Thursday, 1 August 2019
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Isaacs from moving the following motion on notice standing in the name of the Member for Isaacs being called on immediately for debate and being determined by the House—That the House:
(a) the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General announced on 13 December 2018 that a Commonwealth Integrity Commission would be established;
(b) on 13 December 2018, the Prime Minister said on 2GB the decision to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission "was something I had to resolve by the end of the year";
(c) on 26 May 2019, the Attorney-General said a Commonwealth Integrity Commission was a "priority"; and
(d) the Government has not established a Commonwealth Integrity Commission; and
(2) calls on the Government to keep its promise to establish its Commonwealth Integrity Commission.
This government is not serious about integrity or tackling corruption. If they were, they would establish a national integrity commission now.
I can see why at least some members of this government may not want an integrity commission. It's the sort of thing that may make, for example, the Minister for Home Affairs a bit nervous—the same Minister for Home Affairs who said that he had no sight of the payment of $423 million by his own department to a company called Paladin, which was based in an empty beach shack on Kangaroo Island, all without an open tender or other transparent process. This is the same Minister for Home Affairs who awarded a $591 million contract to a mysterious Brisbane based company to run garrison and welfare services on Nauru without an open tender or a transparent process—a company whose chief executive officer made a personal donation to the Liberal-National Party while the terms of that contract were still being negotiated. This is the same Minister for Home Affairs who agreed to extend that lucrative contract in the same month that the Liberal-National Party received a donation from a related company registered to the same Brisbane address—or did the minister have no sight of that contract either?
I can think of something that the Minister for Home Affairs did have sight of: he personally intervened to award visas to at least two au pairs who were facing deportation for breaking Australian law—au pairs who were employed by the minister's former colleague and the family of a well-known Liberal Party donor. He can't hide behind his department for that one. This Minister for Home Affairs is very lucky to be a member of a government that refuses to set up a Commonwealth integrity commission.
It's a Commonwealth integrity commission that may make quite a few Liberal Party MPs a bit nervous.
Government members interjecting—
I'm hearing from the government benches, 'That's rubbish!' Why is it that the government hasn't set up the Commonwealth integrity commission? Why is it that the government hasn't even listed a bill to be brought into the parliament this year, for the whole of 2019, to set up a Commonwealth integrity commission? It is because this government is not in the least bit interested in integrity. They prove it on a daily basis in the way in which they ignore the scandalous conduct of their own ministers and the way in which they cover up the scandalous conduct of their own ministers. I say again, a national integrity commission might make a few Liberal Party MPs just a bit nervous.
I doubt that Senator Cash is a fan of the idea. Remember her? She's the minister who refused to cooperate with an Australian Federal Police investigation into the potentially criminal leaking by her own office of sensitive information about police operations. Let me say that again: a minister in this third-term Liberal government has refused to cooperate with an Australian Federal Police inquiry into possible criminal wrongdoing by her own office. This is a government committed to integrity for everybody but itself. Senator Cash is also very lucky to be a minister in a government that refuses to set up a national integrity commission.
What about the Minister for Health? What does he think about the idea of a national integrity commission? He's still got questions to answer, which he's refusing to do, about why he awarded a lucrative Medicare MRI licence to a clinic operated by the vice-president of the Liberal Party of South Australia. That's despite the clinic operating within five kilometres of nine other partially or fully Medicare-eligible MRI machines. We've got another minister that's very lucky to be a minister in a government that refuses to set up a national integrity commission.
You can't have a conversation about integrity and this third-term government without mentioning Bronwyn Bishop, the former Speaker. Who could ever forget the 'choppergate' scandal, in which the former member for Mackellar so comprehensively disgraced herself? What about the Attorney-General himself, the architect of ensuring integrity for unions and welfare recipients? He's treated the Administrative Appeals Tribunal like a Liberal Party employment agency, appointing dozens of high-paying, taxpayer-funded jobs, which should be going to properly qualified and experienced experts, to former Liberal Party MPs, former Liberal Party staffers and failed Liberal Party candidates. Again, we have yet another minister who's very lucky to be a minister in a government which is refusing to set up a national integrity commission.
