Feb 13, 2007

Assistant Ministers get the glory and perks, but are not accountable

Assistant Ministers get the glory and perks, but are not accountable

MEDIA RELEASE – ANTHONY ALBANESE MP

13 February 2007

Today the Government gagged debate on its outrageous measures to undermine parliamentary democracy and accountability.

The Government’s changes to Standing Orders to stop Assistant Ministers being asked questions in Parliament accompanied the move to halve speaking time on Matters of Public Importance.

The new so-called Assistant Ministers are: Assistant Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr John Cobb and Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing, Mr Christopher Pyne.

The creation of this new title was an attempt to hide the demotion of Mr Cobb and the failure to promote Mr Pyne.

Ministers are normally required to answer Questions without Notice put to them regarding portfolios for which they have responsibility.

Under the Government’s new practices, Assistant Ministers are shielded from this level of scrutiny but still receive many Ministerial privileges.

Today in Senate Estimates, Department of Finance officials confirmed Mr Cobb is entitled to keep an Electorate Office the size of that given to Ministers in Government in spite of his demotion to Assistant Minister

Assistant Ministers get the glory and perks of Ministers, but are not accountable.

After eleven long years of a Howard Government, the basic Westminster principles are being demolished. This is an arrogant abuse of power by a government that regards parliamentary democracy as an inconvenience.

On 24 January 2007, Mr Cobb publicly stated that he has a “dream” portfolio because water will be his main responsibility, saying: " I’m very excited about water being my area of responsibility in the future”.

The Parliament is the most appropriate place for Ministers with portfolio responsibilities to be scrutinised.

It is shameful that the Howard Government is determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny in an election year.