THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
MINISTERS OF STATE AMENDMENT BILL 2022
Mr DREYFUS (Isaacs—Attorney-General and Cabinet Secretary) (10:33): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022 provides for greater transparency and accountability in Commonwealth administration. It will ensure the Australian people are able to access information related to the composition 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, led by former High Court Justice, the Hon. Virginia Bell, AC. The report was provided to the government on 25 November 2022 and has been published on the inquiry's website. 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 in public sector institutions, processes and officials. Of course, the genesis of the Bell inquiry stemmed from media reports in August this year that the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, had been appointed to administer multiple portfolios during 2020 and 2021—namely, the Departments of Health; Finance; Industry, Science, Energy and Resources; Treasury; and Home Affairs—in addition to his appointment to administer the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The government referred these matters to the Solicitor-General, Dr Stephen Donaghue KC. Dr Donaghue advised, 'The principles of responsible government are fundamentally undermined by the actions of the former government.' Following the Solicitor-General's advice, it was also clear that an appropriate inquiry was needed.
The Bell inquiry examined how this happened, why it happened and who knew about it. It is essential that we have transparency in our government processes because our system of parliamentary democracy relies upon conventions and the Westminster traditions of checks and balances. As was made very clear by the Solicitor-General, '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 government commends Ms Bell for her service in leading this inquiry. She conducted her review with professionalism and dedication. Her report is comprehensive and even-handed.
The government has accepted all of Ms Bell's recommendations, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has been directed to implement them. Introduction of this bill is part of that task.
Specifically, the Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2022 will require the official secretary to the Governor-General to publish a notifiable instrument on the Federal Register of Legislation as soon as reasonably practicable in the following circumstances: when 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 notification on the revocation of any of these positions to be published.
The notifiable instrument will include the name of the person; the department of state, where appropriate; and the date 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 office and the date that such membership, appointment or direction was revoked. The notifiable instrument may also comprise a copy of an instrument issued by the Governor-General.
The introduction of this bill shows the government is delivering on its promise to restore trust and integrity to federal politics—the centrepiece of which is the establishment of the powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission.
The measures in the bill will restore integrity and transparency to the process of appointing elected officials to high office, and ensure we have a system of government where there are checks and balances. Never again will one person be able to garner powers without adequate, and warranted, accountability to the Australian people and the Australian parliament.