Kevin Rudd should ask Joel Fitzgibbon to stand aside while an investigation is held into whether there are any other disclosures he has failed to make, as required by Parliament.
That’s what the Prime Minister’s own code of conduct says should happen.
That would also be the most politically prudent course. Rudd is engaged in probably the most significant of his many overseas trips. But as he attends the G20 meeting to grapple with the economic crisis, every question in the surrounding press conferences and public appearances will hang on the tawdry domestic detail of Joel Fitzgibbon’s failings.
In the longer run, Fitzgibbon cannot stay at Defence anyway. A breakdown of trust between Minister and Defence Department is nothing new. In fact, under John Moore, Peter Reith and Robert Hill it was par for the course. But our current strategic circumstances require a Minister who can control, and be seen to control, the sprawling Defence bureaucracy. Fitzgibbon is only the latest in a long line of mid-ranking ministers who have failed to bring Defence to heel. It is time the portfolio was given to a more senior Minister, one with the internal authority and gumption to frighten both uniforms and recalcitrant bureaucrats. And they should be supported with junior ministers who can take some of the workload — particularly in procurement. Defence is too important to be left to the generals.