Wednesday, 16 February 2022
Matters of Public Importance
Commonwealth Integrity Commission
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Isaacs proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government's broken promise to deliver a national anti-corruption commission.
I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
The ever-growing list of scandals involving the Morrison government shows us why Australia urgently needs a powerful and independent national anticorruption commission. The government promised this in 2018 and again at the 2019 election but has now broken its promise because it is terrified of what such a body will uncover about its nine long years in office. Now it uses every subterfuge that it can find, to ensure an effective national anticorruption commission will never be established. Well no amount of announcements, no hose dodging, no ukulele playing from this desperate Prime Minister can hide the fact that this government has waged a deceptive campaign to prevent the establishment of a national anticorruption commission worthy of the name. How do we know? Because just yesterday, under intense questioning, the Attorney-General was forced to come out from behind her whiteboard of spin to contradict the Prime Minister by confirming that, yes, the government has broken its election promise to establish an anticorruption commission. The Courier Mail headline today says it all. 'Another election promise in tatters: Key commitment scrapped'. It's now clear the only way that Australia will get a national anticorruption commission is to change the government.
The truth of this is that this Prime Minister and his colleagues are terrified of what an independent national anticorruption commission would reveal about what this government has been up to for years. The list of scandals and rorts is shameful—and they're just the ones we know about. That list includes: the car park rorts, the sports rorts affair, the defence minister's rorted community safety grants, the Western Sydney airport land rip-off, the energy minister's use of a forged document, robodebt, and the appointment of dozens of former Liberal Party members and staffers to highly-paid government jobs without proper process. The sheer number of potential corruption matters arising from within this government is disturbing enough. But even more disturbing has been this government's response, because in every case the Prime Minister has reacted by doing everything he can to cover up that potential corruption.
This is a government that staggers from scandal to scandal, surviving only by misusing its power to threaten, to distract and to cover up its wrongdoing. This is a government that lives in terror of accountability for its own actions, led by a Prime Minister who never takes responsibility for his own. From 'I don't hold a hose, mate' to 'We don't have an anticorruption commission, mate', that's this Prime Minister. This is a government led by a Prime Minister who his own cabinet colleagues do not trust, and who the Deputy Prime Minister has described as a 'hypocrite' and as a person who 'earnestly rearranges the truth to a lie'.
It is said that the fish rots from the head, and this government is now rotten through and through. And the stench from that rot is doing our nation great harm. The rot of this government has dragged Australia down to its lowest level on record in Transparency International's latest corruption perceptions index. Australia used to have a proud record of being one of the world's most open, transparent and least-corrupt nations, but now, under this government, Australia's standing has suffered the biggest fall of any OECD country.
And now, having run out of excuses and delaying tactics, the government has put forward an excuse that shows nothing but its contempt for the truth and for the intelligence of the Australian people. This Prime Minister—just listen to this!—now claims that the government can't legislate for a national anticorruption commission because Labor doesn't support the sham cover-up commission that his government is proposing. He made this pathetic claim just now, in question time today. The Prime Minister is trying to tell the Australian people that he can only govern now with the permission of the Labor Party! Well the Australian people are not buying this garbage! The truth is that no-one who cares about the integrity of government in our country supports the pathetic sham of a body that the government is proposing. To the contrary, its proposal has been rejected as a sham not just by Labor, but by legal and anticorruption experts across the country, by everyone in this parliament outside of the government—and even by some of the government's own backbenchers.
The government claims that it has been consulting on its proposed model for three years, and, in the same breath, that the model it is now putting forward is identical to the exposure draft released over a year ago—meaning that it ignored every single point in every single one of the 330 submissions it received on its catastrophically bad proposal. It is now crystal clear that this wasn't so much a consultation process as a deceitful delaying tactic and a contemptuous waste of the time of all of the hundreds of experts and members of the public who took the government, foolishly, at its word and made detailed submissions on how the government's hopelessly flawed proposal could be improved. Confirmation of this sham consultation was the reason for the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald today:
'A glorious waste of time': Corruption watchdog bill unchanged after years of consultation.
We have had a fake consultation from this fake of a Prime Minister.
So why doesn't Labor support the government's proposal? Because it is a cynical, disgraceful sham. It is a body deliberately designed by this government not to uncover corruption but to cover it up. We all remember the Gaetjens inquiry into who in the Prime Minister's office knew about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins, an inquiry that was announced with great fanfare and never heard from again. That's the driving idea behind this government's sham of an integrity commission. This government wants to have that kind of cover-up operation on an industrial scale, because they need that scale to cover up their own industrial-scale rorting.
But don't just take my word for this. The Centre for Public Integrity, composed primarily of retired and senior eminent Australian judges, says of the Morrison model:
This is a sham—it is designed to cover up corruption, not expose it.
