People rightly expect from those of us in public life, as representatives for and of the public, that we uphold high standards of integrity. We are elected to this place by our communities to be their voice, and they place their trust in us to govern in their best interests. It’s not news to anyone in this place that trust in this parliament as an institution and trust in those of us in here is unfortunately declining. That is a trend we must be aware of, that we must be concerned about and that we must be actively working to do something about.
It is important to note that last week the government released the findings of the inquiry conducted by the former High Court Justice Virginia Bell into the multiple ministries the former PM, the member for Cook, appointed himself to without the knowledge of his ministers. Treasury, Home Affairs, Industry, Science, Energy and Resources: portfolio after portfolio was secretly added in a series of self-importance. The Bell inquiry has called these appointments, among other things, ‘troubling’, ‘extremely irregular’, ‘bizarre’ and ‘unnecessary’. It really does go to that question of trust in this place as an institution and trust in the work that we do here. That is why it is so important that it is addressed.
I will quote from the Bell report because I think it is important that this place considers this. The report found:
Given that the Parliament was not informed of any of the appointments, it was unable to hold Mr Morrison to account in his capacity as minister administering any of these five departments.
It found that the principles of responsible government were ‘fundamentally undermined’ and:
… the lack of disclosure of the appointments to the public was apt to undermine public confidence in government. Once the appointments became known, the secrecy with which they had been surrounded was corrosive of trust in government.
What the former Prime Minister did should never have happened.
The Bell inquiry has made six recommendations to improve transparency, accountability and public trust, and I am very pleased that our government is set to accept all of these recommendations and to work quickly to see them implemented. It is important for all of us in here that we set a new tone about how we go about our work in this place. We don’t want this to be a place where people think we just thrive on division or that the work we do is all about shouting at each other and secrecy.
So I’m proud that in the six months so far of this new government we have made a break with practices of the past and we are showing that we want to work together to get good work done on behalf of our communities. That is what Australians want to see from us. We are taking a collaborative, positive approach as we deliver important reforms that our communities also want to see.
I think this approach was demonstrated during debate on the climate change bill, when we had the government working closely with members of the crossbench and members across the parliament to deliver the first real, substantial plan on climate action that we’ve seen in 10 years—something this parliament had been unable to do for 10 years. Of course, we have the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation currently making its way through the parliament. Again, the government has been listening to and working with people across this place to get us a good result on legislation that is going to be crucial for restoring trust in this place and for making sure that we are conducting ourselves with integrity as we go forward.
People ask me, ‘Does this parliament feel different to the last parliament?’ and I say to them, ‘It absolutely does.’ I think some of it is a vibe, but we can’t rely on a vibe only. So it is important that our government are making these structural and substantial changes, changes that show that we want to treat each other with respect in this place, that we want to uphold this parliament as an institution, that we think it’s important for our democracy that we don’t govern in a culture of secrecy and that, for all of us in here, our job is to show our communities that they can trust us and that we are here for them.
I am pleased and proud of the work our government have done so far. I know there is more to do. I’ll be very pleased to see a code of conduct come forward for all of us in this place, as recommended by the Jenkins review. I think that will be the next important step in the work we are all trying to do to make this a parliament that we can be proud of, to make this a parliament that Australians can trust and to make sure that we govern in a way that not only gets us good results but also shows people that this is a place they can respect.