I note the report of the Bell Inquiry, welcome the recommendations and thank the Hon. Virginia Bell and her office for conducting The Inquiry.
I was pleased to assist The Inquiry with six separate and comprehensive responses to matters raised with me and my legal representatives by Hon. Virginia Bell. This engagement was done via correspondence as was the practice with other respondents to The Inquiry and accepted by Hon. Virginia Bell.
In relation to the broader matters that were subject of The Inquiry I note that at all times as Prime Minister I sought to exercise my responsibilities in a manner that would best advance and protect Australia’s national interests and the welfare of the Australian people. This was done during a time of significant challenge not seen since the Second World War and the Great Depression.
I am pleased that through these efforts and so many others that Australia was able to emerge from this period of significant crisis in a safer and more prosperous position than almost any other country in the world. This was our objective.
I note the criticisms made of my decision to be authorised to administer a series of departments where Ministers had specific powers not subject to the oversight of Cabinet. These decisions were taken during an extremely challenging period, where there was a need for considerable urgency. I note that the criticisms of my decisions have been made after the event and with the benefit of this perspective.
I also note that as Prime Minister my awareness of issues regarding national security and the national interest was broader than that known to individual Ministers and certainly to the Inquiry. This limits the ability for third parties to draw definitive conclusions on such matters.
I also note the following facts that remain unchanged from the Inquiry:
– the authorities established were valid and were not found to be unlawful;
– the authorities were established as a dormant redundancy and where enlivened relevant Ministers and officials were engaged;
– there is no consistent or well understood process for publication of the establishment of authorities to administer departments in the Government Gazette or otherwise;
– no instruction was given by me as Prime Minister or my office not to publish these arrangements in the Government Gazette;
– no powers were exercised under these authorities, except in the case of the PEP11 decision, or misused;
– Ministers exercised their portfolio authorities fully, with my utmost confidence and trust, without intervention;
– as Prime Minister I did not ‘Act’ as Minister or engage in any ‘Co-Minister’ arrangements, except in the specific case of the PEP11 decision and not otherwise for that department.
On the PEP11 matter, this was done lawfully from first principles. My intent to do so was also advised to the relevant Minister in advance.
In relation to my communication with my ministerial colleagues on these matters, I have addressed these issues privately with my colleagues at the time these issues were reported several months ago.
I am pleased that this matter has now concluded and I can continue, as I have since the last election, to serve the people of Cook as their federal member of parliament.
Australia’s performance through the pandemic was one of the strongest in the developed world.