And it said it would be 'the weakest watchdog in the country'. Former court of appeal judge Stephen Charles said:
It's not really an anti-corruption commission at all.
It's a body set up to shield parliamentarians and public servants.
Geoffrey Watson, SC, former counsel assisting the New South Wales ICAC, says it is 'designed to cover up corruption, not expose it'. The Police Federation of Australia is rightly outraged that, while inquiries into police officers would be held in public under this plan, inquiries into ministers and other members of parliament would be held in secret.
Labor do not support the government's proposal. We don't support it, because it is so weak that it wouldn't be able to instigate its own independent inquiries, even in response to tip-offs about major corruption from the public or from whistleblowers who see that corruption occurring. It would create a two-tier system, with public hearings possible for law enforcement officials accused of corruption, but hearings for politicians and public servants working under the direction of the government would be held, of course, in the strictest secrecy. And it would be prevented from investigating any of the ever-growing succession of past scandals from the Morrison government.
Every state and territory now has a dedicated anticorruption commission. The Commonwealth is the only jurisdiction without such a body. The only politicians preventing a national anticorruption commission from being established are the Prime Minister and his colleagues opposite, who are trying to con the Australian people with their weak, secretive and compromised plan which will ensure that they are never held accountable for their rorts and scandals.
Repeated surveys reveal that around 90 per cent of Australians support a national anticorruption commission being established. That's because they've had enough of the growing stench of this scandal plagued government. Unlike the Morrison government, Labor is committed to establishing a powerful, transparent and independent national anticorruption commission. The Morrison government's broken election promise and its increasingly desperate and dishonest excuses for inaction show that the only way that Australia will ever get a national anticorruption commission is by changing the government.
I thank the House for the opportunity to respond to the matter raised by the shadow Attorney-General. I make the point, firstly, that, despite the claims of the shadow Attorney-General, the Morrison government has a detailed and well-developed model for a Commonwealth integrity commission. We have consulted extensively on that model. We have committed funding. In fact, in total almost $150 million in funding has been set aside for the operation of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, and the principles under which it will operate have been set out very clearly. It will be able to investigate past conduct and matters that occurred prior to its commencement. Its scope will include some 145 criminal offences, which presently exist, including in the Criminal Code Act, in the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act and in the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The government will also create new offences relating to corrupt conduct, including concealing corruption and repeated public sector corruption.
I want to be very clear in response to an endless series of misleading claims made by the shadow Attorney-General. The Commonwealth Integrity Commission will have the same powers as a royal commission to investigate criminal corruption in the public sector. The Commonwealth Integrity Commission will be able to receive referrals from all of the existing integrity agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police and the ombudsman, and it is designed so that it will deal with the most serious types of criminal conduct. That's an important design point. It is very important that we do not set up a body which can become a vehicle for political stunts, for referrals which are made for purely political purposes of the kind we have repeatedly seen from the shadow Attorney-General. On nine occasions, the shadow Attorney-General has pompously stood in front of the cameras and said, 'I am referring this matter to the Australian Federal Police.' On nine occasions the Australian Federal Police have said, 'There is nothing here.' Of course, the shadow Attorney-General would like nothing better than a giant machine into which he can feed political accusations, but we are taking a much more serious-minded approach to this.
The reality is, in the design of such a scheme, it is critical that we strike a balance between effectively dealing with serious corruption in the public sector while ensuring that appropriate checks and balances are in place. The simple fact is we have never heard from Labor or the shadow Attorney-General what Labor's model would involve. We hear repeatedly from the shadow Attorney-General; he just used the same formulation in his remarks as he uses in the headings of his media releases. He says that Labor would have a 'powerful, transparent and independent national anticorruption commission'. Well, I've got news for the shadow Attorney-General: three adjectives is not a policy.
There is a very wide range of serious design questions which need to be considered when it comes to what ought to be included in the design of such a scheme. It is blatantly clear from the experience with state government bodies around the country that there have been manifest examples of severe injustice occurring because of design flaws in the way that the various state anticorruption bodies work. That is why our government has made claim that we have serious reservations with the models that have been put forward by others in this place—for example, the models put forward by both the member for Indi and the Greens Party have serious weaknesses. They do not sufficiently provide procedural fairness to individuals who are being investigated for corrupt conduct. They would allow the use of significant coercive powers in relation to low-level misconduct and disciplinary offences. They would not safeguard against vexatious, baseless, politically motivated and time-wasting referrals which detract from legitimate investigations. Again, I remind the House that sadly the shadow Attorney-General has a distinctly inglorious record of engaging repeatedly in just such vexatious, baseless, politically motivated and time-wasting referrals. The models that have been put up do not include mechanisms to protect national security information, do not include protections for journalists and their sources and would compromise the potential prosecutions of corrupt conduct by overly publicising investigations.
