Modern ministerial sackings (Part 2): Scams, sex, shares and citizenship

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons)

Three quarters of the Federal ministers forced to leave their posts in the last 45 years have been from the conservative side of politics. Alan Austin continues this exclusive Independent Australia series.

[Read Part One]

Part Two: Scams, sex, shares and citizenship

There have been 40 Australian Federal ministers sacked or forced to resign over ethical or legal lapses in the last 45 years. The surprise when these departures are analysed is that the vast majority – a clear three quarters – have been from the so-called conservative side of politics.

Who are these miscreants and what exactly did they do?

[Notes: (i) This analysis includes cabinet members, other ministers and parliamentary secretaries, now known as assistant ministers. (ii) Several dismissed ministers listed have since been reinstated. Being sidelined is not evidence of failure or fault in itself.]

Whitlam Labor Government (Dec 1972 to Dec 1975): Three removals

Treasurer Jim Cairns was demoted to a junior portfolio for misleading Parliament over overseas loans; Rex Connor resigned for making misleading statements in the matter; and Jim Cairns was sacked again a month later when an incriminating letter on the subject came to light.

Fraser Coalition Government (Dec 1975 to March 1983): Seven removals

These were: Victor Garland, following allegations of electoral offences, later dismissed; Phillip Lynch, over using a family trust to minimise tax; Glenister Sheil, over support for South Africa’s apartheid; Reg Withers, after a Royal Commission on electoral redistribution; Ian Sinclair, over allegations of forgery; Michael MacKellar, over alleged import fraud; and John Moore, over the fraud cover-up.

Hawke Labor Government (March 1983 to Dec 1991): three removals

Mick Young, for breaching cabinet secrecy over the Ivanov affair; John Brown, for misleading parliament over a contentious contract; and Mick Young, again, over election donations.

Keating Labor Government (Dec 1991 to March 1996): three removals

Graham Richardson, for using his influence to help a relative avoid a court penalty; Alan Griffiths, following accusations relating to electoral office funds; and Graham Richardson, again, amid claims of  improper influence. Griffiths was later exonerated.

Howard Coalition Government (March 1996 to Nov 2007): 15 removals

Jim Short and Brian Gibson for holding undeclared shares in companies within their portfolios; Bob Woods for misusing parliamentary privileges and personal matters; Geoff Prosser for failing to declare comercial interests in his portfolio area; three ministers – John Sharp, Peter McGauran and David Jull – for misuse of travel allowances; Warwick Parer over share holdings and false declarations; Peter Reith for breaches relating to a parliamentary Telecard and other matters; Michael Wooldridge after a series of breaches of ministerial responsibility including the 1998 “scan scam” disclosed by the Auditor-General and his claimed 2001 defamation of AMA President Kerryn Phelps; Ross Cameron after revelations of a series of scandals, Bill Heffernan after using forged documents to slander a High Court judge; Ian Campbell in 2007 for dealings with disgraced lobbyist Brian Burke; Wilson Tuckey for attempting to fix a police matter involving his son; and Santo Santoro for unethical share trading and then misleading the PM.
Departures of several of these – including Woods, Parer, Wooldridge, Reith, Heffernan and Tuckey – were pragmatically delayed. Some, with an election approaching, were permitted to complete the parliamentary term before the sacking took effect. All were forced removals nonetheless.

First Rudd Labor Government (Nov 2007 to June 2010): One removal

Joel Fitzgibbon, following allegations of an association with a foreign businesswoman that posed a security risk and of using his position improperly to assist his brother.

Gillard Labor Government (June 2010 to June 2013): None

Second Rudd Government (June 2013 to Sept 2013): None

Abbott Coalition Government (Sept 2013 to Sept 2015): One

Arthur Sinodinos resigned following ICAC revelations relating to donations to the Liberal Party. He was later reinstated.

Turnbull Coalition Government (Sept 2015 to present): Seven

These were: Jamie Briggs, Mal Brough, Stuart Robert, Sussan Ley, Matt Canavan, Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash. Their misdemeanours were outlined here in part one.

Hence, ministerial departures for ethical and legal issues tally:

  • Gough Whitlam: 3
  • Malcolm Fraser: 7
  • Bob Hawke: 3
  • Paul Keating: 3
  • John Howard: 15
  • 1st Kevin Rudd: 1
  • Julia Gillard: 0
  • 2nd Kevin Rudd: 0
  • Tony Abbott: 1
  • Malcolm Turnbull: 7

Total: 40

Labor: 10 (25%)

Coalition: 30 (75%)

Several questions arise from this list.

How many ministers should be on this list for serious misdemeanours, but were retained in office to avoid further damaging the government?

Canadian academic Matthew Kerby, claimed in 2011:

'There are a number of notable non-resignations in Howard’s government in this category including Alexander Downer (in April 2006) … [who] had misled either parliament or the Cole corruption inquiry into the AWB kickbacks scandal; De-Anne Kelly in December 2004, despite Howard’s admission she had broken the ministerial code of conduct in unlawfully approving grants to electorally sensitive areas unconnected with her portfolio; Robert Hill who had failed to act on senior Australian military lawyers’ reported concerns over the treatment of prisoners in Iraq … there were additionally several calls for Howard to resign following claims he had misled parliament over the children overboard affair and, earlier, over meetings with businessman Dick Honan.'

These, however, will always be matters of conjecture rather than proof.

So, why is there such a dramatic discrepancy between the two sides of politics? Do Labor MPs drawn from the helping professions – teaching, academia, trade unions, social work and “soft” law – have instinctively higher ethical values than those drawn from business, accountancy, lobbying and “hard” law?

Does this also explain why there are more Labor departures in protest over matters of principle than Coalition?

Naturally, Labor Party members and supporters would like to think so. But is it true? What alternative explanations are there?

And why have Australia’s mainstream media failed to report, let alone analyse, the extraordinary three-to-one imbalance? Wait … Sorry, dopey question …

Discussion on these questions in the comments section, following, is most welcome.

Read Part Three: 'Ministerial resignations over performance and party position: Who, when and why'

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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