Monday, 2 December 2019
Private Members' Business
Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption
by leave—I move:
(1)the House notes that:
(a)over a long time now the behaviour of both major parties has made it abundantly clear that Parliament cannot deal with matters of ministerial integrity, and Australia urgently needs a Federal Integrity Commission;
(b)Australia needs a strong and independent integrity commission that can launch its own inquiries, hold public hearings, make public findings and examine federal politicians and their staff;
(c)the scope of this integrity commission must extend beyond criminal offences to a range of corrupt and unethical behaviour including donation-fuelled favouritism, cronyism and the rorting of parliamentary entitlements;
(d)the Federal Government's proposed National Integrity Commission is half-baked and would be the weakest watchdog in the country with its investigations being held behind closed doors and the results kept secret; and
(e)the Australian people's trust in members of parliament is at an all-time low and we need to rebuild the culture of integrity in this Parliament because it is essential that the community has faith in the institutions of government;
(2)the House further notes that, in September this year, the Senate passed a bill to establish a federal anti-corruption commission; and
(3)the Members for Clark, Kennedy, Mayo and Melbourne therefore call on the major parties for bipartisan support for a strong, well-funded, wide ranging and independent national integrity commission without delay.
I thank the minister. It's self-evident that politics, politicians and, indeed, some of the political parties have become an absolute laughing-stock in this country. Last week in here, we should have been preoccupied in debating and looking at making progress on the big issues, like the drought, the bushfires, climate change and Westpac and the shocking revelations that they were complicit with money laundering on a grand scale. As I've said, we have become—and, regrettably, this place has become—a national laughing-stock. Last week, we should have been in here working collegiately, addressing the big issues like the drought that's gripping this country and the terrible bushfires that are burning and are set to get worse over summer. We should have been talking about climate change and its relationship with the drought and the bushfires. We should have been talking in detail about the Westpac Banking Corporation and the remarkable and shocking revelations about how that bank has been complicit in money laundering on a grand scale. But do you know what we were doing here most of the time last week? We were arguing, disrupting and doing everything to make this place look like a complete shambles.
I very rarely abstain from voting in this place, because my job is to come in here and make a decision, but it got to a point late last week where I just couldn't bring myself to come in here. I think I speak for some of my crossbench colleagues as well. There were just nonsensical party games costing the taxpayer an enormous amount of money in both the cost of keeping this place open for no good reason and the great cost to the taxpayer and the community because we were not addressing the issues that concern them.
I would be the first to say—and I'm sure I speak for my colleagues—that the allegations swirling around the member for Hume are important. They're very important. So too is the controversy surrounding the Prime Minister's phone call to the New South Wales Police commissioner very important. We do need to debate those issues and shine a light on them, but those matters became a reason for a much broader ranging set of behaviour last week: bullying, arguing, demonising and disrupting—so much so that, at one point, the member for New England was delivering a very worthwhile speech about the case of Julian Assange and was shut down. Even worse, the member for Herbert was talking about the critically important issue of veterans and veteran suicides and was shut down, and not for any good reason. It was not because he should have been shut down. I think the opposition at the time made clear what he was talking about. It was simply to disrupt this place. It's not okay.
Once again, it's been left to the crossbench to represent the community and to talk about the big issues, like this morning: the member for Kennedy spoke about misconduct in the banking sector and among the auditors and the need for reform; I spoke about the need to shut down live exports; the member for Melbourne spoke about climate change; and the member for Mayo spoke about donation reform. These are the issues the community wants us to be in here talking about—not shutting down the member for Herbert when he's talking about veterans and the rate of veteran suicide and not shutting down the member for New England when he's talking about the case of Julian Assange and the injustice that's been meted out to him.
The fact is that this parliament has become completely and utterly incapable of addressing issues of parliamentary integrity. Either it doesn't go there or it just turns it into a slanging match and a political pointscoring exercise. Just some names that come to mind in the nine years I've been in this place and the nine years the member for Melbourne's been in this place—and, heavens, I reckon if we had a list for the time during which the member Kennedy has been in two parliaments it'd be a very long list!—are Sam Dastyari, Susan Ley, Angus Taylor, Stuart Robert, Bronwyn Bishop, Peter Dutton, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb, Stephen Conroy and Bruce Billson. These were all very important episodes where there was a question of behaviour and integrity and in every case it just became a catalyst for a slanging match and pointscoring, instead of dealing objectively, carefully and fairly with the facts of the matter. I make the point again: this place has become incapable and is seen by the community as being incapable of dealing with matters of integrity.
The government would say that they're working on—they have indeed been working on it for some time—some sort of federal integrity commission. But it's not going to solve the problem, because the federal integrity commission that is being worked up by the government will be completely, utterly and, to any reasonable observer, undeniably ineffective. For example, the integrity commission that's being progressed by the government will be able to investigate only conduct that is 'capable of constituting a nominated range of specific criminal offences', to quote the government. In other words, it will be set up to fail. It will be set up by design to not be able to investigate what we'll call corruption that isn't a very specific criminal offence.
Another concern: the integrity commission that the government is working up will not be able to hold public hearings, even though it is essential that the integrity commission be given the ability to hold public hearings when it is carefully judged to be in the public interest to do so. In other words, it's able to look at only some very specific acts of misconduct that might be criminal, and it can do it only behind closed doors. So we won't even see what they're up to and what they're doing. Thirdly, referrals to the integrity commission that the government's working on can be made only by certain agencies—not by members of the public, not by whistleblowers and not even on the integrity commission's own initiative. This is a breathtaking shortfall in the integrity commission that the government has on the table again. And I'll make that point again: if we're to believe the government, we're to believe that it is okay for the integrity commission not to listen to complaints from members of the public and not to listen to whistleblowers, who increasingly in this country are the only people who are actually publicising and bringing to everyone's attention misconduct.
Finally, the model proposed by the government is prevented from making findings of 'corruption, criminal conduct or misconduct at large', and the results of the integrity commission's investigations cannot be made public. It's a sham—a complete and utter sham. No wonder the community has had a gutful of politics, politicians and some political parties. It's to the great credit of our country that it runs so well despite us, despite the way this parliament works, despite the way politicians claim to represent them—because they don't. The fact is that this place has become unable to deal with issues of integrity, and the integrity commission that the government has on the table will be completely and utterly ineffective and will do nothing to restore the public's confidence in this place. And remember: it's not just confidence that we might deal with stuff; it's that we're seen to deal with stuff. What did members of the public make of last week? No wonder they have the view of us that they do.
I implore the government and the opposition to support the motion before the House today. It would go one small way towards restoring public confidence in this place. Of course, the alternative—if this motion is not supported by the government and not supported by the opposition—will just confirm in the minds of so many members of the public that we in here don't care about questions of integrity; that we don't care about dealing with questions of integrity; and that we're all in here just as part of a slanging match, which has everything to do, apparently, with political self-interest and nothing to do with the public interest. I commend the motion to the House.