I will say this of the member for Indi and the Australian Greens: they at least have put forward a model. The government has a very detailed model. We've seen a model from the Australian Greens and from the member for Indi. Both of those models are very seriously flawed, for the reasons that I have indicated. But I make the point that we have seen no model from the shadow Attorney-General. He has never bothered to share with the Australian people what he is proposing. He has three adjectives. Government by adjective is what we can expect from the Labor Party. That is not a way to deal with a matter of this serious nature.
We have put forward a detailed model. It has been carefully developed and extensively consulted on. The funding is there. As the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have made repeatedly clear: if Labor stands ready to support our model, we stand ready to introduce it. But, disappointingly, Labor has resolutely refused to engage. Labor has spent three years preferring to engage in political point scoring rather than constructively taking this matter forward. How the shadow Attorney-General can stand up with a straight face and claim that he supports progress in this area after his inglorious record on this matter is, frankly, bemusing.
It is bemusing how a party features such eminent personalities as Craig Thomson, who was found guilty of 65 charges of fraud and theft for using Health Services Union funds for personal benefit; how a party features such personalities as former Senator Sam Dastyari, who was happy to let a Chinese company and a donor pay for his travel and legal expenses and is known to have provided advice to a Chinese donor, Mr Huang Xiangmo, about how to avoid surveillance from Australian intelligence agencies. The inglorious record of the Labor Party when it comes to these matters is really quite extensive.
We've had the extraordinary scenario where the shadow minister for government accountability, Senator Keneally, who, in her time as the Premier of New South Wales, cancelled the Sydney Metro project and extraordinarily claimed that there was no loss of public money involved in that. The New South Wales Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, in his report on transport projects, said:
Of the $412 million spent on the Sydney Metro, $356 million represents expenditure with no apparent future benefit to the people of New South Wales.
The then Premier of New South Wales—now laughably Labor's spokesperson on government accountability—who took the decision to dump Sydney Metro was responsible for that extraordinary waste of money.
Of course, the Labor Party is the happy home of Adam Somyurek, who featured in an investigation into the alleged rorting of taxpayer funds. He admitted signing off timesheets that allowed a staff member doing factional work to be paid with taxpayer funds. The Labor Party is the long-time home of Mr Eddie Obeid, who was ultimately sentenced to five years imprisonment for misconduct in public office. Mr Ian Macdonald corruptly issued lucrative mining licences at Doyles Creek in the Hunter Valley. The Supreme Court sentenced him to 10 years. Those charges were later quashed, and he is awaiting retrial. Justice Adamson described him as 'devious' and said that, in the discharge of ministerial responsibilities, he had betrayed the people of New South Wales. Of course, there's Joe Tripodi, and Cesar Melhem. Who can forget Cesar Melhem? And who can forget the inglorious record of the member for Maribyrnong on these matters? He was very extensively ventilated in the trade union royal commission.
On the other side of the chamber, we have a party that has not bothered to put forward a model. We, by contrast, have a detailed model. Our position has not changed. If the Labor Party wants to join with us, we can get it done.
[by video link] One thousand one hundred and sixty-one days is just over three years, and in the last 1,161 days around 900,000 children were born in Australia and around 600,000 Australians died. Fifty-one people were killed by a terrorist in Christchurch. Ash Barty won Wimbledon and the Australian Open. The Notre Dame cathedral burned down. Australia lifted itself from the charred remains of our devastating fires. A royal baby was born and a royal prince passed away. Armenia and Azerbaijan declared a ceasefire. Kabul fell to the Taliban. A US president was defeated. A British prime minister resigned. Astronomers released the first ever image of a black hole. And the Morrison-Joyce government broke its promise of an anticorruption commission to the Australian people. On 13 December 2018, this government promised that it would deliver an anticorruption commission, and yesterday the Attorney-General confirmed that that promise has been relegated to the black hole of broken promises by this government.
This year Australia recorded its worst ever anticorruption score according to Transparency International. Since 2012, it has dropped 12 points on the anticorruption index. Let me put that into context. That puts us on par with countries like Cyprus, Lebanon and Syria. Make no mistake: this is a direct result of the government 's failure to bring about a national anticorruption commission. It is not just a backflip or a change of heart but a deliberate deception and a deliberate misleading of the Australian people for over three years. All of that is because this Morrison-Joyce government is scared to death of being held to account for its numerous scandals: the car park rorts, the sports rorts, the Western Sydney airport land rip-off—$30 million of taxpayer money—robodebt, the appointment of dozens of former Liberal party members and staffers to highly paid government jobs without due process, and the Minister for Defence's community safety grants program—that rort.
