THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
MEMBER FOR COOK – MOTION OF CENSURE
30 NOVEMBER 2022
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.
And 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. He said in the course of that speech, extraordinarily, "if people had asked, I would have answered". I'll just repeat that. "If people had asked, I would have answered." So, apparently, it's the fault of this House that those 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. Says the Member Cook "if people had asked I would have answered".
Censure is the appropriate response to the findings by the Honourable 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 relevant departments, failed to inform the House of Representatives and failed to inform the Australian public.
As the Solicitor-General found, and I quote:
"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".
Mr. Speaker, Australia is a proud democracy, 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 swearing 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 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, and again, I quote:
“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". And 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 have apparently declined, almost all of them, 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 and I quote her:
"your loyalty to the Australian people, to the institution that you are elected to serve".
Well, 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 the minister for this, 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? I quote:
"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.
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 on unacceptable. And 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? 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 jobs 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 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, and I quote:
"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.
His speech today confirmed the former Prime Minister is still even now trying to defend the indefensible. Today, he's 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 has 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. 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. A 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. But 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 this sort of behaviour was unacceptable, and we had to do better.
And 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 to represent them in this place, then you must support this censure.
All of us here must come together 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.