Matter of Public Importance - Special Minister of State

Over the last two weeks, and perhaps most especially in an odd last five minutes, we have seen the truth behind the rhetoric about a new politics. We have had a close look at the new Prime Minister's new politics and it is not pretty. It is not good to look at, at all. The Prime Minister today in question time took great pleasure in quoting Billy Hughes. This was funny for a variety of reasons, not least that, of course, the Prime Minister has often been a bit flexible about which party he wishes to attach himself to. Perhaps it is the start of his long journey away from integrity. It is a sad journey for him, and a sadder one for this place and for our country.

An opposition member: Is he defecting to the Nats?

Mr GILES: Indeed. The thing about it is that Billy Hughes drew the line. The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, will not draw the line. He will not even tell this parliament or the Australian people where it should be drawn—that is his grossest failure of all. He will stand behind those who gave him this high office through the machinations of the Liberal Party instead of standing up for parliamentary standards, standing up for accountability, standing up integrity and standing up for some faith in the new politics he spoke so grandiosely about as he pursued 'Utegate' in opposition and as he acquired the office of Prime Minister. All those words were just that—just words amounting to nothing, Assistant Minister.

The member for Isaacs, the shadow Attorney-General, has taken us through this matter today, as he has done over the last two weeks. The case has been built, though, not really by the member for Isaacs—I say this in deference to my senior colleague—but by the minister, the member for Fisher. It is he who has misled the House not once, not twice, but on five occasions. He should have been stood down. In fact, he should never have been appointed. The Prime Minister's judgement has let down all of us in this place, but he has compounded the sin through his arrogance, or, should I say, his hubris—and hubris will be followed, inevitably, by a nemesis. He must act, because the position of the Special Minister of State is, as one of his cabinet colleagues said, 'unviable'.

That was demonstrated by the special minister's performance in question time today. What an extraordinary performance, dripping with false bravado. The commentary that he embarked upon about the judicial proceedings was shameless; 'disingenuous' does not even touch it. He could not have characterised the court decision, or indeed the other processes he is presently subject to, in a more misleading manner. Put simply, he is desperate to create a fig leaf to hide behind. It is not a very convincing one, and that has been demonstrated in this debate as it was in question time today. The past two weeks have been deeply revealing of the character, or lack thereof, of the Special Minister of State; the character, or lack thereof, of this government as a whole; and, in particular, the lack of character—the lack of integrity—of the Prime Minister of Australia.

Today we again saw government ministers unwilling to stand behind the Special Minister of State. They not only shut down the opposition leader; the Leader of the House shut himself down—again! It is extraordinary. Instead, in the debate, they say nothing. Why do they say nothing? Because there is nothing to be said. There is nothing to be said to defend this man. It really is extraordinary. It is extraordinary and it is instructive. In this matter, it is clear that government members do have the courage of their convictions; they say nothing because there is nothing to say.

Sadly, as parliament rises for Christmas, we have to recognise that this is about so much more than the member for Fisher. It goes to the heart of our democracy. It goes to the heart of how politics should work. It goes to the heart of the claims the Prime Minister made that politics can be meaningful to Australians.

Ms Claydon: A new paradigm!

Mr GILES: On the other hand, this new paradigm is repelling our constituents. It is turning them away from engagement in debate in this place. This is a debate about our democracy. It is about this parliament doing its job—holding the executive to account—but it could be fixed by the Prime Minister doing his, and standing down a minister whose tenure has been unviable for too long. The Prime Minister signed up to a statement of ministerial conduct; now he must stand by it. Integrity and responsibility are the watchwords— (Time expired)

 


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