This is a very important matter that does need to be dealt with by this House. Of course, the Ministers of State Amendment Bill fixes the situation which enabled the member for Cook, the then prime minister, to appoint himself to multiple ministries, a situation that really goes to some of the fundamental tenets of our democracy, of how we see the role of this place, of accountability and of trust in the whole system of government here. We should never have ended up in the situation we did end up in under the previous prime minister. I think it’s fair to say that no other prime minister would have considered this type of thing. I will come back to this later, but I do think it is imported to note that, when you are the prime minister, when you are the leader in this place of our country, it is very important that you understand your responsibility to the system of democracy that you are the leader of. That is a fundamental part of the job, and it is a fundamental part that the previous prime minister did not grasp. This country is poorer for that, so it is imported that this bill, which addresses some of the issues that were uncovered through this process, is put in place so that we do not see the situation happen again.
It is important to note what happened in that previous time. The ministries that the then Prime Minister appointed himself to included Health; Finance; Industry, Science, Energy and Resources; Treasury; and Home Affairs. Of course, there have been some recent revelations of new areas that other ministers were appointed to also administer and colleagues weren’t aware of. It is just astounding that this happened without colleagues—without cabinet—being aware of it and certainly without the parliament and this House and the Australian people being aware of it.
What is also astounding is that after being kept in the dark by the member for Cook, the then Prime Minister, those opposite were not willing to join the House in censuring him. At that point, they still could not see the seriousness of this—the consequences for our democracy, for the way that we rely on knowing what is happening and who is in charge of what, for accountability and for trust. If we don’t know who’s in charge, how can we come to this place every day for question time and ask the questions that need to be asked? If we don’t know who’s in charge, how can the journalists whose job it is to ask the questions every day know who to ask? If we don’t know who’s in charge, how can the public, who elect us, know who is ultimately responsible for decisions that have been made? This is fundamental to the work we do. It is vitally important that this get fixed, and I am pleased that this is the bill that will do it.
The bill introduces a requirement that there be a notification published as soon as practicable after the Governor-General of the day appoints someone to the federal Executive Council or to administer a department of state or directs them to hold an office. This notification will include the name of the person appointed, the department they have been appointed to administer and the date they are sworn in—all information that we lacked under the previous Prime Minister. It means there will be greater transparency for these appointments. We will know what is happening.
I will also reflect that I think what needs to come out of this entire process is not just law change but also a very clear cultural change—a very clear recognition from this place that that can never happen again. Again, that’s why I say it is a great shame that those opposite did not join the House in censuring the member for Cook, but I urge them, when they look at this bill, to consider this their opportunity to show that it wasn’t good enough, to tell the Australian people that they have learned from what happened and to tell the Australian people that they too were misled by their own leader and kept in the dark and that they don’t think it was good enough.
Our government moved to try and clean this mess up as soon as we became aware of it. This is a key part of our response to the inquiry that we had, led by the Hon. Virginia Bell AC, a former High Court justice. She has done some very thorough work to get us to this point, when this bill is now before the House.
Our government does want to restore the public’s confidence in this place. We know that we can’t do our job—we can’t govern for Australians—if they don’t feel like they know what is happening here, if they don’t feel like they know that we are acting in a transparent and accountable way. We want to rebuild integrity in this institution. That is vital for our work. We want to rebuild integrity in its processes and in those who hold power. Australians need to know that there is transparency in the way that government operates. The checks and balances that our parliamentary democracy relies on are sacrosanct. We must respect them. They must be things that we uphold here. If we as MPs are not doing that, who is doing that? It is a fundamental part of our role.
Our government went to the last election promising to restore trust and integrity to federal politics, and I can tell you it is something that people in my electorate raised with me again and again. They know that this place can do better. They know that it should not have operated the way it did under the former Prime Minister. They too were shocked to find out about the multiple ministries, shocked to find out that their Prime Minister of the time had kept them, his colleagues, his cabinet and the parliament in the dark about what was happening, about decisions that were being made and about who ultimately was responsible for making those decisions.
This shouldn’t happen again. This bill will ensure it does not happen again. This government knows this is a serious matter, and we will be acting to address it.