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Tuesday, 15 September 1987
Page: 46

Mr HOWARD (Leader of the Opposition) —by leave-The Opposition welcomes many aspects of the changed administrative arrangements which were announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) after the election and which have been explained in more detail by him today. The concept of having a number of Ministers sworn to administer a particular department is certainly a concept that the Opposition supports. I welcome the fact that apparently the legal advice flowing to government on this subject has become a little more adventurous and a little more positive than it apparently has been to successive administrations over the years. But the Opposition does, nonetheless, welcome that as a very sensible administrative change. I think there is merit in the concept of having a number of Ministers sworn to administer the same department. The old idea that one had to create a shell department in order to have another Minister performing in the same general area as an existing Minister was an anachronistic one. I am very pleased indeed that the Government has been able to put that behind it.

A number of the amalgamations and consolidations of departments that have been announced by the Government are also welcomed by the Opposition. They mirror, in a number of quite crucial areas, declared policy positions taken by the Opposition. I therefore welcome the opportunity of saying to the House that the Opposition will be able to support large elements of the reforms announced by the Prime Minister. We will have an opportunity when legislation dealing with this, and also with the increase in the size of the Ministry which falls into a slightly different category, comes before the Parliament. But I say to the Prime Minister that any bureaucratic reform, no matter how adventurous, how far reaching and how sweeping it is, will fall to the ground unless the whole cornerstone of our system of government-that is, the concept of ministerial responsibility-is rigorously observed.

The real test of the third Hawke Government in the area of administrative conduct and administrative behaviour will be whether the standards that were not imposed during the first and second Hawke Ministries on ministerial conduct are, in fact, imposed during the third Hawke Ministry. The first test will be whether the Prime Minister responds appropriately to the behaviour of a number of his Ministers regarding the coastal surveillance debacle. If ever we had an example of the Westminster principle of ministerial responsibility applying, it ought to apply to the former Minister for Transport. His conduct is not a failure by a Minister, it is not a dereliction of ministerial duty and it is not a failure of ministerial responsibility. According to the Minister for Transport and Communications (Senator Gareth Evans) all that happened was that there was a systems failure. That is the new euphemism for a Minister not doing his job. I wonder what the present Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young) would have thought of that back in April 1982 when he said:

Nothing is more important than the way in which these people who are called Ministers behave themselves and set an example to other people in Australia. Nothing is more important than the relationship between the Government and the people of Australia.

The reality is that on the Amann Aviation scandal the Government was warned four months ago that it was not doing its job. The Government was told four months ago that the company to which it had awarded the contract was not adequate to the task. The Minister dismissed those objections and said that the right tendering procedures had been followed. He said that everything was in order and that we were simply listening to scuttlebutt and rumour mongering, but he was wrong. By any decent canon of the Westminster principle, the Minister should resign and he should not be sitting on the Government front bench. All the fancy words about departmental rearrangements, all the solid achievements of David Block-a person whom I know well, for whom I have considerable regard and who has done a good job-and all that intelligent work will be destroyed at one stroke unless, at a political level, the Prime Minister is prepared, during his third Administration, to apply the standards that he did not apply to the present Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs and to the former Minister for Trade, now the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Dawkins), and did not apply in a number of other areas. The real test of whether the Prime Minister will be different in his third term is whether the former Minister for Transport, who clearly breached his ministerial duties over the Amann debacle and has no right to sit on the front bench of the Government, remains. If he does remain, all these great reforms will be reduced to an administrative nothing.