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.
I second the motion. I was one of the two people that made the decision to call on the Fitzgerald inquiry in Queensland. I'm very proud to say that, after the most searching inquiry, there was not one single conviction against a member of the government I was associated with, contrary to the public belief that we were all corrupt. There were four people sent to jail for misuse of their parliamentary allowances—and everyone in this place take note, because the leading case, Brian Austin, went to jail because he used his government car to visit his kids on the weekend, and for that he served two years in a steel cage. There are grave downsides to these things, and the person at the heart of the police corruption in Queensland—from a group of people that had been responsible for 53 murders—got clean away. That is one form of corruption.
The form of corruption that is worrying me greatly has to do with the major part of the landmass of Australia that is available for use, noting that 52 per cent of it is desert, four per cent is national parks and 22 per cent is First Australians' land—but they're not allowed to use it, so forget about that. Of the land left, there's no doubt that foreigners are majority landholders in Australia. What sort of parliament allows that to happen? It's worse than allowing that to happen—both sides of this House have promoted what they call foreign investment. It's not foreign investment; it's a traitorous sell-out of your nation. They own almost all the milk processing in Australia, they own almost all of the beef processing in Australia and they own almost all of the sugar processing in Australia. Every single one of those things was Australian owned. The five major mining companies—two of them being amongst the top four mining companies in the world, BHP being the biggest company in the world—were all sold off with the agreement of both parties in this place.
When you've been around politics for as long as I have, you know that there is a stench out there, and if you follow a stench you'll find something dead or something dying. So we know there's a stench out there, because no government could have done this. If you want to stop it, then you'd better start finding out whose palms are being greased here. We both know that there are a hundred ways of circumventing the rules about donations. We're pretty innocent in our party, because we don't get any; therein lies our innocence. In this place, in the party that I belonged to when I came here, after the most searching inquiry, there was not one single conviction for corruption in the much-maligned Queensland Bjelke-Petersen government, contrary to public belief.
Having said that, Andrew Robb, once a senior minister in this place, sold the Darwin Port, which staggered, shocked and sickened every decent patriotic Australian. The major outlet of this country was sold to China and within eight months—I think it was—it was announced that he was on $880,000 a year in some role or other, being paid by the port of Darwin. If that is not corruption then I would like you to tell me what constitutes corruption—to sell off the major port coming into this country to a foreign corporation and then be on the payroll a few months later!
Ethanol was knocked back in this place. Australia remains the only country on earth that hasn't got ethanol. To quote Morris Iemma, 'I'm not going another day with a thousand people dying in Sydney that don't have to die.' He seems to be the only honest man in the parliaments of Australia, because no-one else has been too worried about the health issues. But every other country is worried about them. China is worried about them. America is worried about them. Europe is worried about them. They've all passed legislation. The only parliament in the world that hasn't passed the legislation is sitting right here. Was that corrupt? All I can say is that John Anderson, the first minister to make the decision, took off and was working for a mining-oil company the next year, according to newspapers. The next one was Mark Vaile. Mark left us after giving a $230 million donation to Saddam Hussein over wheat. Did Mark Vaile go to jail? No. Did he knock back ethanol? Yes. Where was he afterwards? Heading up two oil-gas mineral companies. Martin Ferguson knocked back ethanol. Where was Martin Ferguson the next year? Involved in the board of three mining and oil companies. The next one is Macfarlane. Where is he now? Heading up the oil, gas and minerals council of Queensland and on the board of Woodside-Burmah. If these things are not corruption then tell me what they are.
When I was a cabinet minister in Queensland, there would have been as much chance of getting away with something like that as there would have been of flying to the moon, but in this place you can get away with anything, anything at all. If you were running stakes on which was the most corrupt country on earth, you would start with ethanol. Let me go on with the National Party. Warren Truss was the next leader. He gave $1 million to his own electorate in the Dairy RAP, or Regional Assistance Program. I'm pretty certain I had more dairy cattle in my electorate than he had in his. We got virtually nothing out of it; nor did anyone else in Australia. With me threatening to take legal action, the Dairy RAP was immediately fixed up, but there is no doubt that, when you use public funds for your own private interest or political purposes, then that is misappropriation, by definition. The parliament appropriated that money, through Mr Anderson, to spend to help all Australia, and yet, when the figures came out, I think three-quarters of the funds had gone to two targeted electorates for the National Party—misappropriation.
In Queensland we have a situation where the Premier was found by senior counsel to have threatened a member of parliament, which of course is a breach of the criminal law. It went to the Criminal Justice Commission, which was called the 'criminal justification commission' by everyone who had anything to do with it. She was found to be guilty. She was found to have had a breach of the law. They referred it—heaven only knows why—not to the Attorney-General but to a parliamentary committee, the majority of which was Labor Party. They found that what she did was not good and that there was a breach but that no action should be taken against her. So much for the Premier! The Deputy Premier's family buys real estate at the end of a $7,000 million tunnel, which she pulls out of the air on the eve of an election. No-one had heard anything about it ever, and then we find out that her family own real estate where the tunnel exits. Of course, the value of that land has appreciated hugely, but nothing happens. When my honourable colleague, the member for Clark, says we need something, Truss's successor—this is the National Party—they get a perfect record, every single one of them. (Time expired)