Then we come to another minister, the member for Fadden. This is the same member for Fadden—now in cabinet, extraordinarily—who was sacked from the ministry by a previous Liberal Prime Minister over multiple conflicts and the misuse of his ministerial position in the pursuit of the business interests of Liberal Party Donors in China. This Prime Minister has brought him back into the ministry of this third-term Liberal government, presumably because it would be a gross inconsistency to exclude someone from this particular ministry just because of a lack of integrity.
Then there's the member for Hume, who, along with his friend the Treasurer of Australia, still has questions to answer about the alleged illegal poisoning of critically endangered grasslands on a property partly owned by—guess who? The member for Hume. We know that his own department—the Department of the Environment and Energy, no less—is now investigating this same honourable member because of his interest in a company called Jam Land Pty Ltd, which was involved in that alleged poisoning of critically endangered grasslands. We also know that record-breaking amounts of money were paid by the Commonwealth to buy water from a company with links to that member for Hume, a company that was owned by a Cayman Islands based entity—
I will ask the member for Isaacs to resume his seat for a second. I'm listening very carefully to the member for Isaacs and being as tolerant as I can. I need to remind him, his motion is to suspend standing orders. This is not a substantive motion where he can be making accusation upon accusation. I've been listening to him. I've been as lenient as I can. I'm going to invite him to stick to the substance of his motion: why standing orders should be suspended. If he manages to succeed in having that motion passed, there will then be an opportunity for him to go to the substantive points, but it is not an opportunity for him to—I'll put it in the most candid way I can—go on a wide spray of members of the House. He's just got to argue why standing orders should be suspended.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the guidance. Standing orders should be suspended because it is long past time for this parliament to be considering legislation to establish what the government seeks to call a Commonwealth integrity commission but, either way, a national integrity commission—an integrity commission that is capable of looking at the scandals after scandals that have beset this third-term Liberal government. The reason standing orders should be suspended is that this parliament is not being given an opportunity to debate, and, unless standing orders are suspended, we won't have an opportunity to debate why it is that this country needs to have a national integrity commission now, why this government needs to keep to the promise that the Prime Minister made as long ago as last December, that the Attorney-General made as long ago as last December and confirmed after the election. Yet we see from the list of legislation produced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that this government has no intention of bringing legislation before the parliament this year. We have no indication that they ever intend to bring legislation before this parliament to establish the national integrity commission that is sorely needed. We have had no indication from this Attorney-General when he is going to do this. All we have is the negative indication that the Prime Minister has no intention of doing it because the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has not even listed legislation to establish a Commonwealth integrity commission for even introduction this year, let alone passage this year.
We have been given a list of legislation by the government that lists a whole lot of other bills that the government may be bringing into the parliament, including a small number of them that the government has indicated are for passage this year, but not one of them deals with this vital subject of the establishment of a Commonwealth integrity commission, which this tired third-term Liberal government promised to do at the election and has failed to do.
I second the motion. It is critically important that standing orders be suspended to help get this flailing government back on track. It is less than 10 weeks since the election, the end of the third sitting week, and broken promise after broken promise after broken promise have already been backed up by this Prime Minister.
The member for Hindmarsh, you heard what I said to the member for Isaacs about speaking to the motion. You're straight off the road already. You need to speak to the motion. I'm fairly lenient in these matters, but I'm going to flag now that, if you don't speak to the motion, I'm going to sit you down.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Among those broken promises is the complete lack of any attention to an integrity commission by this Prime Minister—a Prime Minister who only last November said that this was a fringe issue, then a few weeks later said to the Australian people later that he would establish an integrity commission. The now Attorney-General said that it was not a priority for the government back then, but—as the shadow Attorney-General has just said—then said to the Australian people in May that this was now a priority for the government. But, on the Notice Paper, there is no indication of any attention or effort on the part of the government to establish what the Australian people are crying out for, which is an investment in trust and greater faith in the offices of government through an integrity commission. So it is important that standing orders be suspended. We've given this government three weeks of sitting to show that they are actually going to deliver on another promise that the Prime Minister made before the election and bring before this parliament legislation to establish a national integrity commission or a Commonwealth integrity commission and start to lift public faith again in the operations of the Commonwealth government.
