Thursday, 25 November 2021
I seek leave to move the following motion:
(1) the private members' business order of the day relating to the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2021 standing in the name of the member for Indi being called on immediately and passage of the bill through all stages taking priority over all other business during periods of government business until its completion.
(2) a maximum of 2 hours being allocated for the second reading stage with a maximum of 10 minutes per Member speaking.
(3) if consideration of the bill has not been completed by 1 pm, any questions necessary to complete the House's consideration of the bill being put to the House immediately and without debate.
Leave not granted.
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent:
(1) the private Members' business order of the day relating to the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2021 standing in the name of the Member for Indi being called on immediately and passage of the bill through all stages taking priority over all other business during periods of government business until its completion;
(2) a maximum of 2 hours being allocated for the second reading stage with a maximum of 10 minutes per Member speaking; and
(3) if consideration of the bill has not been completed by 1 pm, any questions necessary to complete the House's consideration of the bill being put to the House immediately and without debate.
We have waited too long for an integrity commission. I have watched scandal after scandal going uninvestigated with no independent watchdog on the beat. Each day that we delay is another day of deterioration of trust in this place and among the Australian people. Each day it becomes harder to claw back that trust. There are only four sitting days left this year. We may not be back again. This might be our very last chance.
If someone were serious about an integrity commission they would write a bill to set it up, they would table it and they would bring it on for debate. That's what I have done. The government has acted very differently, an endless merry-go-round of consultations, shutting down debate in the House and shutting down debate in the Senate. It's clear the government is ignoring the will of the people, and now it's obstructing the will of the parliament. It's broken the promise it made almost three long years ago. We are entitled to ask whether the Prime Minister honestly, in his heart, actually wants a robust federal integrity commission.
For almost two years now I've worked with members of the House and Senate to shape my integrity commission bill. I've also had very constructive discussions with countless other members in both houses. As an independent, my office door has been an open door. My bill is a true work of collaboration. It's a consensus approach with public hearings when in the public interest. It's retrospective and it allows for public referrals. Importantly, so importantly, it also protects against vexatious claims and allows for true exoneration. This bill is gold standard. But these are not my words; they are the words of the finest legal minds in the nation, from former justices of the High Court to leading academics, jurists and ethicists. They all support the passage of this bill right now. This is a bill of the people, from the people, to hold all of us to account, to help us to be our best selves. This is the integrity commission that our country deserves.
I call on all members of parliament, wherever you sit, who believe this government has got its priorities wrong to support this motion today. I beseech you: do not remain silent. This is not about political pointscoring. This is not about partisan politics. This is about each and every one of us staying true to the people we represent. This is about each and every one of us doing the right thing on all sides of this House.
I second the motion. I don't take this decision lightly at all. I take the decision to stand here today very seriously. It's a difficult decision to make. This is one of the most important things that we come to this place to do. I think we should suspend the standing orders and have this debate. The time has gone on long enough.
Everyone in this House, I think without exception, thinks that we need a robust federal integrity commission, that people should have trust and confidence in us, in the people that they elect, the people they send here. That's evidenced by the fact that there have been several bills presented to the House. All sides—the Greens, Labor, Liberal and the Independents—have said, 'We've got a bill.' But the problem is that the politics has wrapped it up so tightly that we're not progressing a bill. There's no debate about the fact that we need one, but we're not having the debate on what it should look like. We shouldn't be afraid to have the debate on what it looks like.
There is a place for politics. There's a place for partisan pointscoring. But it's not on something as important as trust and confidence in elected officials. We will never advance this if we can't find a way to come together to collaborate. A good starting point for that is the member for Indi's bill. She's put a lot of work into it. She has consulted widely. She has collaborated. Is it perfect? Maybe not. Why don't we talk about it? Why don't we all come here in good faith and have those conversations and find something that we can take forward in the best interests of all Australians? It's why we're here. It's why we come here. It's the most important thing we do.
I support everything that has been said in this place in relation to the urgency to suspend standing orders and allow debate on this very important legislation. The debate on this bill is urgent, and I commend everyone who is here to actually support this. It has been 1,077 days since the Prime Minister promised to introduce a Commonwealth integrity commission and yet we are still to see a bill tabled in the House other than the one that has been tabled by the member for Indi. There has also been tabled and passed the through the Senate a similar bill by the Greens. As Senator Lambie pointed out in the other place, a child born on the day the promise was made would have since learned to crawl, walk and talk. All the government has done on this issue is talk. We simply need to get on to the next stage.
