House debates

Thursday, 17 February 2022

Statements on Indulgence

Commonwealth Integrity Commission

12:02 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I may not be a career politician, but I know when I'm being taken for a ride. The Prime Minister's laughable excuse that he cannot legislate his dud integrity commission proposal because the opposition won't support it is totally absurd. He's never applied that standard to any other legislation. The Prime Minister has taken me, the crossbench, the opposition and his own backbench for a ride when he said that he wanted to work on a bill in a bipartisan way. The facts are clear. He had no intention on working on this in a bipartisan way.

The Prime Minister has also taken for a ride hundreds of Australians who gave feedback on his dud proposal. There has been over a year of what is now clearly fake consultation, and not one change has been made. He played the public for a patsy, but they are smarter than that. Make no mistake: this is a deliberate decision by the Prime Minister to avoid accountability. Make no mistake: this Prime Minister doesn't want a cop on the beat at this forthcoming election, when he's about to pork-barrel and rort with total abandon. There will be no consequences for that while this Prime Minister is in charge.

Don't think you can fool me. This is not respectable leadership. MPs on both sides think that—not just the crossbench and the opposition. Strong leadership creates bipartisanship, and, as it stands, that has not been achieved. The majority of MPs right here right now support my gold standard Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill. It's sitting here right on the Notice Paper. I say to this government: what has all this lording over us with punitive standing orders achieved? You should show up and face the music. Have a debate. Support a bill that can bring to fruition legislation that all the nation wants.

The 46th Parliament is coming to a close, and this government has failed the nation. It has failed the nation on integrity. I will never stop bringing this to the attention of this House, even in the dying days of this parliament. Our nation deserves so much better than this. The legislating of a federal integrity commission was a character test for this Prime Minister and his government, and I stand here today saying he has failed that character test. And it's not just me who knows it; the nation knows it.

12:05 pm

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to again thank the member for Indi for the work she has done in continuing to bring attention to this issue. When I stood last year to support her efforts to have this bill debated, I said then it was one of the most important things, or the most important thing, that we come here to do. And I still maintain that. I believe that this issue needs to be debated. It is also clear that this parliament is running out of time to legislate an integrity bill.

The important thing I would like to note today is that we must have a multipartisan approach to this issue. We must not allow this issue to be lost in the politics and in the tribalism of the politics that can go on in this place and outside it. This is such an important issue. It's fundamental to the trust and confidence that we need from the Australian people to do our jobs. I would urge cooperation and collaboration from all parties on all sides to take this forward in the next parliament. It simply will not happen, and it will not create the institution that is necessary, if there is a 'my idea is better than your idea' approach. We really need to find a way to come together and collaborate on this in the best interests of all Australians.

12:07 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Indi for bringing this forward and my colleague. A properly working parliament requires trust, honesty and integrity. It is clear that our standing in the public has taken a bashing, because these key attributes are in question. Between the scandals that have plagued all governments over the past few decades and the chaos that people see in question time and on the news, public faith in our parliamentary institutions is very low. We need a federal ICAC so we can take action, take the first step, to regain the respect of Australians, who need to have confidence that we are all acting with the integrity and honesty that they rightly expect of us.

This sitting fortnight we have seen many members give their valedictory speeches, and a common theme has been the need for bipartisanship. Bipartisanship is necessary for many of our dealings but it is especially important on this issue. We need our leaders and parties to come together on this issue, because a solution will need to outlive a three-year parliament and will need to outlive governments. For too long this has been a political football, each side happier to score political points than to get the job done. The government has proposed a bill but has not accepted debate on it. The opposition hasn't even offered its own version or been willing to do anything constructive, relying simply on criticising the government's bill. None of this is productive.

This needs goodwill between the two parties. We must stop bashing heads and instead put our heads together to work our way forward. This is too important to play politics with, because we've seen what happens around the world when people lose trust in their elected representatives. So let's form a team. A team is a group of people who come together with a common goal. Let's form a team to represent Australians, to ensure honesty and integrity as the foundations for those who represent us and those who seek to lead.

12:10 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to commend the comments made by the member for Bennelong and the member for Bass. When we stand here, we all stand here representing our electorates, and our communities collectively across Australia want to think that the decisions that are made in this place are made in the national interest, not in the interests of mates or in self-interest. Unfortunately, I think we've lost our way in this place. I think that there is a growing feeling across the community that those of us in here are just in it for ourselves. We can fix that with a federal ICAC. We really can. We need to be able to show the Australian community that the decisions we make in here are transparent and they're made with good governance.

We are not our best selves in this place. This is my second term. We are in the last days of this parliament. Many of us have been talking for years—it's been six years for me—about the need for a federal ICAC. It hasn't happened, and what a wasted opportunity for us as a parliament and for our nation that we haven't acted on what was an election promise prior to the last election. I'm deeply disappointed that this hasn't happened. We've had ample time. We could sit next week and the week after. This should be done by the government and I would urge this government to be its best self and allow all of us to be our best selves. Let's work together to get a federal ICAC happening.

