Individual ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that a Minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their ministry or department.
This means that if waste, corruption, or any other misbehaviour or misconduct is found to have occurred within a ministry, the Minister is responsible even if the minister had no knowledge of the actions.
If misdeeds are found to have occurred in a ministry, the Minister is expected to resign.
The principle is considered essential, as it is seen to guarantee that an elected official is answerable for every single government decision. It is also important to motivate ministers to closely scrutinize the activities within their departments. One rule coming from this principle is that each Minister answers for their own ministry in Question Time in the Parliament.
The Paddington Bear Affair
In 1984, when Customs officials searched a suitcase belonging to the wife of Hawke Government Cabinet Minister, Mick Young, they found a Paddington bear. Then they discovered that the Minister hadn’t declared it, therefore failing to pay the correct duty.
Mick Young had to resign until he was judicially cleared.
The Colour TV Affair
In 1982, Michael MacKellar, a Fraser Government Minister, brought a colour TV into the country, but listed it on the customs form as black and white, therefore avoiding duty. He was sacked, along with the Minister for Customs, John Moore, who handled the issue clumsily.
The current Stardards of Ministerial Ethics were introduced in 2007. The Standards are “underpinned by the principle that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility and the public interest.”
Principles 1.3 (i)
“Ministers must accept accountability for the exercise of the powers and functions of their office – that is, to ensure that their conduct, representations and decisions as Ministers, and the conduct, representations and decisions of those who act as their delegates or on their behalf – are open to public scrutiny and explanation“.
“Ministers are required to provide an honest and comprehensive account of their exercise of public office, and of the activities of the agencies within their portfolios, in response to any reasonable and bona fide enquiry by a member of the Parliament or a Parliamentary Committee“.
“Ministers must not encourage or induce other public officials, including public servants, by their decisions, directions or conduct in office to breach the law, or to fail to comply with the relevant code of ethical conduct applicable to them in their official capacity. Ministers are also expected to ensure that reasonable measures are put in place in the areas of their responsibility to discourage or prevent corrupt conduct by officials“.
The Public Interest 6.1
“Ministers are expected to conduct all official business on the basis that they may be expected to demonstrate publicly that their actions and decisions in conducting public business were taken with the sole objective of advancing the public interest”.