Ministerial resignations in Australia: The Coalition sets a new record

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

In an exclusive for Independent Australia, Alan Austin updates federal ministerial sackings and resignations since the Whitlam years.

THE COALITION GOVERNMENT, now staggering towards almost certain demise, will leave behind several abysmal records. Among these is a rate of ministerial departures which may never be exceeded.

If ministerial integrity and time in office reflect Government competence, then this has been the least competent in Australia’s modern history. By far.

Since the 2013 election, 36 federal ministries and assistant ministries have terminated under a cloud. Calculated per year in office, this is vastly higher than any recent administration. Almost certainly Australia’s highest ever.

Comparative outcomes

Earlier IA updates of ministerial departures identified four separate categories:

     A. Ethics and legality: failure to comply with parliamentary standards or the law.

     B. Performance: portfolio mismanagement or underachievement.

     C. Policy and party positions: internal disputes over policy or leadership. Resignations in this category may indicate Government dysfunction, but not necessarily failure on the part of the departing minister.

     D. Routine reshuffles, voluntary retirement or replacement for generational change.

Departees prior to December 2017 are named here, here and here.

With an election looming and hence the need for as much useful information as possible, let’s update the ledger.

The last 47 years include three Labor periods under five prime ministers totalling almost 22 years. It also takes in three Coalition stints under five PMs totalling 25 years.

A. Ethics and legality

In total since the Whitlam era, 42 ministerial resignations have been prompted by ethical failures or legal infractions. Of these, 32 were Coalition ministers. Ten were Labor.

The breakdown for each administration is thus:

Gough Whitlam: 3

Malcolm Fraser: 7
Bob Hawke: 3
Paul Keating: 3

John Howard: 15

Rudd/Gillard/Rudd: 1
Tony Abbott: 1

Turnbull/Morrison: 9

Total: 42

Labor: 10

Coalition: 32

[Notes: (i) This analysis includes all executive council members — cabinet members, other ministers and parliamentary secretaries; (ii) several dismissed ministers have since been reinstated. Being sidelined is not evidence of failure or fault in itself; (iii) category B includes ministers tossed out by voters at an election where the government was returned.]

B. Poor ministerial performance

14 ministers have left over performance, of whom 11 were Coalition and three were Labor. That is a statistically significant difference.

The breakdown over time is thus:

Gough Whitlam: 1

Malcolm Fraser: 1
Bob Hawke: 0
Paul Keating: 1

John Howard: 5

Rudd/Gillard/Rudd: 1
Tony Abbott: 2

Turnbull/Morrison: 3

Total: 14

Labor: 3

Coalition: 11

C. Policy disputes and party positions

When we include category C resignations – over matters of Government policy and leadership – the numbers even up slightly. There have been 48 of these in the last 47 years, of which 29 were Coalition and 19 Labor. The latter number includes the aberrantly high 13 at the turbulent end of the Gillard period.

Taking all three categories together – A, B and C – and measuring the rate of exit per year in office enables ranking from the most stable to least stable, as follows:

Kevin Rudd, both terms together: 0.72 exits per year

Bob Hawke: 0.80 per year

Paul Keating: 0.95 per year

Gough Whitlam: 1.65 per year

Malcolm Fraser: 1.66 per year

John Howard: 2.05 per year

Julia Gillard: 4.65 per year

Tony Abbott: 4.95 per year

Turnbull/Morrison: 7.24 per year

Thus the worst Government – Turnbull/Morrison’s – has an exit rate ten times that of the best which was Kevin Rudd’s. The rate under Turnbull/Morrison is four times the rate of all other regimes averaged together, including the hapless Abbott period.

In category D – routine reshuffles, replacement for generational change or voluntary retirement – the tallies are the same. Both Labor and the Coalition sidelined 43 ministers in their 22 and 25 years, respectively.

Why does this matter?

Traditionally, all Westminster democracies have valued ministerial integrity highly. The character and performance of ministers are critical to a nation’s success. Particularly in international affairs – such as strengthening defence ties, securing military hardware contracts and closing trade deals – ministers are responsible for critical outcomes, often involving tens of billions of dollars.

The above data shows Australia’s recent record has been truly appalling. This reality should be front and centre in the current election campaign.

Role of the media

A Coalition assistant minister was sacked just last December after a tawdry sex scandal. Remember? Do you recall his name? The mainstream media reported it discretely for five minutes, then left it alone. That contrasts with the countless articles, including dramatic front-page splashes, hounding Labor backbencher Craig Thomson over several years.

Ministerial integrity is one of several critically important topics on which the craven mainstream media operate to protect the Liberal and National parties rather than serve the Australian people by informing them.

Search online for “ministerial integrity Australia”. Nothing. Or “Coalition Government ministers sacked”. No results. Or “record ministerial resignations Australia”. Crickets.

If a Labor administration had lost 36 ministers in disgrace or following party infighting in the last two terms, the screams of outrage and demands for electoral annihilation would be ceaseless. And deafening.

List of recent departures

For the record, Coalition ministers and assistants who have departed since 2013 in each category are:

A. ethics and legality

(B) ministerial performance

(C) policy and leadership

(D) routine change

Will voters bear all this in mind on 18 May?

Stand up for human rights! Read about Alan Austin's current situation HERE and help out by contributing to the crowd-funding campaign HEREYou can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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