Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

No, minister
The ministerial standards were supposed to be legally enforceable

Image of Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne and Scott Morrison

Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne and Scott Morrison during Question Time in 2015. © Sam Moody / AAP Image

There is a misconception that the prohibition on ministers taking jobs related to their portfolio once they leave politics is unenforceable, according to one of the authors of the Statement of Ministerial Standards. Howard Whitton, who is preparing a submission to the Senate inquiry into the employment of former ministers, including Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop, says the prohibition was designed to be enforced through written undertakings, to be given to the prime minister as a condition of being appointed as a minister. Whitton says that the contractual mechanism seems to have been overlooked and has never been tested in court. The Senate inquiry, which is expected to call Prime Minister Scott Morrison himself as well as the outgoing head of his department, Martin Parkinson, should seek to establish whether the PM or his department struck contracts with former ministers, Whitton says – and ask if not, why not?

Whitton, a visiting fellow at the University of Canberra and an expert on government ethics, co-authored the original Statement of Ministerial Standards, which was introduced when former senator John Faulkner was special minister of state in the Rudd government. The original statement has been endorsed by each new prime minister since 2007, and remains largely unchanged.

The prohibition, in paragraph 2.25 of the standards, states that:

Ministers are required to undertake that, for an eighteen month period after ceasing to be a Minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as Minister in their last eighteen months in office. Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.

Whitton tells me that the undertakings mentioned in paragraph 2.25 were intended to be in writing, and notes that the second element of the paragraph is not limited in terms of time or subject matter – including policy areas outside the former minister’s portfolio.

Barely a month after quitting politics at the May election, former defence minister Christopher Pyne stirred controversy when he announced that he had taken a job with big four audit and consulting firm EY to help grow its defence business. Days later, it emerged that former foreign minister Julie Bishop had joined the board of aid contractor Palladium, a company whose interests she had furthered as minister by shutting down AusAid, and which she had promoted in a video. Both appointments caused uproar, although a short inquiry by Martin Parkinson cleared both ministers of any breach of the standards.

As shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally pointed out in the Senate, however, Parkinson’s report found that while Pyne had “put in place mechanisms to ensure … he will not impart direct or specific knowledge known to him only by virtue of his ministerial position”, he did not say what those mechanisms were. Keneally also pointed out Parkinson’s observation that Bishop had “not provided a full public statement on her appointment or how she proposes to deal with any conflicts with her previous role”. The Senate inquiry, which reports in September, is intended to get to the bottom of the issue.

“Many people seem to think that the PM’s ministerial standards are not enforceable,” Whitton tells me. “That view is mistaken. The standards were designed to be enforceable as a form of contract, but even if it turns out (when tested in court) that they are not, the common law offence of misconduct in public office may apply. In any case, individual MPs still have an ethical duty to act with integrity, respecting the trust placed in them to act in the public interest, lest Australians lose confidence in the integrity of their public institutions.

“Today, we need to recognise how fragile our democratic institutions are. Individual MPs are exposed to public scrutiny as never before, but ethics rules for MPs can only be part of the answer. As the saying goes: ‘If you have integrity, nothing else matters. And if you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.’”

A spokesperson for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet says, “Under successive governments, former ministers have not been required to make written undertakings upon stepping down from the ministry.” If not, why not?

“Whose side is Morrison on? Australians or CPAC and its pro-gun, alt-right, hate-speech agenda? We, together, need to confront the spread of the alt-right and white nationalism in Australia.”

After the mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally runs through the pro-gun record of speakers at this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney.

“Whether it is what trees they can chop down, what seafood they can fish, what dams they can build and what mines they can start … the power to do simple things has shifted from those on the ground with the knowledge, history and interest, to those who live far away who know little of the local circumstances and suffer even less the effects of any mistakes that are made.”

Resources Minister Matt Canavan, in a speech to the Sydney Institute, takes aim at “self-appointed, self-important bureaucrats” telling regional communities what to do.

Racism and the judge
As a judge’s comments about Aboriginal people cause outrage, lawyers in the Northern Territory wonder why a key body hasn’t made a complaint. Russell Marks on the silence in the Northern Territory justice system.


The proportion of whistleblowers who go to the media, according to Griffith University professor AJ Brown, who today releases a three-year study of whistleblower protections in 699 organisations.

“The inquiry will investigate market trends since 2012, including the demand for water, the changes in the location of use of water, the quantity of water traded and sectors participating in the water markets. It will also further probe the role and practices of water brokers, water exchanges, investment funds and significant traders of water allocations and entitlements.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission today launches an inquiry into the Murray–Darling Basin water market.

The list

“Almost every adult surfer has dreamt it: a bush block fronting a perfect wave. Somewhere to catch a fish, make a fire, live under the stars or in a tree ... For Narvin Fox, a designer and surfboard shaper, the dream was Malolo Island. In 2013, he and his mate Woody Jack took a 99-year lease over a 1 acre patch of jungle and coast on the atoll, off the west coast of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu ... Last year, things began to change on Malolo. Fox began hearing disturbing tales about their new neighbour, a development company called Freesoul. Tales of bulldozers, earthmovers, reef damage.”

“Dr Jennifer Abbey was resolute that the corporatisation of aged care in Australia had played a key role. ‘It has changed enormously from what it was, if you like, a cottage industry – from small organisations often run by ex-nurses, converted houses, to complete corporatisation. And now we have got what seems to be, to many people, a profit-driven, industry-driven organisation that is employing people on very low wages.’”

“Louise Swinn’s inclusion of two male authors reminds us that abortion is an issue that affects and engages all of us. But mainly and aptly these are the voices of women. The stories, essays, poems and polemics within fall largely along a continuum that extends from personal accounts of undergoing an abortion to the historical, legal, political, financial and practical constraints within which those abortions take place. Yet right from the opening essay ... this collection has huge momentum, urgency and purpose.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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