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Tuesday, 4 May 1971


Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Supply) - by leave - In association with the Ministers of State Bill, I wish also to inform the Senate of the intention of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to appoint Assistant Ministers to support certain senior Ministers in the discharge of their duties. Honourable senators will recall that, since the earliest days of Federation, Assistant Ministers, Honorary Ministers or Ministers without Portfolio have been a recurring feature of ministerial arrangements. These Assistant Ministers - I use that term to describe all the persons I have just referred to - are not Ministers of State in the strict constitutional sense: the Queen's Ministers of State are, under section 64 of the Constitution, only those members of the Executive Council who are appointed to administer Departments of State. The Assistant Ministers will be members of the Parliament who are appointed to assist a particular Minister in the discharge of his duties. Because they are not Ministers of State in the constitutional sense, section 44 of the Constitution precludes the payment of any salary to Assistant Ministers in respect of their duties. All it will be possible to do will be to make payments to them to meet outofpocket expenses, including travelling expenses, which they necessarily incur in the performance of their duties.

It is intended that the Assistant Ministers will be sworn as Executive Councillors. They will thus form part of the Federal Executive Council whose function, under section 62 of the Constitution, is to advise the Governor-General in the government of the Commonwealth. The Assistant Ministers will thus participate in a most important aspect of the continuing good government of the Commonwealth. As members of the Federal Executive Council, the Assistant Ministers will in general be able to exercise statutory functions of the Ministers they are assisting - including the making of appointments and the performance of other functions expressly conferred on the Minister - provided he has authorised them to this effect. This is made possible by section 19 of the Acts Interpretation Act which, subject to any contrary intention in the particular legislation, permits any Minister or Member of the Federal Executive Council to act for and on behalf of a Minister referred to in the legislation. Thus Assistant Ministers will be able to make appointments and perform other functions expressly conferred on the Minister by legislation.

The Assistant Ministers will be assigned to assist certain Ministers of Cabinet rank, who have the responsibility not only of administering their own departments but of taking part in the continuing process of consultation which is an essential feature of effective Cabinet government. By appointing Assistant Ministers in this way, we believe the system of Cabinet government will be strengthened through the opportunity it gives to senior Ministers to devote more time to Cabinet business. Assistant Ministers will, of course, work in accordance with the authority given to them by the senior Minister. Within this general authority, it is expected that they will conduct correspondence and make inquiries on his behalf. They will also be able to receive deputations on behalf of the Minister. I emphasise that assistant Ministers will not be able to take political responsibility in the administration of any department. This is as it should be. As Prime Minister Menzies explained in his ministerial statement on Parliamentary Under-Secretaries on 27th August 1952, it is important that Ministers should be directly andwerable to the Parliament for the administration of their departments.

Again taking up what Sir Robert said in that statement, there are occasions when it would be of great assistance to a Minister if his Assistant Minister could, during the Committee stages of a Bill, sit at the table of the House and represent his Minister in the discussion of clauses and amendments as they arise. The Government will consult with the Presiding Officers on this matter to ascertain whether, to achieve this, an amendment of Standing Orders will be necessary. Numbers of those who in times past held office as Assistant Ministers were in due course elevated to full ministerial status. The experience they obtained as Assistant Ministers was of great value in preparing them to assume full ministerial status. We are confident that those who will be appointed to the new positions will obtain valuable and broadening experience.

To sum up, the new Assistant Ministers will bring greatly needed assistance to senior Ministers in the discharge of their heavy duties, and will contribute to the better working of the Cabinet system. Second, they will help such Ministers to achieve more effective supervision of the activities of the departments to which they are related. Finally they will, as I have mentioned, provide those appointed with valuable experience in both the legislative and administrative fields. The Prime Minister has said that he does not intend at this stage to make specific appointments to the office of Assistant Minister. These will be left until the parliamentary recess, when there will be opportunity to give further consideration to details of the way in which the Assistant Ministers will work and to select members for the positions. I am making the statement at this stage partly to acquaint the Senate of events that will take place before it meets for the Budget session, and also because the decision to appoint Assistant Ministers needs to be seen in the full context of other changes being made in administrative arrangements, including particularly the proposal to appoint an additional Minister of State.







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