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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 135

Senator MARSHALL (6:40 PM) —Having read the Palmer report, I can say that it is an explosive and utter indictment of the highest order of this government, its immigration ministers and their maladministration. I had an opportunity to talk at some length on this report earlier today in the context of that maladministration when we were debating the disallowance motion for the excise regulations. Consequent to that there has been some further discussion today about the report and the responsibility that the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs should take in accepting some of the responsibility for the enormous failures of the department for which she is responsible. Today we saw Senator Brandis come into the chamber and defend the guilty, as we so often see—

Senator Forshaw —He defended the indefensible.

Senator MARSHALL —He defended the indefensible, and I support Senator Brandis having the right to do that. We saw him do it in the ‘children overboard’ affair. He is chief counsel for the defence for this government. I accept that even the guilty deserve to have a defence counsel try to mount some argument for them. We saw him do that admirably again today. During his presentation I wondered whether he had read the report but he went on to clarify that he had. I know that if Senator Brandis says that he has read the report, he has indeed read the report. But there must be a problem with comprehension. Senator Brandis would have us believe that all that the report indicated was that there were some problems at the most junior levels of the public sector for which the minister could not possibly take any responsibility or have any knowledge of. That is not what I read through the Palmer report.

The Palmer report indicated that there was a culture of denial and self-justification. The inquiry found that that was the heart of the problem. I have only to take Senator Brandis and other senators who might be interested to page 169 of the report, which states:

The Inquiry found that these attitudes and perspectives were not, as some believed, confined to operational levels but were pervasive at senior executive management level. Executive managers, including Assistant Secretaries, should be in the vanguard of corporate leadership and should not be shackled by process-driven thinking and unable or unwilling to question existing structures, processes and procedures.

That clearly identifies the highest levels of management—the highest levels of management that would report directly to the minister, and the minister has the audacity to say that she ought to take no responsibility for any of those problems which are inherent throughout the process. Again, for the interest of the Senate, I refer to page 194 of the report, which states:

Throughout all aspects of both the Inquiry and the Examination there was, with few exceptions, been consistent evidence of reluctance at middle management and senior executive management levels to accept responsibility and acknowledge fault.

What a surprise. It does not stop at senior executive management; it goes all the way to the ministry, because the minister fails to do the same thing which Palmer accuses senior executive management of doing. Let us be clear: they refuse to accept any responsibility or acknowledge fault. That is at the core of the problem here. The minister ought to do the right thing and accept that responsibility and resign.

The other interesting thing which Senator Brandis, the counsel for the defence, wanted to argue was that, because the minister initiated the Palmer report in the first place, that showed that she was accepting the responsibility. Senator Brandis is from Queensland, and what he has said is really like saying that Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen accepted the responsibility of all the corruption and failure in that state because he initiated the Fitzgerald inquiry. It is like saying that because he initiated that inquiry he had accepted full responsibility for that and really needed to take no further responsibility for what was happening in that state. It is a nonsense argument. It was a good try by a lawyer who came in to be the counsel for the defence, but it really does not wash. It does not pass the test of logic. It does not pass the laugh test. This minister should own up to her ministerial responsibilities. If she does not, the Prime Minister should do the right thing and remove her from office.