House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


National Integrity Commission

4:49 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to talk today about integrity or, more specifically, the profound lack of it in the Morrison government. Last month, the Prime Minister mounted his high horse to proclaim that the Australia Post CEO should lose her job for giving Cartier watches to executives as rewards for a lucrative business deal. This may well be a reasonable position, but it rings hollow when the Prime Minister refuses to lift a finger to address the rot that has set in deep in the core of his own government—and rotten it is.

This is the government that has used a $100 million public grants program as the Liberal Party re-election fund in the sports rorts scandal, and the government that paid $30 million to a Liberal Party donor for land worth just $3 million in the airport land scandal. The Morrison government also took $721 million from Australians illegally during the robodebt scandal. And the energy minister for this government was investigated by the Australian Federal Police when he tried to damage his political opponent with doctored documents. This is the same man who breached ministerial standards by failing to disclose private financial interests.

Despite all of this, despite this litany of disgraceful deeds, the Prime Minister has done nothing. Indeed, not only has the Prime Minister failed to demand integrity; he's actively shut down scrutiny and oversight wherever possible. When the Australian National Audit Office did their job and started to uncover some of these scandals, they were promptly punished by having their funding cut. This isn't the behaviour of a transparent, accountable government. It is intensely worrying and it reminds us why a national integrity commission is so critical.

Labor has been calling for a powerful, well-resourced integrity commission for years. In December 2018, the government claimed it had been working since January on 'a robust, resourced, real system that will protect the integrity of Commonwealth and public administration'. But, almost three years later, they haven't even produced a draft bill. When questioned, the Attorney-General simply said that an integrity commission was 'not a priority'.

It was only last month, when calls for the government to act had reached a crescendo, that it finally put forward draft legislation for a weak, secretive and compromised body. Frankly, it's the national integrity commission you have when you don't want a national integrity commission. This is a commission that would be unable to instigate its own independent inquiries, except in very limited circumstances. It would shield the conduct of politicians and public servants from hearings, and it might even be prevented from investigating any of the multiple past scandals of the Morrison government. It would, as Crikey said, 'protect the corrupt'.

So you would have to ask yourself: why is this government fighting so hard against corruption being exposed? What are they scared of? Well, whatever it is, this cannot go on. The mounting list of scandals surrounding the Morrison government shows why we need a powerful and independent audit office and a powerful and independent national integrity commission. Come on, Prime Minister. Integrity and accountability are key features of a healthy democracy. We need to start restoring the trust that has been so thoroughly trashed by your government. Restore funding to the Audit Office and give Australia the national integrity commission we need, one with real teeth that will do the job the Australian people expect it to do. Stop dragging your feet. The time for action is now.