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Friday, 30 March 1984
Page: 990

Senator LEWIS —I refer the Attorney-General to the concept of ministerial responsibility as outlined by Mr Malcolm Fraser:

It is certainly true that Ministers cannot be aware of everything that occurs in their departments. They ought to be aware of all the major matters and therefore can be clearly and directly responsible for them but if a major blunder occurred in a department, of real importance to Australia, and if the Minister were unaware of it, that Minister should accept responsibility for the mistakes of his Department and offer to resign.

I remind the Attorney that he first embraced this approach in September 1982 and repeated his support for it on 2 December in the debate over the responsibilities of the Foreign Minister and the Minister for Defence regarding the Australian Secret Intelligence Service incident at the Sheraton Hotel. I ask the Attorney: Does he believe that the Minister for Defence should offer to resign over the leaking of the Government's 'Strategic Basis of Australian Defence Policy 1983'?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have seen in the past some merit in the Fraser approach to ministerial responsibility as expressed in that statement. I have expressed, however, my regret in the past, and I do so again today, that that statement was clearly never taken very seriously by Mr Fraser himself or by Ministers in his Government during their tenure in office. As a result, through disuse, it must be regarded as having lapsed into abeyance. In any event, even were the principle to have any continuing force or effect, I am clearly of the view that it has no application whatsoever in the present circumstances.