Those on the other side might shrug their shoulders to all of this and claim that these don't really impact your lives. It doesn't affect the price of a loaf of bread, for example. But they do impact real lives—first and foremost, because this kind of behaviour undermines our democracy. When the Australian public see corruption, they don't attribute it to one party or another; it taints us all. It taints all of us. Secondly, these things do have a direct impact. They have a direct impact when people in Noranda miss out on netball courts because they don't live in a Liberal-held seat; when worshippers at mosques in Labor-held seats don't get the security upgrades they need; when commuters in Cowan can't get a parking spot at the train station because their electorate didn't make it onto the minister 's spreadsheet; and when individuals take their own lives because of a cruel and callous robodebt system that wrongly targeted them. Yes, corruption can mean life or death, and what goes on in this House does have a direct impact on the people we are here to represent.
As the member for Isaacs said, the only politicians preventing a national anticorruption commission are the Prime Minister and the Liberal-National coalition, who instead try to pretend that they give a hoot with this weak, secretive and ineffective model that's been described as a sham and a toothless tiger. Even the AFP Association can't support it, because members have to refer themselves. Yes, I can see them all standing in line saying, 'Investigate me; I'm corrupt!'
We are not afraid to bring it on, and Labor will do it because we understand that corruption has real impacts on real people's lives and on our democracy. We listen to our constituents. The only way to get an anticorruption commission is to vote in an Albanese Labor government at the next election.
It's a privilege to rise and speak on this important issue affecting integrity in Australia, and I want to start where the minister for communications left off in examining some of the issues that have in recent years pertained to public sector corruption in Australia. I think it is true that, as the minister said, matters before corruption bodies in Australia in recent years have been more prevalent on the Labor side of politics. And that's the convictions—that's the conviction rate. That's the record, certainly, in New South Wales. In Victoria we're seeing similar issues arise. But that doesn't mean it is confined to any side of politics or to any part of a government, federal, state or local, or otherwise.
The issue at stake in this matter of public importance, and what we've been talking about as a parliament, is the proper construction of an integrity body in 2022 that deals with corruption—that allows for corruption to be dealt with—but also takes into account the mistakes that have been made in public-sector corruption bodies over periods of time. Labor is fond of quoting Geoffrey Watson, and the shadow Attorney-General did. But I have to note again that the experience in New South Wales, when he worked with the public sector integrity body, the ICAC in New South Wales, when he was counsel assisting, was one of great learning for any member of parliament in this House. Some of the sanctimony that we see from the other side, I think, has to be tempered against the fact that people who have been put in front of public sector integrity bodies have had to stand aside from their positions, have been accused—without right of response, without right to defence, without right to reply—and later been completely cleared and exonerated by those bodies, years after those accusations have been made. People without any allegations to answer have had to go through that experience. And I think, in the design of these things, the government 's model has been put forward. It's true to say Labor doesn't have one yet. I'm sure they're working on it—we'll see how that goes: maybe they'll produce one, maybe they won't.
But, in our design, we must take into account the mistakes that have been made in other jurisdictions. And the process of trial by media without response by a person alleged to have engaged in some sort of corruption, to later be exonerated—years later—of those same corruption claims is, I think, to any fair-minded or reasonable person in this place, a concern. It's something that should be addressed in the design of a body. We've seen even the Victorian government take measures, in relation to IBAC, to wind back some of the errors that were made in the original legislation for IBAC. We've seen the South Australian government do the same. So it's nonsensical for the Labor Party to get on a high moral horse and pretend that this is about some kind of Star Chamber where, out of this place, they want to refer every political matter of the day—every single political matter of the day. And that was the experience with the New South Wales ICAC when the ICAC legislation first came out. You had every local government area, every councillor in every chamber pathetically throwing the accusation they had referred every single matter—a debate that came in every single council in every part of Sydney—to the New South Wales ICAC, which made headlines for the first year or two. It was pathetic, it was a waste of time, nothing was ever investigated and a lot of copy got written. Mistakes have been made in public integrity bodies. They should be addressed in the model that's put forward by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has attempted to do so.
The public has also noticed, where these public trials have occurred into some public figures, they have been very unfair and very unbalanced and haven't produced any result or finding of corruption by people—again, destroying lives, destroying reputations, but not getting the bottom of corruption. We all await with interest the outcome of the accusations in relation to the former premier Gladys Berejiklian, because there are matters there that have been raised, in relation to the ICAC, that have been in the public domain over and over, and it is not appropriate for me to go to them. But who polices the ICACs and the integrity bodies is an important question, and how they're constructed is an important question. And that's why the government has put forward a bill that is sensible and is reasonable. Mr Speaker, you can remember that, when the investigation into Gladys Berejiklian came out, the ICAC released accidentally information that they had been taping and recording of a very private and personal nature in relation to Gladys Berejiklian. Who lost their job in relation to that, out of that integrity body? Is that an inappropriate use of the powers that were given to them by the state—the unfettered power? These are valid questions to be asked. And, when reputations are actually lost, when people are innocent, what right of recourse do people have?
