Thursday, June 04, 2009

Rudd's First Ministerial Resignation

Joel Fitzgibbon resigned today as Minister For Defence. He has had a number of "troubles" in recent months including: the SAS pay bungle; undeclared gifts of trips to China paid for by businesswoman Helen Lu, this week there were revelations of hotel accommodation paid for by NIB Health Fund; and meetings involving his brother (as Chief Executive of NIB Health) and Defence officials. Two inquiries, one where Defence Signals Directorate investigated itself, have cleared the Department of spying on the Minister.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seemed to acknowledge the "mistakes" relating to proper accountability when he said "The minister has accepted responsibility for these mistakes, they are mistakes in relation to accountability, there have been a number of them."

The resignation comes at a time when some reforms are overdue within the civilian arm of the Dept of Defence. Also, British MP's are looking for any hole in which to hide from public scrutiny over rorting their allowances; and increasing scrutiny on Australian politicians.

Former Prime Minister John Howard did much to diminish accountability and Parliamentary responsibility, mostly to protect his political allies. One would hope that Kevin Rudd, having bit this bullet, will further insist on his Ministers and members having proper accountability. Note that accountability refers to the concept that a Minister is answerable to Parliament for the performance of their Department. It is however, a Minister's responsibility to declare gifts, and to claim only those expenses incurred. Joel Fitzgibbon had, perhaps by force, been both accountable and responsible for his actions/inactions. Restoring both accountability and responsibility ought to be one of Kevin Rudd's missions; reforming Question Time is another.

Voters will hope that Joel Fitzgibbon is the last of Kevin Rudd's Ministers to resign, because all the others will have learnt their lesson from Mr Fitzgibbon's public shame.


Postscript 5-Jun-09
Senator John Faulkner has taken on the position of Minister for Defence following Joel Fitzgibbon's resignation. Senator Faulkner is an experienced Minister, and politician. He has shown himself to be coolly forensic in Senate Estimates hearings, an approach that should serve him well in this difficult portfolio. (Defence has a somewhat chequered history of its treatment of Ministers)