It's very clear, I think, to those who observed the debate that happened over the last 12 or 18 months around the establishment of an integrity commission why there is nothing on the Notice Paper to indicate any effort by the government and why standing orders need to be suspended to allow the parliament to grab control of this issue, because the government is clearly intending to do nothing about it. The first reason is that it's quite clear the Prime Minister, and I suspect the Attorney-General, never really supported the idea of an integrity commission. It can't be left in the hands of the executive. The parliament needs to grab control of this issue again and restore faith. The other reason is that it just doesn't suit this Prime Minister's third-term agenda, which is to avoid at any cost any possibility of legislation coming to this parliament that might be the subject of agreement between the two major parties.
It's quite clear that a properly constructed integrity commission could obtain the agreement of, at the very least, the two major parties. For that reason alone, this Prime Minister, who is focused on building a third-term agenda around conflict and division, will avoid, at any cost, any idea that this parliament might come together, bring the country together, around an important reform like an integrity commission. We've seen it with his new approach to the operations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, we've seen it with this Prime Minister's approach to energy policy, since he started to line up with the hard Right and dump the National Energy Guarantee, and we're seeing it now with the integrity commission. We're seeing it now with his complete lack of attention and energy on the establishment of an integrity commission. We know why it is. It's because he wants division, he wants conflict, he wants to avoid any legislation that might be the subject of support from the Labor Party and he also wants, as the Shadow Attorney-General said, to distract from his lack of any agenda to deal with the very real economic issues that are confronting the country.
But this is important. The Australian people have been looking at this building for two years wanting it to establish an integrity commission. Last December we dragged this Prime Minister to a commitment to deliver it. There is nothing on the Notice Paper that indicates any intention by this government to act on that. The shadow Attorney-General has had a notice of motion on the Notice Paper. It is clear, at the end of the third sitting week, that if this executive government is not willing to deal with this matter then the parliament must bring it on and must have a debate and repay the confidence that voters gave both major parties at the election when we both promised that when we came back for the 46th Parliament we would act to establish an integrity commission. That is why standing orders must be suspended—so we can start getting on with the job.
Perhaps, not unsurprisingly, we won't be supporting the motion.
Opposition members: Why?
I'll explain why for members opposite. The motion is, in effect, a complaint that the government has not introduced a bill for the establishment of a Commonwealth integrity commission in the first three weeks of this parliament. They may think that that should have occurred and that three weeks was a reasonable period of time.
Indeed. So what I might do is commence by reading from the Labor Party media release, which is essentially as far as their policy went on a Commonwealth integrity commission:
In government, Labor will continue to consult with experts on the design details of the Commission.
Legislation to establish the National Integrity Commission will be introduced into Parliament within the first 12 months of a Shorten Labor Government.
What's fascinating is that it's totally unreasonable that we take more than three weeks to do something as complicated as design an integrity commission, but, had the Shorten Labor government become the Shorten Labor government, 12 months would have been an entirely reasonable period of time for them to do that. That does strike me as something of a double standard in this area.
It is true, for the benefit of the shadow Attorney-General, that we are very substantially more advanced than they ever were in the design of something as complicated as an integrity commission. It is true that, in December last year, the Prime Minister and I announced our commitment to an integrity commission. We did that with a discussion paper of over 3,000 words. It is true that the commitment of members opposite to an integrity commission is effectively a press release with six, what you might call—or they call—design principles. So vague are the design principles that no-one knows what on earth it is that they're committing to by their commitment to an integrity commission. So vague are their design principles that they would have needed to consult experts for 12 months about what it is they actually promised to do before they introduced legislation. But, somehow, the screaming urgency of this is so great that 12 months would have been a reasonable period of time for them for something this complicated, but three weeks should be the time limit for the government.
Mr Giles interjecting—
What we have done is set out a very clear model for what an integrity commission would look like. It may not be agreed with by members opposite but it is very detailed. It is far more than these vague design principles. What's also notable is that we have already gone through a consultation phase. What is also notable is that we allocated in our last budget $106.7 million of new money that will underpin the establishment of the Integrity Commission. What is also notable is that that is in addition to the $40.7 million of existing funding for ACLEI, which will be a very important part of the Integrity Commission that we will build and legislate for. I note that Labor's commitment of $58.7 million is $89 million less than the financial commitment that we have made in our forward estimates for the establishment and operation of this body. So this motion, I think, has at its heart a complete and ridiculous double standard.