So the government has put forward a very balanced model, taking into account the reality of public sector corruption in Australia. And the opposition is critical, yet the opposition has no policy alternative, no response, nothing but, 'yours is not good enough but we have nothing in return'. Well, I think the public see through that, and we'll keep pursuing our model.
When it comes to trust that Australians put in their government and democratic processes, what we've seen after almost a decade of those opposite, with the coalition holding the reins, has been a really swift decline. We've spent almost 10 years watching those opposite avoid transparency measures at all costs. They've flouted the norms and conventions around ministerial responsibilities over and over again. As a result, trust in the parliament and in the public service has nosedived. We've had to watch rort after rort and scandal after scandal unfold for years amongst those who hold the highest office in this nation, and, instead of holding that responsibility in the upmost regard, they've been trashing it. It's a disgrace. We need a proper national integrity commission. It's a shame that the minister has left after what was a pretty lacklustre defence of their sham of a model, but there you go.
What we saw just last week was that those opposite, the federal government of Australia, are so afraid of being held to account that they rolled their own Prime Minister in cabinet over the issue of an anticorruption commission because they were worried that a proper anticorruption commission would investigate what they've been up to—all their rorts and improper behaviour and unethical behaviour. As we know, they've been very, very busy rorting on an industrial scale, and Australians have had enough.
As I've said before in this place, we need to rebuild the ethical infrastructure of our nation, and federal Labor will do that if we get the confidence of the Australian people at the next election, because we need a powerful, independent, transparent anticorruption commission with retrospective powers. Every single non-coalition member in this place is united in supporting it, and we cannot settle for anything less, least of all the embarrassingly weak and secretive model the government is proposing, which experts such as The Centre for Public Integrity, have comprehensively slammed as being 'A sham designed to cover up corruption'.
Australians have the right to know how their hard earned taxes are being spent, and we all know that this is yet another broken promise from the government for broken promises. We all have a role to play in restoring public confidence in our democracy. Only federal Labor will give this assurance to Australians: that not only are their taxpayer dollars being used appropriately but also that decisions are being made in the national interest rather than in narrow, sectional, political interests, as they are with those opposite.
It's good that the member for Wentworth is in the chamber, because I remember watching an episode of Q&Ait must have been some 18 months ago—and the federal government had put him out there to try and defend the pathetic stance of the federal government when it comes to a national integrity commission, and the blame was put onto COVID of course: 'We can't do anything because of COVID! The public service staff couldn't possibly!' But, luckily, Ken Henry and other people were on that panel, as was Tanya Plibersek, the member for Sydney, who stuck holes in that argument pretty quickly. This was on 26 October 2020, but, as the member for Sydney said, the draft legislation was ready in the December before that, in 2019. So those opposite have deliberately wasted time because they simply do not want a proper national integrity commission. But, we need one.
In addressing the matter of public importance, can I start by saying I certainly support having a Commonwealth integrity commission and I strongly support the legislation that we, as a government, have drafted and produced, and it's available for anyone to review online as part of the extensive consultation that has been undertaken on that. It has also been made clear to us that the opposition in this chamber, without sitting down and talking through the issues, have said they have no interest in supporting the bill we have put out for public consultation. That's the reality of where we are right now. It's disappointing because it's important that we don't have a Liberal integrity commission or a Labor integrity commission; we've got to have an institution that is respected, that is endorsed, that everyone supports, that has a robustness. It should be an institution that endures well into the future and should not be designed on any particular short-term objects or political pointscoring in the lead-up to an election campaign. It should be true to its objective, which is to make sure that genuine issues of corruption have a proper dedicated channel through which to be investigated and potentially followed through to prosecution.
Corruption is already a crime at the federal level, and anyone aware of any corruption can raise it with the Australian Federal Police. But it does make sense to have a dedicated independent body focused on investigating serious corruption issues and then deciding whether they think a credible prosecution brief should be given to the Commonwealth DPP, and potentially that will lead to a prosecution in the courts. One of the important things in all of that, in my personal opinion—and I know it's the view of our government—is that there is enormous risk to the reputation of people if, until that point is reached, until that test is met, these bodies can be used to unfairly destroy reputations permanently because of the mere spectre that someone has had a referral to these bodies or even that an investigation is commenced within these bodies. If they ultimately find no evidence for the claims, they can still destroy reputations.
