Albanese vowed his government wouldn’t happen in secret — this week showed how far they’ve strayed from that promise

Albanese vowed his government wouldn’t happen in secret — this week showed how far they’ve strayed from that promise
  • PublishedMarch 28, 2024

The trouble with claiming the high moral ground is it leaves you with further to fall when you fail to reach those heights. 

In opposition, Labor would decry tactics that sought to stifle debate and ram legislation through the parliament.

It accused the Coalition of corruption, called for greater transparency in politics and vowed to be better.

The public voted, the Coalition was ousted and Labor moved onto the government benches.

The party’s virtuousness only grew in the early days when it emerged that the former prime minister Scott Morrison had secretly sworn himself into five ministries. 

“There have been revelations of an extraordinary and unprecedented trashing of our democracy by the former Morrison government,” the freshly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.

“This has been government by deception. Government in secret.”

Albanese vowed his government would be different. He pledged his government would be transparent, it would respect the parliament and its checks and balances, it would allow debate and be accountable for the decisions it makes.

Yet if this week is anything to go by, Labor has shown time and time again just how far it has fallen from these promises. 

Clare O'Neil points into the distance at a press conference at parliament house. Andrew Giles is standing behind her
Clare O’Neil and Andrew Giles failed in their bid to rush extraordinary immigration laws through the parliament. (ABC News: Luke Stephenson)

Rushing extraordinary powers 

Walking up to a press conference on Wednesday, Home Affairs Minster Clare O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles looked unrecognisable.

O’Neil arrived in Canberra on the rise. A woman in Labor’s right faction, she was going places and unashamedly doing politics differently.

Fellow Victorian Giles, a left-wing factional power broker, made his legal career representing refugees and asylum seekers before entering parliament.

Labor’s push to change the Sex Discrimination Act and introduce a religious discrimination act has been shrouded in secrecy. 

Albanese insists that’s because it’s a sensitive issue and now isn’t the time for toxic debates about faith and sexuality.

But on Monday, equality campaigner James Elliot-Watson let rip, speaking inside Parliament House, demanding the government act to protect LGBT+ students and staff from discrimination within religious schools. 

“I think the base rate salary for an MP is an excess of $200,000 and they should do their f***ing job,” he said.

“I think it’s ridiculous that the prime minister wants bipartisan support when he’s in the chair — do your job.”

By Tuesday, Albanese was telling Labor’s caucus he was now willing to work with the Greens to pass the laws if the Coalition was unwilling, prompting a rebuke from faith groups who have accused him of a “betrayal of trust”.

James Elliot-Watson and equality campaigners at a press conference inside parliament house
James Elliot-Watson demanded politicians “do your f***ing jobs” and protect LGBT+ students and teachers from discrimination in religious schools. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

No shortage of confidentiality agreements

No shortage of secrecy surrounds what the government is up to at the moment.

Be it changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or Labor’s push to introduce fuel efficiency standards, stakeholders wanting to have a say on shaping government legislation face the prospect of having to sign confidentiality agreements.

It’s not new, Labor did the same when it was seeking to change workplace laws last year. 

But it’s raising eyebrows in the process.

The word unprecedented gets thrown around a lot these days. 

Scott Morrison’s secret ministries sit in rare political territory. Few, if any, of its prime ministerial predecessors ever accumulated the power he quietly acquired.

His actions were the definition of unprecedented and widely condemned by his own side of politics.

A group of people walk towards a camera along a long hallway.
Chris Bowen and Catherine King were flanked by auto industry members as they announced changes to their proposed climate laws for the industry.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Confidentiality agreements certainly aren’t secret ministries. But they silence debate, they limit scrutiny and have the ability to keep hidden what the public has a right to know. 

NDAs work and you need only look to their use in keeping quiet horrific abuses that were brought to bear in the MeToo movement to see the impact they can have in the extreme.

To just accept anything less than secret ministries as a return to normality seems to misunderstand what voters have increasingly been saying.

They want their governments — be it federal, state or local — to be honest and open and voters are moving to third parties to find it, something that was again on show in Tasmania’s state election.

An election looms

Labor started 2024 keen to put 2023 behind it. From the Voice failure to the NZYQ ruling in the High Court, Labor copped a pounding in its first full calendar year in power. 

Albanese was eager to put the cost of living firmly back on the radar, finding himself in the rare political landscape of breaking an election commitment (stage 3 tax cuts) and being rewarded for it

That wind is fast going out of his sail and his government has found itself where it ended last year, fighting fires on many fronts and struggling to take control of the political agenda. 

The last week has reignited internal questions about the prospect of a frontbench reshuffle as the election approaches, fuelled even further by ministerial offices briefing against one another. 

The PM has done well to keep would be aspirants for his job contained, offering poison-pill portfolios to the likes of former leader Bill Shorten (NDIS), former deputy leader Tanya Plibersek (environment and water), Chris Bowen (climate change and energy), O’Neil (home affairs) and left-wing warrior Giles (immigration). 

Reshuffle or not, he’s tasked with containing the fractures that could otherwise create even more headaches for his government.

The US President Joe Biden likes to say “don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative”.

Labor didn’t pledge to just be better than the alternative, it vowed to set new standards.

On that measure, when you consider the secrecy, the attempts to push extraordinary powers through parliament and aversion to public scrutiny, Labor is falling short of its promises.


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