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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Page: 34


Mr McCLELLAND (10:45 AM) —To briefly conclude my earlier remarks, I was referring to Public Service standards and to ministerial responsibility. Caroline Overington’s book The Foundations of Governance in the Australian Public Service, states on page 261:

Under normal, or at least, the historical rules of ministerial accountability, Downer would have been booted off the front bench. It was Howard not Cole who decided for him to keep his job.

She goes on to say:

If the buck didn’t stop with Downer, where did it stop? Why didn’t he resign? There is only one possible answer; Downer cared more about his own job than he cared about the integrity of his office. He somehow managed to convince himself that the doctrine of ministerial responsibility did not apply.

And so in January 2007, almost a year to the day after the Cole inquiry began, there he was in Manhattan. Photographs captured the moment: he was wearing a tux and grinning like a loon, hamming it up with the Wiggles.

That was on page 168. In fact the principle of ministerial responsibility requires the Minister for Foreign Affairs to have made inquiries, when public servants in his department became aware of the Wheat Board scandal, as to why they did not communicate that information to the highest level. He certainly needs to comprehensively review procedures in the department to make sure that vital information is not blocked, that ministers are not protected or quarantined from controversial information and that all information is fed to the minister. At the end of the day, under the principles of ministerial responsibility, it is the minister who should and must take responsibility for this grave scandal, which has blighted the international reputation of Australia and harmed the interests of Australian wheat growers.