It's very easy for us to learn lessons, because these bodies exist at a state and territory level across the country as we speak. I don't cast any aspersions on particular integrity bodies that are operating around the country already, but I don't think any of them is perfect and I don't think anyone would suggest that any one particular model is perfect. They are all different. They all have some things that some of us would agree with more with than others. But I think there are some fundamental propositions we have to defend in this country, and the first is the fundamental principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'.
The mere suggestion that someone may be referred to a body for the initial component of an investigation—that could potentially be something that is in the public domain from that point, and that is something that can be used to cast aspersions on that person whether or not they have committed a crime that they have had no chance to defend themselves against but, more importantly, should not be expected to in our society. If we want to end up in a situation where we're going to use these bodies as political weapons so that people can say they've referred you to an ICAC or they've sent a letter to a person claiming that you've done certain things and they want them investigated—those sorts of things can be used as political stunts rather than genuinely creating an integrity body that has at its heart a focus on investigating, uncovering it where it exists, and then presenting briefs of evidence to the authorities for prosecution.
That's what we need to be focused on. We could have a constructive conversation about the model we've presented. We could talk very genuinely about how we can create an institution that is respected, that is seen as having the utmost integrity and that is put in place for the right reasons. Our opponents in this chamber don't want to do that. So now we have a slanging-match over whether to have an ICAC, when we could have one already if those opposite were prepared to indicate an open-mindedness towards the legislation we're ready to introduce into this chamber. We're in this position because we don't have that bipartisanship. I fundamentally believe that some things need to be way above petty politics. This is exactly the sort of thing that should not be about pointscoring in the media; it should be about the genuineness of a body that will properly investigate and root out corruption in our society. (Time expired)
Yesterday the Attorney-General confirmed what we had all known for many month, if not years, now: that the Morrison-Joyce government has no plans to introduce a Commonwealth integrity commission. I've come from the local government sector and the private sector before that. Codes of conduct and corruption watchdogs are there to ensure that people in positions of power are responsible with it. That is not a difficult concept.
The Prime Minister made a promise to the Australian public and has absolutely no intention of keeping it. To be honest, it's actually not the first of his broken promises. It's just another one of the countless promises made by this government and not kept. But at least this one makes sense, because it doesn't really take a focus group to work out the reason this government doesn't want a watchdog with teeth: they're frightened they might be bitten. All you have to do is ask yourself: why is this government fighting so hard against corruption being exposed? What are they scared of?
Australians want their parliamentarians to be held accountable, and this government should be accountable for its endless rorts and scandals. Here's a list of them, but by no means is it exhaustive, because it's hard to keep up. We've had the car park rorts, the sports rorts, the airport land rorts, the Minister for Defence's community safety rorts and the minister for energy's use of forged documents. We've had robodebt and the appointment of dozens of former Liberal Party members and staffers to highly paid government jobs without proper process. And the one that was a huge insult to regional communities across the country, including my own, was the Building Better Regions Fund. We've all become accustomed to this government using colour coded spreadsheets and treating taxpayer funds as a coalition re-election slush fund. With an election looming, I wonder if the government will find another $10 million in regional funding to divert to a Sydney pool.
The fact is that the Building Better Regions Fund, which is supposed to build stronger regional communities, has been a pork-barrelling exercise. Since 2018, 90 per cent of the Building Better Regions Fund has gone to coalition held or targeted seats, when Labor holds one-third of the eligible seats. Newsflash: apparently Eden-Monaro is no longer a target seat for the Liberal government. Bizarre! Coalition MPs are constantly given the opportunity to lobby for projects that don't meet grant criteria. Ten million dollars of regional funding went to the North Sydney pool, yet the Bega War Memorial Pool, which is 65 years old, got nothing—a BBR application made, a regional pool that needs updating, a pool well used by our community, but an application knocked back. And I wasn't able to lobby, like members opposite. Tell me: why does my community deserve less?
There needs to be greater transparency in decision-making and there needs to be greater transparency in grant funding. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and, sometimes, money to comply with grant processes that are becoming more and more complicated. Volunteers, not-for-profit organisations and community groups deserve to know that they are on a level playing field. Our communities deserve to know that grant applications are not in vain purely because the member representing them doesn't sit with the government of the day. The Australian public deserves to know that decisions over grant funding are made based on merit, rather than the political interests of those in power. And the only way to truly get the transparency that our communities want and need and to stop the rorts is for the government to implement an independent watchdog.
Every single non-government member and senator in the parliament is demanding a powerful, independent integrity commission, and the only people preventing this are the Prime Minister and his colleagues. They have the numbers in the House. They could introduce the bill and pass the legislation at any point. Yet they won't. Why? Why is this piece of legislation the only one that they want bipartisan support for? Every community I visit in Eden-Monaro says the same thing: people don't trust the government. The government has undermined people's confidence in our democratic institutions because of the lack of transparency over grant funding and decision-making which impacts our communities.
