Tuesday, 22 November 2022
National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022, National Anti-Corruption Commission (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2022; Second Reading
We are forward-thinking, we provide the foundations for nation-building, and we deliver law that safeguards our institutions and the integrity of government. The National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill will provide the commission with a broad jurisdiction to investigate serious or systemic corruption, corrupt conduct across the Commonwealth public sector. It will have the ability to investigate ministers, parliamentarians, their staff, statutory office holders, employees of all government entities, and government contractors. Further, it will have discretion to commence inquiries on its own initiative or in response to referrals from anyone. Moreover, it will have the power to investigate both criminal and non-criminal corrupt conduct and conduct occurring before or after its establishment.
Above all, it will be independent. The independent commission will be led by a commissioner. The commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission will have a full suite of powers, similar to that of a royal commission, and will be able to use these powers to undertake an investigation into a corruption issue if it involves serious or systemic corrupt conduct. To determine whether an allegation or claim could be serious or systemic corruption, the commission will be able to undertake preliminary inquiries, using powers to compel the production of information. I will say it again, because I think it is important to reiterate this point: it will be independent.
Just as important as the detection of corruption is the prevention of corruption and ensuring adequate education opportunities are available. The commission will have a mandate to undertake corruption prevention and education functions. This will ultimately include public inquiries to examine corruption risks and vulnerabilities and measures to prevent corruption. The commission will provide information and assistance to understand the concept of corrupt conduct and to identify and address vulnerabilities to corruption. The commission's work on corruption prevention and education will be informed by the insights the commission draws from its investigations and the intelligence that the commission will collect. It will also engage in broader public education about the commission's role and corruption risks and pathways to report corrupt conduct.
I know I'm starting to sound a bit like a broken record, but I cannot overstate the importance of the commission's independence. The National Anti-Corruption Commission's independence will be secured in multiple different ways. The commission will be able to conduct investigations on its own initiative or in response to referrals or allegations from any source, with agency heads required to report corruption issues within their respective agencies to the commission if they suspect it could be serious or systemic corruption.
The appointment of the commissioner and deputy commissioners will be subject to approval by the parliamentary joint committee which I will touch on later, with the commissioner's appointment duration being a single term of five years and the deputy commissioners' appointments being two terms of five years each. The appointees will have security of tenure comparable to a federal judge. Further, the bill provides for the parliamentary joint committee to review and make recommendations on the sufficiency of the National Anti-Corruption Commission's budget. A point that was raised in our many hours of doorknocking and phone banking during the election campaign was the oversight of the National Anti-Corruption Commission: how is this commission going to be overseen? The commission will be overseen by a parliamentary joint standing committee as well as an inspector. The parliamentary joint committee will comprise 12 members: three government, two opposition and one crossbench member from each House, including a government chair.
In addition to confirming appointments and reviewing the commission's budget, the committee's oversight role will include reviewing the commission's performance and its annual reports. The inspector will deal with any corruption issues arising in the commission and complaints about the commission.
At present, there's much discussion surrounding how the hearings of the National Anti-Corruption Commission will work, so let's break this very important component down. The commission will be able to hold public hearings in exceptional circumstances and if satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. This test will ensure that the benefits of holding hearings in public are balanced with other potential negative impacts. Without limiting what the commissioner can consider when determining whether to hold a hearing in public, the legislation will prescribe a number of relevant factors, including: the nature of the corruption issue; unfair prejudice to reputation, privacy, wellbeing or safety that may be caused; and the benefits of public awareness. This is relevant for reputational and wellbeing safeguards.
The commissioner's investigation function would be balanced with strong safeguards to ensure that corruption investigations do not cause undue reputational damage. These safeguards include requiring hearings to be held in private unless there are exceptional circumstances and the commissioner is satisfied it is in the public interest to hold a public hearing. The safeguards also include: requiring the commissioner to clarify the capacity in which a witness is appearing at a public hearing; requiring certain sensitive evidence to be received in private; the provision for non-disclosure directions about a notice or summons or to protect sensitive information; an express ability for the commissioner to make public statements at any time to avoid damage to a person's reputation; and provision for the inclusion of statements in investigation reports where it is appropriate and practicable to avoid damage to a person's reputation if the commissioner forms the opinion that a person has not engaged in corrupt conduct, or a statement to that effect, and if a person gives evidence at a hearing and is not the subject of any findings or opinions in relation to the corruption investigation, or a statement to that effect.
