Coalition and Labor combine to shield Ministers from security checks

11 November 2019

South Australian Senator Rex Patrick today condemned both major parties opposition to Centre Alliance’s push to end the longstanding exemption of Federal Ministers from security checks.                            

"Prime Minister Scott Morrison has on a number of occasions emphasised that ‘No one is above the law in this country.’ However, when it comes to security, the Coalition and Labor are insistent that there should be one rule for everyone else and no rule for them," Senator Patrick said.  

"At a time when Australia faces a growing threat of foreign espionage and political interference, and when the Government has been taking the security ‘highground’, including the cracking down on journalists who publish leaked information, it is a dangerous anomaly that the people at the top of the government secrecy pyramid should be exempt from any security checks."

Today the Coalition and Opposition members of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee endorsed a report that opposes Centre Alliance’s Ministers of State (Checks for Security Purposes) Bill 2019.  

Ministers occupy positions of the highest trust within the Australian Government and have access to the most sensitive national security information.  All other Australian Government personnel with access to classified information are security cleared.  However, Ministers are not.

Centre Alliance’s Bill seeks to remedy this obvious anomaly by ensuring that the Prime Minister is fully briefed on any security issues that may arise from the personal background and circumstances of Ministers.  

A security checking regime would be established that would require that Ministers provide detailed personal information so that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation can conduct rigorous inquiries and provide confidential advice to the Prime Minister on any security issues that might be identified. 

"Centre Alliance’s Bill seeks to strengthen security at the highest levels of the Australian Government in ways that are fully compatible with the principles of ministerial accountability that are central to the Westminster system of government," Senator Patrick said. 

"Significantly another Westminster-style jurisdiction, Canada, already conducts security background checks on Ministers – a system introduced in response to serious concerns about foreign espionage and political interference."

"If Canada can strengthen its national security in this way, why can’t Australia?"

"It would be naive to think that Australian Ministers will always be immune from failings that may make them vulnerable to compromise or tempt them into behaviour that may harm national security."  

"Parliamentary and media scrutiny of Ministers are not sufficient to detect and deal with security issues that potentially arise from activities that may be far removed from the public domain and perhaps very deliberately concealed."

"Both the Coalition and Labor should reconsider their position."

"One rule for everyone else but no rule for Ministers is an approach that puts not only national security but Australian democracy at risk."

Senator Patrick’s dissenting report can be found here.

The text of the Bill can be found here.

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