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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 7 Hansard (30 June) . . Page.. 1855 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Which of us is right, the Government or the Opposition, in this debate? I would ask members in this place to apply a few tests to the standard which the Opposition is stating - that if the Government breaks the law, even via its servants, even inadvertently, then the Minister must resign. There are three tests I would apply. First of all, how does this particular test operate in practice? What are the precedents for a Minister or a government resigning or being sacked because there has been a breach of the law? Secondly, in respect of the standard which the Australian Labor Party is stating tonight before this house as the standard it believes governments must live by, I assume that, in respect of its own performance in government, it will be able to prove that during Labor administrations in this city there have been no cases of a breach of the law or, if there have been such cases, the Minister concerned resigned immediately on discovering that the law had been broken. The third test would be the support that they derive from this proposition in texts and in academic statements of what the standard of ministerial responsibility is. They are the three tests I want to apply in this debate tonight.

Let us go through those tests one by one. Mr Speaker, if they say that a Minister should resign because the law has been broken, then presumably there will be some precedents for this having taken place - if not in the ACT, because apparently we are very well behaved here, then somewhere else in Australia or at least in the Westminster world. My colleagues and I have spent much of the last couple of weeks searching for a precedent for what the Assembly proposes to do tonight, searching for a precedent where a Minister has resigned because the law has been broken through the agency of a public servant working beneath that person. We have searched fruitlessly, because we have not found anywhere - not just in the ACT, not just in the Commonwealth of Australia, but anywhere in the Westminster tradition - where a Minister has resigned in these circumstances.

Interestingly, after a debate in which there have been five speakers from the Opposition and two from their colleagues on the crossbenches on this particular matter, after seven speeches on this matter, we have not been given a single precedent for the course of action that they propose to adopt tonight. Is it not tempting for us to assume that they are not stating some long and ancient principle, as they purport to be the case, but in fact they are making a new principle tonight which no-one else has ever had to follow before anywhere in the Westminster tradition? Mr Speaker, that is what it is.

There are many examples of Ministers resigning or being sacked for a variety of other reasons - misleading parliament, inadequately disclosing their personal interests in matters that might cause a conflict of interest and being charged with, or being accused of, particular criminal behaviour. There are plenty of examples to find in each of those categories, but none in the category of a Minister resigning because inadvertently they broke the law through the agency of a person working beneath them.

I think you can see a level of malfeasance in the cases I have referred to. That is the thread that runs through all of those cases of resignation or sacking before - an actual level of malfeasance, either a commission or an omission on the part of a Minister. But that is not evident in this case here. Some members opposite realise that the absence of that has been a problem and so they have alleged in this debate, particularly Mr Quinlan, that it has been there somewhere; that actually there has been a level of deliberation about this; that the Chief Minister intended to set out to break this law; that she knew

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