Andrew Broad Resignation Underlines The Need For Security Checks For Ministers

18 December 2018

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick today called for Australian Government Ministers to be subject to a mandatory security checking regime to strengthen confidence in the integrity of the highest levels of government.

"The resignation of Andrew Broad, the Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, in highly compromising circumstances is only the latest incident that demonstrates the need to end to the longstanding exemption of Federal Ministers from any form of security checking," Senator Patrick said.   

"It is a striking and anomalous fact that while tens of thousands of Australian public servants, Defence Force personnel and government contractors are required to undergo comprehensive security, Ministers are completely exempt from any security vetting."

"Ministers of State occupy positions of the highest trust within the Australian Government. Cabinet Ministers are privy to the most sensitive decisions and information, including the highest levels of national security classified information. Other Ministers and Assistant Ministers also have routine access to highly sensitive information including national security information."  

"Security checking and clearance requirements apply to all staff of Ministers, but not to Ministers themselves."

"The current Australian Protective Security Policy Framework advances no reasons to support this exemption. This policy has been in place for many decades but has never been explained or justified. Minister are simply taken on trust." 

"In contrast, the Government of Canada conducts security background checks in relation to Federal Ministers. This policy was introduced by the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a context of concerns about foreign espionage and interference in Canada. The policy has continued under the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau." 

"Canadian security practice highlights how it is highly anomalous that Australian Ministers, office holders who participate in the highest levels of executive government decision making and who have access to some of the most sensitive and highly classified government information, should be exempt from a mandatory security background checking process." 

"Accordingly I have drafted a private members bill, the Minister of State (Checks for Security Purposes) Bill 2018, to ensure that the Prime Minister is fully informed of any security issues that may arise from the personal background and circumstances of persons who have been appointed as Ministers of Assistant Ministers."

"In the event that background checks undertaken by the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation reveal an issue of security concern, the Prime Minister will be free to determine what steps might be required to resolve the matter." 

"Regrettably it cannot be assumed that persons appointed as Ministers will always be free of characteristics, activities, associations, connections or obligations that may compromise, or risk compromise of national security within the executive government." 

"Instances of corruption involving Australian political figures including Ministers and Members of Parliament at the State and Federal levels show that Ministers may succumb to temptations that may make them vulnerable to compromise."

"Over the past decade issues have also arisen relating to the involvement of Members of Parliament including Ministers and Shadow Ministers with foreign persons and organisations that have raised security issues. There are numerous examples in a range of overseas jurisdictions of parliamentarians, including Ministers, who have been compromised by foreign intelligence services or have otherwise engaged in activities highly prejudicial to the national security of their country. It would be naïve to think the Australian Ministers will always be immune from such failings." 

"Security at the highest levels of the Australian Government should never be compromised," Senator Patrick said. 

The draft Ministers of State (Checks for Security Purposes) Bill 2018 and accompanying Explanatory Memorandum can be found here. The Bill was listed for introduction on the last sitting day of 2018 but has been carried over to the first sitting day of 2019.

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