Now, to ensure that this commission is powerful and is able to function and discharge its duties to the best of its ability, it will need to be funded adequately. That is what our government will ensure. Our government has committed substantial funding to the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, in the order of $262 million over four years, for the establishment and ongoing operations of this important institution. This will ensure that the commission has the staff, the capabilities and the capacity to triage referrals and the allegations it receives, conduct timely investigations, and undertake corruption prevention and educational activities. The legislation provides for the parliamentary joint committee to regularly review and report on the sufficiency of the commission's budget.
I reiterate what I said earlier. Today we begin the process to fulfil the election commitment of establishing an independent federal anti-corruption commission. This is forward thinking. This is nation-building. This is how you return accountability and integrity to federal politics and to government. This is what trust looks like.
I rise in support of the coalition's proposed amendments to the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022 and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2022. The amendments offer commonsense protections to some of the more contentious elements of these bills. The additional protections we are seeking are to ensure that people brought before the NACC get a fair hearing and to ensure bipartisanship in the appointment of the commissioner.
The NACC Bill lays out the template for the creation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The NACC will exist to investigate and stop any cases of serious or systemic corruption. The commission will have the power to compel the production of documents, obtain search warrants, seize evidence and exercise limited powers of arrest. The commission would also have covert investigative powers, including telecommunications interception powers and the ability to use surveillance devices. So the way this entity is formed and the protections and oversights in place are of significant importance to the way the Commonwealth government operates. It is really imperative that this is done right and isn't rushed through.
The coalition supports the NACC Bill in principle but has proposed some strong amendments. If implemented correctly, an integrity commission can become an important tool in protecting our democracy and ensuring probity in government processes. But, as we've seen with many of the state integrity bodies, if done poorly these bodies can become something quite harmful to these purposes.
We've heard a lot from the government members about the coalition's record on this, but let's look at the facts rather than the popular narrative that has been spun recently. It was in fact the coalition that introduced Australia's first ICAC, in New South Wales back in 1988, and it was the former government, in 2018, that announced it would establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. It was again the former government, in 2020, that released a consultation paper alongside a proposed draft of the bill, and it was the then Labor opposition that opposed these proposals. So the push for a bipartisan approach to establishing a Commonwealth Integrity Commission was scuttled.
We support a corruption commission because corruption, of course, is wrong and should be stamped out. We believe that people who break the law should face the law. But, with such a broad application and all the powers of a royal commission, it is incredibly important that we get this absolutely right. We're introducing amendments that will ensure the extraordinary powers of the commission are applied in a fair and reasonable way. It shouldn't come as a surprise to the government or the crossbench, because many of the amendments we're proposing have come out of the additional comments that the coalition members of the committee made during that committee process. I acknowledge the great work done by the member for Menzies in leading the coalition's push on that front. This is about getting the balance right.
First of all, we will introduce an amendment that will close the loophole that the government has introduced for union representatives. The NACC applies to a broad range of Australians. This isn't just for parliamentarians and the people who work in this building, and it's broader than just Canberra public servants. It also applies to the members of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police. It applies to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, to aged-care workers and to any contractor, subcontractor or other person working under a power under a law of the Commonwealth. It's very important to remember that this isn't just us establishing new rules for ourselves. We are subjecting many thousands of hardworking Australians to these new protocols and this new agency. Yet somehow the NACC does not apply to union officials exercising a power under a law of the Commonwealth. How can it be that union officials won't have to answer to the NACC but an NDIS worker or some of our ADF personnel may? We have many ADF personnel moving around this building today as part of the ADF Parliamentary Exchange Program. How can we look at them in the face and say that it's appropriate for them to face all the powers of the NACC but not for a union official to do so?
The government has been very evasive in denying that there is a carve-out, but it's there in black and white in proposed sections 12 and 14 of the bill. In a table in proposed section 12, item 2 in column 1 says:
An individual (other than an official of a registered industrial organisation) …
It explicitly carves out a union official from the definition of an individual. I know those on the left aren't big fans of individualism. Those who come out of the union movement often aren't fans of individualism. But to put into legislation that a union official isn't regarded as an individual might be taking things a little bit too far. Proposed section 14 says:
A statutory office holder is an individual (other than an official of a registered industrial organisation) …
It's truly unbelievable stuff; I was quite surprised to find that in there. I thought last week's IR changes were bad enough in terms of looking after the unions, but it's quickly descending into farce across nearly every bill the government is introducing into this House.