It is time to restore faith in our democratic institutions and in our government. An Albanese Labor government will put an end to this government's shameful tolerance for scandals and rorting and help restore the Australian people's trust in their government. A Labor government will establish the powerful, transparent and independent national anticorruption body that this country deserves. (Time expired)
I'm grateful that the member for Wentworth is here, because I want to refer to the former member for Wentworth. It might not surprise people in this place that the former member for Wentworth and I didn't agree on much. But I've got to say I agreed with his assessment of the member for Isaacs. I remember the member for Wentworth came into the place regularly, and he'd say, 'The Member for Isaacs gives weight to the maxim that, with the right lawyer, anyone can go to jail.' I refer particularly to the 10 or 11 referrals we have had to the AFP. By the way, all of those referrals have been met with a variation between, 'Not today, Charlie,' and complete scorn. In any event, none of them have gone anywhere. But those opposite want me to come into this place and accept the member for Isaacs when he says, 'I've got a better ICAC model than you.'
While we're on the topic of contrasting and comparing, I am not going to stand here and be lectured by those opposite about integrity. Those opposite are the party of Craig Thomson, Sam Dastyari, Eddie Obeid—the list keeps going, buddy. There's Ian Macdonald. What about the red shirts affair that's happening right now, for those who might want to say these are not contemporary matters? The reality is those opposite better get their house in order before they come into this House and try to lecture those of us on this side of the chamber about questions of integrity. They would do well to stop being led on legal matters by the member for Isaac.
I come from SA, and I have watched up close and personal what I think is one of the better models in Australia for these corruption commissions. That's not to say that I think it's a particularly good model. In fact, that's not to say that the South Australian parliament thought it was a particular good model. They've recently stripped the powers of ICAC, because they've watched individual after individual be targeted by ICAC in an attempt to land a big fish where there were no fish to land. And each and every one of those individuals has been put to immeasurable expense and has had their career either truncated or quashed. These are super serious matters. They are complex and they're delicate. For those opposite to say: 'We only want our model. We couldn't possibly consider your model. There is nothing to be gained from your model,' is complete bunkum. The reality here is that the model we need is one that treads the fine line. There are already statutes across this country that deal with issues of dishonesty in public office and other places. But those opposite want to come in here and say, 'Look at what we say; don't look at what we do.'
There are a myriad of things where they want us to do that at the moment. In defence spending, they want to say, 'We are strong on questions around defence; we will maintain funding on defence,' but in fact the last time they came to government they cut defence spending to its lowest level since the 1930s. They come in here now and say, 'Believe us when we say that this time we will be strong on borders.' That's what they say: 'Believe us, because we say it.' Well, the Australian people can see through that stuff. Quite frankly, they saw it in 2007. They saw you completely capitulate on borders, because the likes of the member for Melbourne said you had to, if you wanted to govern.
I'm from an agricultural electorate and we haven't forgotten about your stance in relation to live exports. You came into this parliament and said, 'Trust us on live exports; we've got farmers' backs,' and you are saying that consistently now in terms of all things agricultural. But, you know what, we saw what you did to the live export trade.
All I say to the people of Australia in the lead-up to this election is: don't listen to what this mob say; look at what they do. They are the party of Craig Thomson, Sam Dastyari, Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald. Integrity is not their gig.
Yesterday the Attorney-General confirmed that the Morrison government will not fulfill its promise to implement a federal anticorruption watchdog before the election. This is yet another broken promise from the Morrison government—the worst, most scandal ridden government we've ever seen. Already during this sitting we've had the Religious Discrimination Bill dumped by this government, after causing so much anxiety and division, and now they won't even bring their anticorruption bill to the House. As usual, they are blaming everyone else to deflect from their own incompetence.
Senator Cash accused Labor of playing politics and said this was the reason the bill was not being introduced—just laughable! The real reason they won't introduce it is the brightest legal minds in the country have labelled their version of an anticorruption commission as a weak, ineffective and secretive body. Here is what the Centre for Public Integrity has said about the Prime Minister's ICAC: 'It's a sham designed to cover up corruption, and the weakest watchdog in the country.' The truth is the Morrison government is so terrified of what a powerful, independent and transparent anticorruption commission—one with teeth, if we had our way—will reveal about its behaviour. Last week the Attorney-General said the government didn't have time to legislate a federal ICAC. She said passing religious freedom laws was the government's most pressing priority. Well, we know what a disaster that turned out to be. They didn't even have the support of their own party room to pass that legislation.
