Integrity in Parliament - matter of public importance

Whoever leads it, this is a deeply cynical government which has done much to undermine trust in politics and government, and has done much to pull apart the Australian people's faith in the integrity of our political processes. It is not just our assessment that makes this case. It is the words of government members, including the Prime Minister, that make this very clear—and not just the Prime Minister, I should say, also the Special Minister of State. Just this week, in this House, he said, 'Integrity in all things parliamentary is essential.'

Today, on this side of the House we rise to hold him and his leader to that standard. We do so with reference to the calls for a higher standard in public life that have been made by the now Prime Minister. In opposition, he made the case for change—for a different approach to politics and for more integrity in politics. He said:

… we can make it easier to earn and keep the people's trust.

Interestingly, he then went on to say:

To his credit, Tony Abbott has said he is determined to make very few promises before the next election and only to make ones he knows he can keep.

Well, what about that? Isn't that something to reflect on as we debate integrity of politics—a matter that perhaps the member for Wentworth and the member for Warringah can discuss together. But he went on beyond this unusual praise of his predecessor as Prime Minister to say this—and this is an important point that he made in opposition, and he should remember it now that he is in government:

It seems to me we don't simply have a financial deficit, we have a deficit of trust.

He picked up on this theme almost at the moment he became our Prime Minister. He lamented the gap in political practice—the lack of integrity in politics. He said this:

What we have not succeeded in doing is translating those values into the policies and the ideas that will excite the Australian people and encourage them to believe and understand that we have a vision for their future. We also need a new style of leadership in the way we deal with others …

'A new style of leadership in the way we deal others.' Really, Prime Minister? How have you demonstrated that since you came to the high office that you hold?

I touched briefly on the former Prime Minister, who, before his election, was very keen on trust. That changed after he was elected, but it is clear now that things have become worse, not better, since the member for Wentworth became our Prime Minister. In every area of his decision making there is a gulf between his words, his expansive words, and his deeds. He is long on rhetoric but it is all sophistry. When it comes to making decisions that matter, decisions that go to the integrity of our political systems and the integrity of the government he leads, he comes up short. Amazingly, he has nothing to say. He has shown that in this House this week.

But why might all this be? I ask government members to reflect on that, particularly because we are talking about not just a minister but the Special Minister of State—a person whose responsibilities go to the heart of maintaining public confidence in the administration of our system of government. He is the minister responsible, ironic as it might seem in the context of the present debate, for parliamentary entitlements. He is the minister charged with holding up parliamentary integrity. So, what sort of qualities might a Prime Minister look to in appointing a man or woman to that position?

In this case, as the Special Minister of State said in question time today, we are talking about allegations. But these are serious allegations, and there is a wealth of practice that goes to how ministers facing such allegations should be asked to conduct their duties. They should be stood down, as this minister should be stood down while these matters are addressed. As the member for Griffith pointed out calmly and carefully, these are very serious matters. They go to the heart of the minister's responsibility, as well as our collective responsibility, to maintain public trust in our system of government.

Ultimately, as the Special Minister of State himself said, integrity matters. It is everything and it is all of our business. It is not just a question for the minister, the member for Fisher, as the shadow Attorney-General said. It is about the Prime Minister's judgement. It is about his judgement and his willingness to uphold the ministerial code of conduct he is responsible for. Prime Minister, you are right: we do have a deficit of trust. But this is down to you.


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