Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity Committee; Report
by leave—I would like to endorse the comments of the member for Bowman just a few moments ago. Labor members support the recommendations in the Integrity of Australia's border arrangements report of the Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. However, there are a number of matters that we put on record which warrant particular emphasis and which I will summarise in my remarks.
Most significantly, this inquiry has further highlighted the urgent need for a broad based independent and powerful national integrity commission to tackle corruption. At present, the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity is too narrow, as evidenced by extraordinary examples of jurisdictional issues preventing it from conducting investigations into extremely serious allegations of corruption. For example, an allegation that an agriculture officer was facilitating drug importations and terrorism financing was deemed not to be within the jurisdiction of ACLEI.
As the committee report notes, the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General announced that the government would expand ACLEI's jurisdiction to include the entirety of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. The announcement of an expanded jurisdiction was made two years ago. Since then the government has shown no urgency to follow through on its commitment. In other words, the government continues to allow an intolerable risk to Australia's border security—and therefore to Australia's biosecurity and national security—to remain unchecked.
Last month, the government finally released an exposure draft of a bill to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. The proposed model includes two divisions: one of those divisions would be responsible for investigating politicians and most Commonwealth public servants. The powers of the public sector division would be significantly weaker than those of ACLEI and it would operate entirely in secret. It would not be able to self-initiate investigations into possible corruption and, unlike ACLEI, it would not even be able to make findings of corruption. The other division would be ACLEI, which would continue to operate as it currently operates, albeit with an expanded jurisdiction.
The Morrison government's preferred model for a Commonwealth integrity commission has been widely criticised by legal and anticorruption experts. The impact of corruption is profound. As well as eroding public trust in governments and institutions and costing taxpayers money that could be used to improve people's lives, corruption can threaten the health, safety and security of all Australians. Labor members have put on the public record our concerns about the lack of urgency shown by the current government when it comes to investigating or tackling corruption, including at Australia's borders, and the government's proposed Commonwealth integrity commission, which appears to fall well short of what is needed to investigate and tackle corruption.
I also record our concerns about the conduct and quality of ACLEI's investigation into allegations of corruption, including into the Department of Home Affairs and Crown casino. This was known as Operation Angove. The allegations investigated by Operation Angove were incredibly serious. They related to possible corruption by Home Affairs staff in relation to the provision of Australian visas for Crown VIPs, possible corruption by Australian Border Force staff in relation to the clearing of those VIPs at the Australian border and possible corruption by an individual ABF staff member who was also employed by a VIP junket operator.
After a 12-month investigation by ACLEI, the current Integrity Commissioner concluded there was no evidence of corrupt conduct by Home Affairs or the ABF. However, ACLEI did not interview a single employee or former employee of Crown. ACLEI conducted only one formal interview over the course of Operation Angove. ACLEI did not attempt to contact the former Crown employee turned whistleblower who spoke to the 60 Minutes program in relation to the provision of Australian visas for Crown VIPs. ACLEI did not attempt to contact any of the officials who were directly responsible for processing visa applications for Crown VIPs. ACLEI did not follow up when ABF officers ignored requests for information. And the Integrity Commissioner's report does not refer to the highly relevant fact that the Crown junket operator who employed a serving ABF officer as an extraordinarily well-paid personal assistant was suspected of committing a range of serious criminal offences.
Accordingly, Labor members are not satisfied that the Operation Angove investigation was sufficiently robust. We do not make these comments lightly. This committee has a duty to monitor and review the Integrity Commissioner's performance of his or her functions. It is therefore important that committee members give voice to their concerns when, in their view, the commissioner's performance has fallen short of what the Australian community and the parliament expect. Noting the committee is not authorised to reconsider the Integrity Commissioner's decisions or recommendations, we also make it clear that we are in no way suggesting that the Integrity Commissioner's conclusion that there was no corrupt conduct by Home Affairs or ABF staff was wrong. What we are suggesting is that the process that led to the commissioner to reach that conclusion was deficient.
Our comments are confined to Operation Angove only and should not be interpreted as criticism of individual investigators or the performance of ACLEI more generally, which has done, and continues to do, very important work to a commendably high standard. With those comments, I thank the secretariat for their support of the committee and commend the report to the House.