I call on the government to support this bill, presented by the member for Indi, which I was very proud to second in this place last month. This is an issue that is raised with me continually by constituents of all political persuasions. They are united in wanting to have trust and faith in politics, in government. They want to know that there is a commission and a mechanism to ensure there are proper processes and that the issues are properly investigated. This bill has been awarded top marks by an independent review by the Centre for Public Integrity. In contrast, the draft model from the government has had issues. It has been broadly consulted on and it has been criticised. So, rather than just stifle debate and stop this, why not come forward, debate the bill from the member for Indi, move amendments, have the discussion and have a collaborative approach to an issue that will raise all of us? We will all be the better for it in our communities if constituents can have trust and faith in the process of government. If the Attorney-General won't back her own bill to bring it in after over a thousand days, then I think it is time that the member for Indi's bill be debated.
An integrity commission with teeth will be able to investigate and put to bed so many of the issues that we've seen raised during this parliament, and it really is important that that be done. Many of the arguments that are raised are about, for example, some of the integrity commissions at state level. But that is misleading in terms of what this bill is. The bill from the member for Indi is the best of all the models. It is not a replica of one state's model versus another's. It is a collective of the best elements of all those models of integrity commission, and that's why it is important that we debate it. If the government has issues with elements of that bill, then it should move amendments, have the debate and discuss them. But 'nothing' cannot be the answer. We can't have the situation where we wait indefinitely and there is just nothing happening. Otherwise, we'll have allegations that sit out there and we'll just never get them resolved, whether they need to proceed to proper investigations or not.
It is important that a federal integrity commission be transparent. It is important that investigations with integrity are seen to be done by the public. They must be seen to be thorough. That is so important for the public to be able to have trust that government and processes are being held to account, because we in this place are spending the public's money. We pass laws. We are taking decisions that will impact on the lives of millions of people. We have a duty to ensure those decisions are for the greater good and are for the good of our communities. In that sense, the public must be able to be confident that those decisions are held to the highest standards and that there is a rigorous integrity and anticorruption process to catch any concerns.
So I commend to the government that it support this suspension of standing orders. We have had time throughout these last two years and the pandemic disruptions to debate a number of bills that couldn't, on any definition, have been described as urgent. Where there has been a will there has been a way to introduce legislation to deal with, I would argue, some issues that have never even been on the radar. But this issue, the biggest issue, the Australian people's trust in the Australian government's decisions, is one that has been left hanging. I think that has to stop, and we should debate it today.
Just to make sure that it's on the record, I will say that the opposition will be supporting this motion. The bill that has been introduced is something that would be subject to parliamentary debate. It would be subject to inquiry and, no doubt, there would be amendments that would come through in its final form. But 1,000 days is too long. The best time to commence that debate would have been years ago. The next best time is now.
I commend the great work of the member for Indi and support this motion. I was here in the last parliament when the government said that they would introduce an integrity commission. It hasn't happened yet, and the Australian people have grown tired. They have grown frustrated with us. I would also like to acknowledge the member for Bass for having the courage of her convictions. She is on the right side of history with this.
We need to have a federal integrity commission. Trust in all of us is waning in the Australian community. We need to do better. This was an election promise. We have one more week to go this year. This is potentially the last sitting week before an election. Who knows? That is at the discretion of the Prime Minister, although many in the media say that this is our last sitting period before the election. We are failing the Australian people and we are failing ourselves if we do not even allow debate on a very good bill that sits before this parliament.
What is the government so afraid of? What are they afraid of debating? It's actually come to the point where it's nonsensical. I would urge government members, if you too have the courage of the member for Bass—and many of you have said quietly and privately to many of us on the crossbench that you do—why don't you put your actions where your words are and, when this goes to a vote, come and sit on the right side of history.
The Greens support this motion because it would deliver an ICAC before Christmas. After three long years of waiting, people want one. Previous members have made some very good points. There are alternative models. There is a bill that has passed the Senate, pushed by the Greens, that is awaiting debate here. I think the opposition has a model. Others have alternative models. We should at least have the debate. We have time to have the debate. If the member for Indi's motion is supported, we could have a federal ICAC before Christmas and that would be a terrific way to end this parliamentary year.
I have been through the fiery furnace of the notorious Fitzgerald inquiry in Queensland. I was one of the two people who called it on. We weren't aware of the extent of the corruption of the Police Force in Queensland, but we knew there were a number of murders. It turned out there were 42 murders. If we'd had an ICAC or a Criminal Justice Commission, as it was later called in Queensland, it would never have got to that stage. Twenty-one of those deaths were at the infamous Whiskey Au Go Go, in a fire started by the mobsters' cabaret protection racket. The club hadn't paid their protection money, and up went the Whiskey Au Go Go, with no inquiry or punishment of anyone. The door was closed from the outside and 21 people were killed. Quite apart from that, there were another 21 murders, six of them in North Queensland.
