House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022, National Anti-Corruption Commission (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2022; Second Reading

1:11 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

That's true. That is a big statement, member for New England, but it is true, because to cast an informal vote is thumbing your nose at those people who lost their lives fighting for this country. You should cast your ballot in favour of someone who is going to represent your electorate, someone who's going to come into this place and fight for the interests of your local communities, your local region. That's what it's all about. I would say that all, or perhaps almost all, of the people who come to this House of Representatives, and the Senate too for that matter, come in with the very best of intentions.

I listened closely to the member for Reid talking about how politics and politicians were at a low ebb at the moment. That is sad and true, but we shouldn't disparage our profession and one another to the point where the community has that feeling. Of course social media plays a big part in that. The sewer that Twitter can be plays a big part in it if it's left unchecked. There's a lot of scrutiny on politicians, not the same scrutiny that's applied on those people who necessarily write about politicians, who broadcast about politicians. I'm not directly having a crack at the fourth estate, the press gallery. There are times when we make mistakes and we lose our jobs. They make mistakes and they might have a Walkley Award taken from them, or there might be some repercussions, but it's not as much as the court of public opinion, that is the pub test. That is of course different to corruption.

We support an anticorruption commission because corruption is wrong, and we know that, and corruption should not be tolerated in any form. But, by the same token, we have to get the parameters of this legislation right such that we don't get innocent people—who may be named or may be shamed, indeed, by association—dragged through some anticorruption hearing, who are as honest as the day is long, who are more pure than the driven snow. That's what worries me about this legislation and about the Anti-Corruption Commission.

I am in favour of an anticorruption commission. I have nothing to hide; I very much want to see an anticorruption commission. Indeed, I was asked a question—one of those 'yes' or 'no' gotcha moments at a pre-election forum. A lawyer from Wagga Wagga asked me the question—just 'yes' or 'no'; he asked it of all the candidates—and I said, 'Yes, I am in favour of an anticorruption commission.' But let's get it right, such that innocent people don't have their names dragged through the mud by their local press, by their local community or by some person who just wants to grind their axe on that person—and that's what worries me.

I well remember my former local state member and the former Premier of New Wales going before the Independent Commission Against Corruption. And we all know about it; it was a well-publicised hearing. There were intimate details expressed to one another via a telephone call, which was being tapped. The ICAC hearing said that hearing should have been held in camera, in secret. And it should have been, but it wasn't, and that is unfortunate. Sensitive details of the relationship between the pair were—the Sydney Morning Herald used the word 'inadvertently'—made public after the Independent Commission Against Corruption uploaded suppressed evidence to its website.

We're all humans; we all have views. Whilst I appreciate the independence of such bodies as ICAC, imagine getting a board or a hearing or a so-called independent group determining such a thing, and somehow, some way, it inadvertently gets broadcast for all of the public to see, for all of the public to hear, for all of the public to read. This is what happens. Well may you smile, member opposite, but this is what happens, and it's grist for the media mill, and that is so, so unfortunate. Of course, they're named, they're damned, they're shamed, and once the mud is thrown there's no cleaning the mud off, particularly in regional communities, where everybody seems to know everybody else's business.

People who break the law should face the law—there's no question. It was this side of politics that introduced Australia's first ICAC back in 1988, and we are currently introducing laws, powers, that we feel should be applied in a fair and reasonable way, and I'm not so certain that this legislation does just that. We hear from the purists who sit over there, the Independents. Fair dinkum—some of these Independents in both state and federal parliaments in Australia, on any given issue, take an each-way bet. Honestly, if it's one way or the other, they agree with both, such that they get so many splinters in their backside they almost need hospitalisation to extricate them. That is the way. And they're always pure and perfect. I'll tell you why they're pure and perfect. It's because they will never, ever sit around a cabinet table or a ministerial meeting and have to make a decision. They'll never have to make a decision to save themselves. The media in their local communities will ask them for a view, and they'll take an each-way bet. It's no wonder they want to have legislation such as this with powers such as this brought to a place such as this; unless they're totally corrupt, they'll never be called to account because they'll never be making a decision to save themselves.