12:12 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I observe that trust in politics and politicians in this country right now is at rock bottom. That's no wonder, because of all the scandals and the suspicions of scandals, but also because of the complete absence of a regulatory framework to protect the country from misconduct and because of the continuing refusal of the government to put in place that framework. For as long as I've been in this place, I, too, have argued for some sort of federal integrity agency with teeth. That could be easily achieved with bipartisan support in this place, and it will be a priority for the next government, whoever that is, to move in that direction quickly after the next election.

I'll take this opportunity to also say that an appropriate regulatory framework will not be just a federal integrity agency. We also need better whistleblower protection, so witnesses to misconduct can speak up and are protected. We also need media freedom laws, so the media can publicise that misconduct. We also need truth in political advertising laws, and we need political donation reform so we know exactly who is donating to who and who has the real power in this country. That's what's required. It's all easily achieved, and it must be a priority for the next government after the election. The Labor Party has said that they will pursue a federal integrity agency. I applaud them for that. And I say to the current government that, if they should be returned, they must finally get into step with the community.

In closing, I offer congratulations to my fellow Tasmanian, the member for Bass. The member for Bass has been outspoken and strong on this for a long time, and she's taken a very brave leadership position. I say to the member for Bass: when you crossed the floor late last year in our unsuccessful attempt to bring on the member for Indi's private member's bill, that was the single bravest thing I've seen any member do in this place in my 12 years. Thank you.

12:14 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Of all the people in Australia, I probably am the most qualified to speak on this. I don't say that out of some vain hubris. A group of policemen in Queensland murdered 42 people. That's a matter of public record. For twenty-one of them, in the Whisky Au Go Go fire, it wasn't intentional, but they still murdered them, Forty-two people were murdered. We had no integrity commission. I tried to do something by myself, and I'm sure other members did; at least one ALP member did. And it was terrifying, absolutely terrifying. We had no integrity commission and nothing of that nature, and it led to the most dreadful of outcomes. The Fitzgerald inquiry had nothing to do with government corruption. It was about the police force murdering people. It was discovered that the commissioner of police himself had been providing protection—I don't think he had any idea of the extent to which the thing had gone. But, regardless of that, here's the thing: if you don't have an integrity body, then this can happen. And when you do have it, it can terrify people who should be terrified.

In Queensland, we have the most extraordinary situation where the Premier raided the Integrity Commissioner's office when she wasn't there, took all the files, and then closed down the Integrity Commissioner's office by taking all the staff away. She has precedent for that. She ordered Robbie Katter, the leader of our party in the state parliament, to publicly state something, and, 'if you don't, I'm going to punish you'—flagrantly illegal, threatening a member of parliament to force him to do something that he didn't want to do and hadn't intended to do. A clear breach of the section in the crimes act. Now, two bodies looked at it and neither of them would go there: they wouldn't say she had been right, but they wouldn't say any action should be taken. Now, if it's a parliamentary committee of integrity, the two major parties get together and they have a little tete-a-tete, and, 'I won't pick on you if you won't pick on me'. That's what happened in the Robbie Katter case.

The second case is far, far more troubling—that a government closes down the Integrity Commissioner—but it proves the necessity for an Integrity Commissioner, because if the Premier could go to such lengths, clearly there is something bloody awful in the Integrity Commissioner's files—something that no-one has now. The files have been taken by a government department and they have vanished. With the heroism of this lady sitting here in front of me, the member for Indi, maybe we will never have a situation in the federal parliament where 42 human beings get murdered by a group of corrupt policemen. And, far from saying that the Queensland Integrity Commissioner does not have teeth, what this actually proves is that they have very, very real teeth, so much so that a government has moved to completely destroy the Integrity Commissioner.

I don't think any decent people on either side of this parliament would say that we don't need something. There are grave dangers. There were so many innocent people hurt in the Fitzgerald inquiry. I can get physically sick even thinking about the wonderful, heroic coppers that had child pornography put on their computers. Judge Vasta was hung, drawn and quartered without the slightest bit of evidence ever being produced, and he has gone to his grave now. So there is a terrible downside. But if you add to the downside and have a look at what was happening in Queensland then, and is happening again now, my point about the Integrity Commissioner in Queensland is that whatever was in those files was so damaging and so serious that the government would take the most incredible action to close it down. And that is proof positive of why you need an Integrity Commissioner. They have got onto stuff that needed to be put on the public record and was so serious for the government that they would take this measure to close it down. So I applaud the member for Indi and her statement on the need for a federal integrity commission, and I'm proud to be in her little group of crossbenchers and proud to be with Andrew Wilkie and all the others who have been pushing for this. Even though I know the terrible downside to this sort of initiative, clearly we must go with it.

12:20 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

The government has broken the promise that it made to the Australian people before the last election. The Prime Minister has failed to deliver a national anticorruption commission. I'm very heartened to hear all of the members of the crossbench and two government backbenchers express their concern about the failure on the part of this government. The Prime Minister stood up on 13 December 2018 and made this commitment to the Australian people. Since then, all that we have had from this Prime Minister is a sham consultation, a fake process and hundreds of submissions, many of them expressing deep criticisms about the government's model—and every single one of those comments has been ignored. By contrast with the government's position, Labor, if elected, will establish a powerful, transparent and independent national anticorruption commission. We will make it a priority if we are elected to government.