Motions – Parliament, 23 March 2023

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (10:33): Thank you, Senator Lambie, for what you did yesterday. I, like most of us here, would like to see who our elected members of parliament are meeting with in their offices in the halls of power. Our liberal democratic system of government is based on trust. That’s what it’s based on. That is why it is both the strongest and, at the same time, the most fragile form of government on earth. Liberal democracies are strong because of the compact between governments and citizens. Governments like ours do not rule by force but by the consent of the governed. Citizens grant elected officials authority to govern in return for these officials representing them well. If we do not represent the people well, what happens then is we get tossed out at the next election at the ballot box, and rightly so.

Abraham Lincoln described ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’—that’s what he said. Winston Churchill—what did he say? He said of democracy, ‘It’s the worst form of government, aside from all the others.’ Here in Australia our system of government has served us well since Australia was federated. We’re one of the freest and most peaceful nations on earth—we all agree with that one. Liberal democracies are the envy of every person who has ever been doomed to live under autocratic rule. That’s why people flee to the West. That’s why people never flee to those countries where more coercive forms of government exist. Yet our system of government, like I said before, is fragile because it’s built on trust. The strength of our democracy depends on trust between everyone in this place and the public.

I know it’s a popular pastime to joke about the trustworthiness of politicians, but, by and large, despite some scandals here and there, most people still believe that most of us in this place are here with the best of intentions. I believe that, for the most part, that’s true. It is incumbent upon us here to do everything we can to ensure that that belief and that sacred trust remain and grow. It is for that reason that I support the idea that ministers should make their diaries public. It’s just a good idea. It’s essential to a well-functioning democracy. When people suspect that things are hidden, even if they’re not hidden, trust is eroded. But when people see that things are in the open and freely available for inspection then trust is built. There can be no faith in government when government officials are exempt from scrutiny.

We in this place want to be well respected. We must respect our electors by committing to transparency wherever it’s possible. Once again: transparency builds trust. It’s not like we’re asking ministers to disclose their secret teenage ‘dear diary’ entries from when they were kids. These are official meetings, and, for the most part, these meetings are in the public interest. We are elected in this place to serve the public. As part of our public service it is only fair that those who hold powerful positions release their diaries to the public. Ministers have power; ministers have influence. It is important that that power and influence are scrutinised. We know, as has been mentioned, that in this place there exist many lobbyists, many special interest groups—many individuals seeking to exert influence over everyone here. Trust in government ministers benefits those ministers, since the public are probably more likely to vote for them if they trust them.

Senator Roberts: Hear, hear!

Senator BABET: That’s right! And trust in government ministers benefits the nation more broadly, as greater trust means a stronger democracy. I’ll point to a recent example. The Prime Minister met with our mate Bill Gates recently in a secret meeting—well, we know that he met with him but we don’t know what they talked about. This man is one of the biggest funders of the World Health Organization in the world. Having just come out of a pandemic, I’d love to know what the Prime Minister and Bill Gates talked about.