If you are making a decision, as the member for New England and I have in the infrastructure space, when the funding for those pools of money, those limited resources, those limited amounts of money—being former deputy prime ministers and former infrastructure ministers, we know full well that those grant funding programs are oversubscribed six and seven to one. Yes, you take advice from the bureaucrats. You have a full ministerial council which sits over the decision, and you make a decision. And sometimes you actually go to members, be they Labor members—who were then in opposition—or your colleagues, and ask them for a view on a particular project, because it's the local member who knows best—better than the Canberra bureaucrat who doesn't know diddly squat, quite frankly, and doesn't care and won't take responsibility and won't ever have their name on a ballot paper. Yet, somehow, some way, some people in this place think it is bureaucrats who should be making the decisions about funding programs for regional Australia, for any community, for any of our 151 electorates in Australia. I don't think that's the proper way. Yet, if you make a decision, God forbid you make a decision that is for your own electorate—and I appreciate you have to make a declaration saying, 'That's my electorate and that funding is going to my electorate.'

The independents somehow, even though they were very much recipients and beneficiaries of some of the coalition largess when we were giving out regional funding, seem to think that's corrupt. They seem to think a Canberra bureaucrat is better placed to make a decision than a member of parliament who happens to be elected to cabinet. I didn't come to this place to get elected, appointed or voted in as a cabinet minister; I was just very fortunate, very privileged and very honoured, and I know the member for New England felt the same way about his elevation. We chaired those Building Better Regions Fund meetings with a full ministerial council, taking the advice of the bureaucrats but not necessarily following it to the letter of the law because we felt we knew, and that our colleagues knew and that our opponents knew, what was best for our communities rather than a faceless bureaucrat in Canberra who will never have their name on a ballot paper. That is the truth. But is that corrupt? No, it's not. But, somehow, in some way, the independents will tell you that it is, and that really bugs me. It bugs me as well that you then get the media on your case simply because you have a situation whereby some organisation, some local government area, has got a funding grant that was somehow, in some way, because of a decision made by a Canberra bureaucrat, scored a little bit less than some other application of another area—or, indeed, in the same area—just because that council may well have had the resources, capacity and the staff to put together a better application than the more deserving recipient—and that is the absolute truth.

The unions are carved out from this legislation. I cannot see why it's good enough for National Disability Insurance Scheme contractors, aged-care workers and Australian Defence Force members to be questioned, yet union officials somehow seem to be carved out. Why is that? I know we rushed the industrial relations legislation through in time for the Christmas picnics of the unions; I get that. I understand why that was rushed through to the Senate, or virtually gagged—so it would be done in time as payback for the unions. But this is a bit more important than that.

Government members interjecting

Those opposite yelling out want to be very careful. You've got to be careful what you wish for in this place. Just ask Nick Greiner—a good man, a very, very good man, but somebody who stridently pushed through the ICAC legislation in New South Wales. There have been some good people who have fallen foul of these ICAC processes, and, in fact, they have even had to step aside—let's take the case of former premier Berejiklian—when things weren't proven. But, to get on with the continuity of government and to make sure that people felt confident in Macquarie Street and elsewhere, they had to step aside while processes took place.

Another thing is that, if you take the case I just mentioned of the former Premier and the former member for Wagga Wagga, it just drags on and on and on. I know there was a journalist from the Wagga Wagga paper who recently bemoaned the fact that he'd started there some years ago, when the inquiry first started, and he has now left, years later, and the inquiry's findings, results and outcomes are still yet to be determined. That's too long. It's not good enough.

I do worry about some of the conditions of this particular legislation. It's all well good for the Independents to come in here, as holy as thou, and say, 'This needs to happen.' I don't disagree it needs to happen, but let's be very careful and very mindful that we don't smear and tarnish good people and ruin their reputations not only during their political careers but forevermore—if, later on, they are cleared—because of the inefficiencies and the inadequacies of this particular legislation, which needs to be reviewed and looked at.


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