I note the Solicitor General’s advice released publicly today regarding the matter of appointments to administer Departments while I served as Prime Minister.
I note that the Solicitor General found that the appointments were ‘valid’ and that ‘while there is some historical precedent for the publication in the Gazette of appointments to administer particular departments of State under s 64, there is no consistent practice in that regard.”
To respond to the Solicitor General’s advice I refer to my statement last week where I set out that at no time, other than the consideration of the PEP11 matter from first principles, did I exercise powers established under these lawful authorities. This means that I did not fulfill the function of an Acting or Co-Minister, as has been alleged. Ministers continued to exercise their full authorities without any interference, with my full trust and confidence.
The authorities at issue were put in place as an emergency power to be used only in extreme circumstances due to incapacity or in the national interest. These authorities were only sought with respect to where Ministers could act unilaterally, without reference to or interference by Cabinet or the Prime Minister. The suggestion that Ministers could be instructed or directed on these matters is false.
Given the serious crises facing Australia, I considered it prudent to put these authorities in place should they be necessary as a safeguard. The authorities granted were respected in the fact they were not exercised, as the circumstances for which they were provided did not materialise. In short, the authorities were not misused.
From January 2020 to the time of the election, the Government I led dealt with multiple crises. During that time thousands of decisions were taken. Some precautionary, some active. My focus was on saving lives, saving livelihoods and protecting Australians in one of the most challenging periods we had known since the second world war.
In the extraordinary circumstances I was contending with, decisions were made and then I kept moving forward. We did not dwell on such decisions, especially those of a precautionary nature as they were effectively dormant.
In hindsight, some of these decisions will be reflected upon now and lessons learned. The Solicitor General has noted a number of these points from his perspective in his advice and I am sure this will help guide any changes in these areas.
I will appropriately assist any genuine process to learn the lessons from the pandemic. I would expect that any credible processes would also extend to the actions of the States and Territories.
I’ve reflected further on these matters over the past week. I appreciate the concerns that have been raised in relation to these matters and regret any offence caused. To my colleagues I have expressed this directly.
Notwithstanding the current criticisms of these past decisions, it is important not to lose sight of the result achieved.
Australia came through these crises better than almost any developed country in the world. Tens of thousands of lives were saved, millions of Australians kept their jobs, their businesses and their homes, and Australia stood tall in our region in the face of extraordinary coercion. I am proud of what we achieved.
- the authorities established were valid,
- there is no consistent process for publication,
- 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 case of the PEP11 decision,
- on the PEP11 matter, this was done lawfully from first principles and my intent to do so was advised to the relevant Minister before doing so,
- Australia’s performance through the pandemic was one of the strongest in the developed world,
I accept that many Australians will not agree with, accept or understand all the decisions I made during those difficult times. I can only state that I took the decisions I did as Prime Minister with the best of intentions to do all I could to protect Australia in the face of multiple crises.
I am proud and thankful for what we were able to achieve in such difficult circumstances.