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Thursday, 4 December 2008
Page: 8202

Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (3:17 PM) —I had not intended to speak on this matter, but I will respond to some of the points that have been made by the shadow minister. First of all, the Australian Labor Party went to the last election with a commitment to restoring a high standard of integrity to government in Australia. Australia endured over a decade of ministerial scandals and abuse of power from the Howard government, and when we took office over a year ago there was a great deal of work to do to repair the damage. One of our first steps was to bring under a single minister integrity agencies across the Commonwealth such as the ANAO, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the ombudsmen, the Public Service Commissioner, the Archives and the like. But another immediate reform was the release by the Prime Minister of his standards of ministerial ethics three days after being sworn into office.

What these standards meant is very significant. Let’s not beat around the bush about this. It means no more fundraisers for political parties at Prime Ministerial residences, no more fundraisers at Kirribilli House, no ministers going straight from being the defence minister to working for a major defence contractor like former Minister Reith, no signing off a grant to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners a week before the election and going off to work for them as a paid consultant after the election like former Minister Wooldridge did or going direct from being the minister responsible for childcare and going to join the board of ABC Learning Centres—that probably was not a really good move on Larry Anthony’s part. We made clear that for a period of at least 18 months it is not appropriate for ministers to transition straight from working in an area to having business dealings in that area.

Along with that reform, the government believes that information about lobbyists should be freely available to those who are lobbied and to the wider community. It is an important reform. In May of this year I tabled the Lobbying Code of Conduct, fulfilling an election commitment to adopt a code of conduct for lobbyists and establishing a Register of Lobbyists. Government advisers and senior public servants who leave their jobs cannot engage in third-party lobbying on issues they have worked on in the previous 12 months. There were very disappointing comments about ministerial staff. I know that it is just politics. I know Senator Ronaldson does not really believe it—he just feels obligated to say it. But under the previous government we saw an unacceptable situation with ministers using their staff as a firewall against accountability. The government has introduced for the first time—it was never done; none of these codes of conduct were brought in when the Howard government was in office—a code of conduct for ministerial staff. In a groundbreaking move for government, this code provided for an unequivocal statement that executive decision making is the preserve of ministers and public servants because they can be held accountable, through committees and the parliament, for what they do, not ministerial staff operating in their own right.

It was very disappointing to hear the issue of advertising raised. One of the starkest differences between the Rudd government’s commitment to transparency and accountability and that of the previous government is our action to end the abuse of government advertising for partisan political purposes. In July, I announced an introduction of our revised advertising arrangements, widely welcomed in the media, the community and by most in the parliament. It saw the processes of campaign advertising placed with agencies, with the public servants. In a major initiative, the guidelines established a requirement that no advertising campaign that cost more than a quarter of a million dollars could proceed without a report from the Auditor-General.

These advertising guidelines were designed to take politics out of government advertising. I think the opposition should acknowledge that this government has delivered in relation to these matters. They have been introduced and they are working effectively, and most people acknowledge that is the case.

Senator Abetz —No, they don’t!

Senator FAULKNER —Yes, they do, Senator. We put an end to spin in government advertising. We abolished the Ministerial Council on Government Communication. We abolished the GCU.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner listened in silence to Senator Ronaldson’s contribution and I think the same courtesy should be extended to Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER —No wonder the Liberal senators laugh. That committee politicised government advertising campaigns. Now there are no staff, no ministers and no backbenchers, no-one involved in partisan politics, involved at all in our advertising guidelines and advertising processes. What the opposition should do is say, ‘Job well done on this,’ to the Rudd government. It is a way of doing business very different to what we saw under the Howard government.

Modesty prevents me speaking about our reforms in the freedom of information area and in relation to electoral reforms. I will respond to the issue that Senator Ronaldson raised about coordination comments, when he showed his absolute lack of understanding of how government in this country works. These are departmental coordination comments, Senator Ronaldson—through you, Mr Deputy President. They are not prime ministerial coordination comments; they are departmental coordination comments. Any decision for them not to proceed is a departmental decision. It happened in one department—that is true; we know that—the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Those processes have been restored stronger, tougher and with a great deal more rigour than they had previously, and most senators would and should acknowledge that this is the case.

In conclusion, and I do not want take up a lot of the chamber’s time, I note that, as the only political party in this country that is older than the nation itself, the Australian Labor Party has had a great tradition of support and respect for the institutions, the conventions and the values that underpin Australian democracy. Unlike the previous government, we are not in the business of rorting the advantages of incumbency. We have made good strides in this area. Of course there is more to be done, but a ministerial statement has been tabled today that I ask people to judge objectively. I ask them to look at what has been achieved over the past year. I ask them to compare that with what occurred during the 11½ bleak years of the Howard government. We will continue to make strides in this area. We care about transparency; we have acted upon it. We care about accountability; we have acted upon it. We care about integrity; we have acted upon it. We intend to do more.

Question agreed to.