We're also introducing amendments supported by eminent experts in the field, including the Law Council of Australia, the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties and the South Australian Bar Association, to ensure the bill has adequate protections. We think it's important that it isn't just the commissioner that decides to commence a public hearing, as that sees too much power vested in one single official. This power should be shared between the commissioner and a deputy commissioner to ensure good governance. This proposal was supported by The Australia Institute, the Victorian Inspectorate and others. We think it should be compulsory, not optional, for the commissioner to consider factors including whether confidential information is involved, whether there would be unfair prejudice to a person's reputation or whether a person giving evidence has a particular vulnerability such as being under direct instruction or control of another person.
We're also seeking to amend the bill to ensure the commission should be required to commence an inquiry into matters that took place prior to the establishment of the commission but only if it is in the public interest for them to do so. The bill states that the commission will have the power to act retrospectively. But for this bill to have any credibility and for the new NACC to be fit for purpose, the parliament should place a limit on retrospective action. We don't need to go into endless witch hunts raking over the distant past, searching for faint relics no longer relevant or threatening. The commission created by this instrument must find any corrupt conduct which afflicts Australia today rather than waste precious resources on tit-for-tat battles over matters that are now old.
The coalition is also calling for all decisions of the commission to be subject to review under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act, as significant aspects of the bill are not subject to that review. This was an amendment proposed by the Law Council of Australia, and the coalition believes this is a commonsense provision. The commission has the power to impose nondisclosure notations or gag orders on people. These prevent them from disclosing that they have appeared before the commission. We think it is essential that there be limited expectations to the interest of mental health and of the people that come before the commission. People should be able to make a disclosure to an immediate family member as long as they are not a person of interest themselves, a medical professional or a mental health professional. I note the government's amendments this morning have gone some way to addressing that.
The bill abrogates the privilege against self-incrimination and legal professional privilege. Our amendments ensure this is only done when absolutely necessary because of the significant impost on these fundamental rights. That amendment was also supported by the Law Council of Australia.
We believe that investigations shouldn't go on indefinitely. Justice delayed, as they say, is justice denied. Our amendment will propose a 12-month time limit on investigations. I think that's very fitting, given the length of time a lot of these state investigations have gone on for and the amount of damage that's been done over those long, drawn-out investigations that seem to go on forever.
We think bipartisanship is essential in the creation of a new body like the NACC. The coalition is proposing a three-quarter majority of the parliamentary committee should be required for appointments of the commissioner and the inspector. Without support of all sides of this chamber, the commission risks losing the trust of the public.
Sadly, vexatious complaints are part of life. The Law Council of Australia's submission noted:
The Bill does not include offences for making vexatious complaints, and the Law Council considers that this is appropriate, given that such offences may deter people from making a referral.
I encourage the government to look closer at those sorts of issues.
It's important we take lessons from the failures and abuses of power we have seen from some of the state based integrity commissions. We need to make sure that Australia in 2023 does not resemble Salem in 1693. Sadly, we have seen too many examples from the state based integrity commissions which would not have been out of place in Salem. Murray Kear, the former head of the New South Wales SES, was investigated by ICAC for dismissing a staff member allegedly in reprisal for the staff member making allegations about the conduct of another staff member. ICAC used its inquisitorial powers and falsely released a public report condemning him. Kear was forced to retire without ongoing wages and was rendered unemployable by the public nature of these findings. Kear took the case to court and the magistrate dismissed the charge, finding him not just not guilty, but proving him positively innocent. Despite this, ICAC never apologised nor exonerated Kear. This is just one example of many where ICAC has overstepped the mark.
We had Doug Barr, a South Australian police officer. He was investigated by the South Australian ICAC for his involvement in the investigation into the Salt Creek kidnapping. More than two years after the ICAC investigation started, Barr, unfortunately, took his own life. When the report was released it was made clear that Barr was not accused of corruption, and also that the report was dated for release eight days before Barr's untimely death. Had the investigation been more efficiently organised and less psychologically damaging for those involved it is likely Barr would still be with us today. As Barr's wife noted, 'The process is the punishment, whether you're guilty or not.'
We have the case of Georgina Vasilaveski, a former Renewal SA executive, and her then boss, John Hanlon. They were subject to an 18-month public investigation by the South Australian ICAC. However, despite the length and effort of the investigation, it was ultimately thrown out due to a lack of evidence. According to Vasilaveski, 'The complaint against me cost me my 20-year career in government.' She also claims it took three years to investigate a matter of $1,032.