One of the reasons why you have to be cautious and detailed in your approach and take the time that is necessary to design an integrity commission properly and soberly—and not on the basis of wild accusations of impropriety or lack of integrity on the part of members of this side of the House or indeed any people in civil society—is that, if they are not designed properly, cautiously and cleverly, they result in very significant injustices. The history of integrity commissions is that the poorly designed ones very often exhibit those injustices at their peak and most egregious in the early operation of those integrity commissions. Having been tasked with the design of this Integrity Commission, I think back very often to a case in 2008 of a very senior public servant by the name of Mike Allen in Western Australia. I will read directly from the report into the Corruption and Crime Commission's investigation by the Parliamentary Inspector for the Corruption and Crime Commission. Mike Allen was a very senior and very well-respected public servant. It was noted that the CCC had made a finding of misconduct against Mr Allen. It had concluded in its report of 5 October 2007 that he had complied with the wishes of one Brian Burke in August 2006 by agreeing to appoint a DPI officer to write a report on a development called the Smiths Beach development in preference to other DPI officers.
The member for Isaacs will resume his seat. I know the point he is making. I won't allow him to make it at great length, because he'll be eating up the time that is remaining. I just say to the Attorney that he needs to stick to why standing orders should be suspended.
The motion to suspend standing orders expresses the view that there is an urgency to this matter, and I am expressing a view as to why the development of a crime and integrity commission should be sober, cautious and take the time that is needed to get it right. What was found in the case of Mr Allen—and I will read directly from the PICCC report—was:
The CCC should publicly acknowledge that it was in error in finding that Mr Allen was guilty of misconduct, and withdraw not only the "opinion" of misconduct by Mr Allen as expressed in its October report but also its "substituted" opinion of February 13, 2008, as neither opinion is supported by evidence, and both are inconsistent with evidence which the CCC had, but did not refer to in its report, as well as evidence of other relevant witnesses not interviewed by the CCC.
The point is that this highly respected civil servant, in the early days of a poorly designed corruption and crime commission, had his career totally destroyed and his life, in essence, professionally ruined because the design was poor and the findings of corruption were totally unfounded. I think that would send a chill down the spine of every civil servant at the Commonwealth level in Australia—and, indeed, the headlong rush based on wild accusations of a lack of integrity or misconduct by members here or opposite.
The shadow Attorney-General has made a range of allegations of misconduct and a lack of integrity. In fact, one of those was made last night against the Treasurer with respect to an electoral advertisement. I know that props are forbidden, so I will not show this, but I have before me a sign made up to look like it is a Liberal sign. It says 'Liberal' in the top left-hand corner—
I've got to say to the Attorney: I'm struggling to see how this is relevant to why standing orders should be suspended. I made the ruling with respect to the member for Isaacs. He can make the point he is seeking to make but not in this debate. He can make it at other times throughout the day.
I think the relevance of it is that the shadow Attorney-General is a wild hypocrite on these matters. It is a shocking level of hypocrisy beyond the level of imagination. What he did in this debate was make wild accusations. It's that wildness of slurs and accusations which is the very reason why you would take great caution in designing one of these commissions, because people like the shadow Attorney-General would demonstrate their well-known propensity to refer matters in a vexatious, frivolous and politically motivated way based on hypocrisy.
This is a direct response to the matters raised by the shadow Attorney-General in his arguing for this motion. The idea that this motion should be supported should be rejected. This will be done cautiously. It will be done carefully. It won't be done by media release. It won't be done by wild accusation. It will be done with consultation. It will be done in a way that is consistent with the best operative models for corruption and crime commissions. It will be done in a reasonable period of time. It'll be done a lot quicker than the promise those opposite made as to when they would do it; it'll be a lot quicker than the 12 months that they promised. A reasonable period of time needs to be taken for this, and it will be taken. The accusations that were levied were wild and demonstrate hypocrisy of a vast nature.