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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 14728


Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (15:59): What a grave disappointment it is to be standing here at the dispatch box again talking about the absence of integrity on the government benches. It is such a disappointment. You can see how one would be outraged. You can see how someone would be angry at the way this mob is besmirching the reputation of this place and of Australian democracy. You can see how you could be furious about that. But, most overwhelmingly, I am disappointed to still be here at the end of the parliamentary sitting year talking about the absence of integrity on the part of this government. I am particularly disappointed that this Prime Minister seems to have less integrity than Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Howard before him. Prime Minister Abbott, when the then minister and now minister again, Senator Sinodinos, was under a cloud, had the fortitude to do the right thing and seek that he stand aside. Similarly, remember that Prime Minister Howard had the fortitude to have then minister Gary Hardgrave stand aside, but apparently not this Prime Minister.

This Prime Minister, who purports to care about the health of our democracy, who purports to care about whether or not the Australian people can have the trust they deserve to have in the institutions of our society, including this parliament, does not have the integrity of either Tony Abbott or John Howard and has failed to act. It is a failure that really emphasises just how weak he actually is. We already know that he stands for nothing. We already know that he is a man who would have done anything to become the Prime Minister of this nation—and did. He is a hollow man. He is a man who seems to have continued to emphasise style over substance. And the Australian people want substance. Not just is he a hollow man, but he is apparently someone who lacks the spine to even come into this House and do what everyone knows needs to be done, and that is to stand up for integrity.

We are talking about a Prime Minister who only in September published a statement of ministerial standards. It was as recent as September that the statement was published. That statement of ministerial standards emphasises integrity, accountability, responsibility—all concepts that we ought to hold very dear here. But this Prime minister will not stand up for those concepts, will not enforce them, does not have what is needed to do that job. He is not up to it. So spineless is this government that today they gagged the opposition leader, they stopped the opposition leader from speaking out on these issues of integrity. It was such a low point. There have been some low points this year—the onion eating, just by itself, must have been one of the lowest points of the year—but actually gagging an opposition leader from speaking about integrity, on a day when we are dealing with a situation where a special minister of state, the person supposedly charged with handling integrity on behalf of the government, has misled the House five times, was such a low point. For the Prime Minister to have his manager of government business, the Leader of the House, actually move to gag the Leader of the Opposition is an utter disgrace.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not want to alarm you, but it is probably time we recognised that the people who watch this parliament—our constituents—think the people in this place lack integrity. They think we are in it for ourselves. Some of them think we are a mob of crooks, unfortunately. That is not true. It is unfortunate for us. We are not a mob of crooks; we are not people who are in this for ourselves, by and large. But when you have a Prime Minister who is comprehensively failing to uphold integrity standards, then unfortunately that wrong perception gets reinforced. So, it is not just a problem for the Prime Minister—although of course it is a problem for him—and it is not just a problem for the people sitting in this chamber and in the other place, although of course it is a problem for all of us in our capacity to do our jobs when integrity is not upheld. It is a problem for the health of our Australian democracy. And when you do not have a healthy democracy it is a problem for the future of the nation. Those are the stakes.

Mr Hawke interjecting

Ms BUTLER: This is a question that seems to have attracted some entertainment from the government benches, but this is actually a serious and important matter. The parliamentary secretary might think it is entertaining, but I do not. As an Australian I want us to have a Prime Minister who will uphold integrity standards. Even if he is from a party with whose views I disagree, I want him to uphold integrity standards, and it is about time he did.