get more bipartisan than that. Former Prime Minister John Howard said:

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

The next Liberal Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said:

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

For me, I think former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put it best when he said:

This is a sinister stuff. This is secret government. This is one of the most appalling things I have ever heard in our federal government. I mean, the idea that a Prime Minister would be sworn in to other ministries secretly is incredible.

The opposition's position on this bill has been meek and murky before finally saying it'll vote for it, as though it's being dragged to do the right thing by the public.

Even with the strong condemnation from former Liberal prime ministers Howard, Abbott and Turnbull, it was still not enough for the modern Liberal Party to do the right thing and vote for the government's censure motion of the member for Cook. Instead, the member for Bass was the only Liberal with any integrity and who voted with the government. I have a lot of respect for the member for Bass for that vote, but I must say: how she or any other Liberal with a shred of self-respect can be led by someone like the current Leader of the Opposition, who lacks basic respect for the Australian people, is beyond me. How the member for Dickson can justify to the Australian people that the former Prime Minister did nothing wrong is truly shameful. All members opposite know what he did was wrong, yet only one had the integrity to put their money where their mouth is.

I have spoken many times about the diversity present in my electorate of Holt. The ethnic, religious and geographical diversity makes it rather unique, and you're bound to speak to people with different views and priorities. However, one of the many things that unite us is the ideal of Australian democracy and that its representatives must do all they can to protect its purity. There is not one person I have spoken to in my community who is happy that their Prime Minister at the time lied to them, day in and out, for over one year. It was bad enough he told us he didn't hold a hose, didn't control when vaccines arrived in Australia and didn't control COVID safety measures; he did not rock up when people needed him to—unless it was to force someone to shake his hand, of course. This betrayal of people's trust, on top of everything else, was truly the last straw.

My constituents are extremely pleased to now have a government that is honest and is led by an honest man. Prime Minister Albanese stands in stark contrast to the member for Cook. His previous experience as the Leader of the House, as a minister and as a former deputy prime minister has put him in good stead as our Prime Minister now. Throughout Prime Minister Albanese's tenure, he has always approached the job with an honesty that is sadly becoming rarer in politics. His honesty in wanting to do the right thing is self-evident in the legislation we are debating today.

The introduction of this bill shows that this government is delivering on its promise to restore trust and integrity to federal politics, which is exactly what Australians across the country have trusted us to do. I strongly believe that the measures in this bill will go quite some way to providing superior integrity and transparency around the process of appointing elected officials to high office, and to ensuring that we have a system of government with strong checks and balances rather than relying on centuries-old conventions. The changes proposed in this bill are one of many steps to ensure our political conventions can't be twisted or manipulated to the political advantage of one person ever again.

I commend this bill to the House and encourage all members who have basic respect for the Australian people to support it too.

Debate adjourned.