This is a government in chaos. There is no time for a federal ICAC, what with all the scandals and rorts in the Morrison government. Almost every single day we see report after report in our media about their rorts such as car park rorts, sports rorts, the Western Sydney airport land rip-off, robodebt, use of forged papers, the appointment of dozens of former staff and Liberal members to highly-paid government jobs without due process—the list goes on and on. There's no end to the scandals and rorts in the Morrison government. But not only is this government too busy defending itself from scandals; it is petrified of what a powerful anticorruption watchdog will uncover about it and its conduct.
Every state and territory now has a dedicated anticorruption commission. Every single member and senator in this parliament, apart from those on the other side, is united against the Morrison government in demanding an independent anticorruption watchdog with teeth. The Australian people have made it abundantly clear they want one. The constituents in my electorate of Corangamite tell me this every day—that they want a federal ICAC. And the only thing standing between us getting one is this Morrison Liberal government.
There is an absolutely pathetic broken promise here, and Australians have had enough. They are sick and tired of a government that refuses to lead, a government that refuses to be accountable, a government that has no integrity and a government that uses taxpayers' money for its own personal slush fund. No wonder the Australian public is disillusioned with politicians and is cynical about government; they are living through the worst, most self-serving scandal ridden government Australia has ever had.
The Australian people deserve better than this. The only pathway now to getting rid of this government and having a national anticorruption commission is to vote the Morrison government out. Only a Labor government will deliver a transparent, independent, powerful anticorruption body—a national ICAC. It would operate as a standing royal commission and it would have independent powers to investigate. Unlike the Morrison government, Labor has no tolerance for corruption—and neither do the Australian voters. We need to restore confidence and integrity in our political system, and the only way to do this is to vote in an Albanese Labor government.
Few issues expose the rank hypocrisy of the Labor Party more than the Commonwealth integrity commission. The coalition has already furnished detailed legislation for such a commission, and the only reason it's not proceeding is that the Labor Party refuses to support it.
We even have the shadow Attorney-General laughing and scoffing at the proposition of a Commonwealth integrity commission. I would have respect for the Labor Party—I truly would—if their opposition to our legislation were based on an alternative piece of legislation. Have they furnished one? No. Does the shadow Attorney-General wish today to furnish an alternative piece of legislation? No, because they have nothing. They have nothing more than two pages of talking notes, no doubt handwritten by the Leader of the Opposition when he was at school, along with his economics dissertation. That's all they have. There's only one party that is truly holding this back more than anything, and that is the Labor Party, together with the little pixies at the bottom of the garden with whom they dance hand in hand, the Greens.
If there is an organisation in this country which should never, ever dictate on integrity, it is the Australian Labor Party. I'm not just talking here about the Craig Thomsons, the Sam Dastyaris, the Obeids or the Ian Macdonalds. There's an insight here that hasn't been raised yet. If you think about everyone they've had lined up from the other side to speak about integrity today, there's something missing. We've had members from Victoria, the Northern Territory and WA. Guess who's missing. The shadow Attorney-General is already squirming. Guess who's missing from this line-up. There is no Queenslander from the Labor Party speaking to this.
So where are the members for Moreton, Griffith, Rankin and Oxley? They're all in their suites under their desks. They're rocking back and forth with their hands over their ears saying, 'I can't hear this; I can't hear this.' I'll tell you why: because the Queensland Labor government is burning in an inferno of misconduct, and those opposite know it. They come here today with all the motherhood statements about integrity in office, yet they failed to mention the very jurisdiction in this nation which is burning because of its lack of integrity, and that is the Queensland Labor government. They know it, and that's why the shadow Attorney-General has fallen silent with his head down at the desk. He knows as much as the rest of them do that the Queensland Labor government is in deep trouble.
We have a conga line of people, all statutory office bearers or former office bearers in Queensland, running from the Queen Street Mall all the way to 1 William Street. Guess what they're doing: they are blowing the whistle on the lack of integrity in the Palaszczuk government in Queensland. What do those opposite say about that today? Nothing.
Oh, they're blaming News Corp. There you go—good old News Corp. We'll take the News Corp option from the shadow Attorney-General. They know that it is ridiculous.
Here we have a situation. Just imagine the integrity commissioner, Dr Stepanov, who's been asking tough questions of the Labor government in Queensland because of their use of lobbyists in the executive building during the last election campaign. She makes a complaint about one of her staff members, and what happens? Within two weeks, her office is raided and a laptop that she had asked to be investigated and forensically examined is taken and allegedly wiped. What was on that laptop, I wonder, Premier Palaszczuk? What lack of integrity is your office representing, and why do your federal colleagues come in here and stay silent about your state, your jurisdiction and your government? (Time expired)
The discussion has concluded. Before we go on to the next piece of government business, I would just like to remind members that we're not at the football; we are actually in the chamber of the House of Representatives. I particularly remind the shadow Attorney-General that I've seen better behaviour from him before.