So, if you don't have something like this, you leave members of parliament—and I was one of those members in parliament—in very, very scary territory. You leave decent policemen in very scary territory. I would estimate that over 20 police had their lives completely destroyed by evil police putting obscene child pornography on their computers. To this very day, I am so scarred and scared that I still will not use a computer, because I saw what happened to all these innocent people during that inquiry. Judge Vasta, whose son is in this place and whose other son is a Federal Court judge, was hanged, drawn and quartered without a single scintilla of evidence ever being produced against him, because he was from the wrong side of the tracks. I am quoting from a speech by Lin Powell, who was touted as a future premier in Queensland. The sin of Vasta was that he wasn't a member of the legal club in Brisbane. He hadn't gone to the GPS/TAS schools. He was a canecutter's son from North Queensland. Those were the sins. The people that they put to judge him, the judges in Brisbane, were the very people who resented him being there.
So I've given you two or three examples of the terrible downside of a proposal of this type, but the alternative to that is to watch what happened in Queensland, where, if you tried to assail them, they assailed you long before you got close to them. That's why I'm backing an independent body such as is proposed by the honourable member, who, like me, represents a regional area in this place. That's why I'm backing her rather courageous and wonderful initiative today. But I ask everyone please to be conscious of the downside to these sorts of inquiries.
I thank the member for moving this motion, but I want to speak to why the government will not be supporting a suspension of standing orders. The issue does not go to the merits of or the need for a serious and well-considered body to deal with the risk of serious criminal corruption at the Commonwealth level, because I want to be very clear that the government has developed such a model: the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, which is intended to be the lead body in Australia's successful multiagency anticorruption framework. We've gone through a very detailed consultation process—333 written submissions received, 46 consultation meetings and round tables—and we stand ready to introduce that legislation. We've done the detailed work. We've committed almost $150 million of funding to the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. We project it will have around 172 staff. And we've already implemented phase 1 of our plans by expanding the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.
I want to make a couple of things clear, because there have been some misleading claims made about the government's proposal. In the model we are proposing, the Commonwealth Integrity Commission will be able to investigate past conduct and matters that occurred prior to its commencement. The Integrity Commission will be able to look into past conduct that falls within the scope of its jurisdiction. This will include over 145 criminal offences that presently exist in legislation, including, for example, under the Criminal Code Act, under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act and under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The government will also, under our proposal, create new offences relating to corrupt conduct, including concealing corruption and repeated public sector corruption.
I want to make this point very clear as well, because there have been some misleading claims. The model we are proposing will have—
I am seeking to inform the House of the details of the model that the Morrison government has developed and consulted on extensively, because there have been some misleading claims made by a number of parties. The facts are that the model we have developed for the Commonwealth Integrity Commission sees that body having the same—
I'm doing precisely that. I'm explaining why there is not a need, in the government's view, for a suspension of standing orders so as to allow debate in relation to the member's bill, because the government has a detailed proposal in relation to the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. There have been some misleading claims made about the government's model, so I am seeking to make sure the House—
He isn't addressing the issue. That's not the issue. The issue is emergency.
The DEPUTY SPEA KER: The member for Kennedy has made his point. The point of order is that the minister needs to address the substance of the motion. I have made it clear to the minister that he needs to address the substance of the motion before us.
Can I respond to the point the member for Kennedy has made, because he's absolutely right; the question before the House right now is whether standing orders should be suspended so that this matter can be dealt with. (Time expired)
There is a standing order asking you to state what that question is. For clarification for members, because it's a significant moment, could you state what the question is that you're putting to the House?
Mr Speaker, I similarly submit that the point of order that's just been raised by the member for Menzies needed to be raised before you declared it for the noes. You have, in fact, declared this motion as the noes position having been carried. That declaration has been made from the chair.
The vote required an absolute majority, which was not achieved. The normal practice in this House, as I understand it, is for you to declare the vote as you have, Mr Speaker, but to note at that point that, given an absolute majority had not been achieved, the motion moved by the honourable member does not carry.
The points that have just been raised by the Leader of the House would have to have been raised before the declaration had been made as to what the outcome was. What the Leader of the House has referred to is a process where the count is announced and a statement is then made, but what the Speaker has done is declared the outcome. Therefore, if the Leader of the House wants to dissent from that decision, that's an option before the House.
That is an incorrect interpretation—I'll put it politely. I'm sure there's at least some shred of genuineness to it, but the reality is that it is within your prerogative, Mr Speaker. I know that there's advice from the Clerk, but I put it to you that it's within your prerogative under the standing orders to clarify the situation and to, in my respectful suggestion to you, adhere to that practice which would see a statement along the lines that I outlined earlier.
The position in relation to the first motion stands, and that was the numbers that I read out earlier. There needs to be an absolute majority, and the next question is that the motion be agreed to. All those of that opinion say aye.
An honourable member: Which motion?
On the suspension of standing orders. All those of that opinion say aye.