A little bit closer to here we had the case of Margaret Cunneen, who was a top New South Wales DPP prosecutor. Cunneen was investigated by the New South Wales ICAC in 2014 for individual allegations which were almost certainly malicious and trivial in nature. The matter went to the High Court in April 2015, where the court ruled the investigation did not fall within the scope of ICAC's functions and did not have the power to investigate the allegations. Four out of five High Court justices agreed the ICAC had no power to investigate allegations against Cunneen because the allegations did not fit the definition of corrupt conduct in the New South Wales legislation.
And of course there is Michael Gallacher. In 2014, counsel assisting ICAC Geoffrey Watson implied, while questioning a witness, that Michael Gallacher, the then New South Wales police minister, had been complicit in hatching a corrupt scheme. No evidence was produced, but the accusation alone was enough to see Gallacher dumped from the Liberal Party frontbench following almost 40 years of public service—almost 16 years as a police officer and then 21 in the parliament. He later resigned from parliament. A letter from the ICAC inspector Bruce McClintock to Gallagher in 2018 noted that he had a 'very, very considerable degree of sympathy' for Gallacher, and felt that what happened to him was 'wrong and unfair'. He also noted that no finding of corrupt conduct had been made against Gallacher. Gallacher described it as five years of personal hell, noting that it was 'like a nightmare where you're calling out for help but nobody comes'.
The South Australian Bar Association has given a very strong submission to the inquiry into this bill and noted:
There have been many failed prosecutions in South Australia as the result of an ICAC Investigation.
Corruption Commissions across the country have extraordinary powers. Terrorism suspects are given more rights when criminal charges are brought against them than a public servant who is brought before an anti-corruption commission.
I have outlined those concerning case studies because we can't end up in the situation where we have these sorts of injustices. We need a NACC framework that recognises that elected officials are also here to do a job, and we need to have adequate protections to prevent the model becoming a political tool.
The bill will cost $262 million over the forward estimates, and it is critical this money is used well. Definitions are important, particularly in legal proceedings. The bill requires far clearer, less ambiguous explanations of the terms and powers upon which it seeks to rely in founding the NACC. The coalition's amendments provide a much tighter and targeted approach to ensure that the NACC achieves its purpose. We cannot allow good men and women of all persuasions and all sides of politics to be sacrificed at the altar of the all-powerful commission merely to satisfy the media or the mob. We cannot allow the lives of innocent individuals to be destroyed by a press release without due process or protections. I commend the coalition's amendments to these bills to the House.
I recently received an email from a constituent, Michael, from Meander Valley. Michael asked for an update on what the Labor government had been doing in our first few months in office—six months yesterday. He told me that the ALP was elected for two reasons—now, I believe we were elected for more than that, but this is Michael's story—one, because of our commitment to climate change and two, because of our promise to establish a National Integrity Commission. I was very pleased to be able to tell Michael that we are keeping our promises on both these matters.
The Albanese government's landmark climate change bills have passed the Senate, ensuring that Australia's emissions reduction target of 43 per cent and net zero by 2050 will be enshrined in legislation. I was also able to tell Michael that the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022 and the associated bill before the House had been introduced to parliament, that the Albanese Labor government was delivering on its 2022 election commitment to legislate a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission by the end of the year. And it's important, because the member who spoke previously mentioned that he was concerned about the NACC being used for political attack. This will be an independent body. The commissioners will independently determine what gets assessed and what gets investigated—nothing to do with this chamber here.
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to speak on these bills today. I've been calling for this National Anti-Corruption Commission since I was elected. I was thrilled when the now Attorney-General made this part of the Labor policy suite going into I think the 2019 election. It's remained a major part of our plank ever since. And here it is, in this chamber today being debated and on its way to becoming law of the land.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022 will establish the commission as an independent agency and empower it to investigate and report on serious or systemic corruption in the Commonwealth public sector, refer evidence of criminal corrupt conduct for prosecution, and undertake education and prevention activities. The Attorney-General has been clear in his many consultations with members of all sides of the House that this is a serious body and it will do serious work. This legislation gives full effect to the design principles that were taken to the federal election—principles that were developed with eminent legal and integrity experts and endorsed at the election by the Australian people. As Michael said, it was one of the key planks of our election campaign, and here we are today making it law.
The principles enshrined in this legislation include: having a broad jurisdiction to investigate; operating independently of government; operating with oversight by a statutory parliamentary joint committee that is empowered to require the commission to provide information about its work; having retrospective powers to investigate allegations of serious or systemic corruption that occurred before or after its establishment; having the power to hold public hearings in exceptional circumstances and where it is in the public interest to do so; being empowered to make findings of fact, including findings of corrupt conduct, and refer findings that could constitute criminal conduct to the Australian Federal Police or the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions; and operating with procedural fairness, and its findings will be subject to judicial review. It is a serious body doing serious work with all the safeguards you would expect of such a body.
This legislation also draws on the best elements of state and territory anticorruption laws. We know that corruption has many corrosive effects on society, including to undermine democracy and the rule of law. I will read a passage from the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales about why exposing and preventing corruption is important:
Undetected and unchecked corruption in the public sector can cause serious damage including:
The ICAC also notes that the World Economic Forum has estimated that the cost of corruption globally is about US$2.6 trillion a year. The impacts of corruption disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people in society. Widespread corruption deters investment, weakens economic growth and undermines the rule of law.
I note recent comment from the Law Council of Australia that it has never been more critical to take decisive action in Australia to continuously strengthen our systems of integrity and independent oversight, especially given how the administrative and executive powers of the Commonwealth, along with national security and law enforcement powers, have expanded in recent years. The NACC will have the power to investigate ministers, parliamentarians and their staff, statutory office holders, employees of all government entities, and government contractors. It will have discretion to commence inquiries on its own initiative or in response to a referral from anyone, and it will be able to investigate criminal and non-criminal corrupt conduct and conduct occurring before or after its establishment.
The definition of 'corrupt conduct' is central to the commission's jurisdiction. It is consistent with key elements of existing definitions at the state and territory level and encompasses conduct by a public official that involves an abuse of office, breach of public trust, misuse of information or corruption of any kind. Further, the commissioner will have a full suite of powers like those of a royal commission and will be able to undertake an investigation into a corruption issue if they are of the opinion that it could involve serious or systemic corrupt conduct. The commissioner will be able to hold public hearings in exceptional circumstances, if satisfied it is in the public interest to do so. At the end of an investigation, the commissioner will be required to prepare a report setting out their findings and their recommendations, and reporting at the end of investigations will provide transparency and support the commission's prevention and education function. The legislation also provides strong protections for whistleblowers and exemptions for journalists to protect the identity of sources.
Importantly, the government has committed $262 million over the forwards for the establishment and ongoing operation of the commission. This funding will ensure that the commission has the staff, the capabilities and the capacity to properly consider referrals and allegations, conduct timely investigations and undertake corruption prevention and education activities.
As someone who has had the privilege of being a member of the government for six months—I've been here for six years—I'm so proud of this government, this Prime Minister and this Attorney-General for delivering on our commitments to the Australian people. This legislation is particularly important, and I have been a strong supporter, as I say, of a national integrity and anti-corruption commission since before it was even my party's policy. A federal anti-corruption commission is long overdue. Australians deserve a robust system of accountability. As I was able to tell Michael, and indeed the many Lyons constituents I speak to daily, the introduction of this bill shows that this government is delivering on our promise to tackle corruption and restore trust and integrity to federal politics. The Albanese government is committed to integrity, honesty and accountability in government, and this legislation is a cornerstone of this government's agenda to restore public trust and strengthen standards of integrity in our federal government.
I commend the bill to the House.
I welcome the introduction of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022 and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2022. This legislation has been a long time coming. Like so many in the House, I had the issue of integrity in government as a key platform during my campaign, and it was one that our electorates believed in strongly enough to vote for change. A majority of voters surveyed in my electorate indicated that it was one of their main drivers in deciding how to vote. Curtin constituents told me they were fed up with politicians not being subject to the same level of scrutiny and accountability as other professions. This lack of transparency has created deep mistrust in politicians and the Canberra ecosystem. So this bill should be celebrated as the first integrity commission model introduced into our federal parliament by a major party.
I want to acknowledge the many years of advocacy, and the introduction of legislation, by Independents on the crossbench, including Cathy McGowan, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall and Andrew Wilkie. It was their tireless efforts to demand that politicians should lead by example and embed best practice in what we do that brought this issue front and centre. They paved the way for this bill, and I thank them for their efforts.
While a national anticorruption commission is only part of the solution to rebuild trust in our government, it is a significant component, and my community and I commend the current government for its introduction. Finding the right model requires a balancing of interests—protecting the rights of individuals while recognising the need for open investigation to shine a light on how our governments operate and continually improve our systems to guard against corruption and to safeguard our democracy. I think this bill goes most of the way to finding this balance.
I want to take this opportunity to reflect the views of my electorate, the Curtin community. Engaging with my community about the NACC Bill has been both rewarding and a privilege. I live in an electorate where so many people are enthusiastic and engaged and are willing to have the conversation about what's best for Australia and the world rather than just what will benefit their own interests. I'm very proud to represent Curtin. I had hundreds of informal conversations with constituents throughout the election campaign. The desire for a national anticorruption commission was consistently one of the top three issues raised.
Since the election, members of the Curtin community have made their views heard through two public events. Soon after the election, on 12 July, we held a public integrity forum, which was open to anyone who was interested in the proposed National Anti-Corruption Commission. On a cold and dark Tuesday night, more than 130 Curtin constituents attended this forum to hear about key aspects of an anticorruption commission and the required balancing of interests, from the former President of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of WA, Carmel McClure AC, and then-barrister Sam Vandongen, just before his appointment to the Supreme Court of WA. From this conversation, we created a summary of my constituents' key concerns, which we shared with the Attorney-General. I thank the Attorney-General for his engagement on this issue and his willingness to listen to the views of the Curtin community.
On 13 October we also held a public interactive policy workshop, with an open invitation to the Curtin community to attend. We ended up with more than 50 Curtin constituents participating in the policy workshop, which was facilitated by eight lawyers, to learn more about the model proposed by the government and share what they liked and what raised concerns in relation to key aspects of the bill. This was an opportunity for participants to delve into the details of the NACC Bill rather than just deal in the rhetoric. It also gave constituents the opportunity to listen to and understand contrary points of view and find compromises in real time that considered multiple interests. We summarised these issues and concerns into a submission to the Joint Select Committee on the National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation.
I want to thank all members of the Curtin community who participated in these events and the lawyers who volunteered their time to help my constituents build a deeper understanding of how the legislation would work. I'd also like to thank those who have contacted me outside of these events and given their time and their efforts to convey their views on the bill.
Based on input from my community through these events, as well as consultation with experts and with my fellow parliamentarians, I will be supporting a number of amendments to the bill during consideration in detail, but I'd like to take this opportunity to outline the main areas that I think could be improved.
The ability to hold public hearings is an important design principle for an effective anticorruption commission, and I'm pleased to see that public hearings are part of this legislation. But I'm concerned that, with the current drafting, public hearings will be few and far between. Section 73(2) says that hearings should be held privately unless there are exceptional circumstances and it is in the national interest for a public hearing. I believe that this test is too high and does not take into account the role of public hearings as an investigative, preventative and educative tool against corruption and misconduct. I believe that applying the exceptional circumstances test is an unhelpful barrier to inquiry. If we want to deter people from engaging in corrupt behaviour and encourage witnesses to come forward, to create a culture of public integrity, then public hearings should not only be in exceptional circumstances. Public hearings should be held whenever it is in the national interest, at the discretion of the commissioner, taking into account the relevant factors listed. I believe that the commissioner will be able to make sensible decisions on this issue, balancing the competing interests of public trust and individual rights, without the additional constraint of an exceptional circumstances test.
Another issue my community raised is the need to ensure that the National Anti-Corruption Commission and its officers are set up to be completely independent and autonomous. For this body to be successful, it needs to carry out its functions independently of government and removed from any third-party influence. I hope that this and future governments will be open and transparent about the funding of the NACC, and I recommend that the NACC budget be tabled annually so that it can be scrutinised. I also urge the government to do everything possible to ensure that senior office holders appointed to the NACC have bipartisan support. This commission will not work in restoring public trust if it's run by the friends of the government of the day, rather than impartial judges.
To have an impartial NACC, we also need an impartial parliamentary committee. Appointing an Independent crossbench member, Helen Haines, as Deputy Chair of the Joint Select Committee on National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation has helped build public trust in the current review process. My community and I would like to see this approach continued. In the ongoing operation of the committee, this could be done in a variety of ways—for example, through appointment decisions requiring multipartisan support, or the committee could even have a non-governmental chair. At the very least, the minister should respond publicly to any recommendations made by the committee if he or she overrules them.
The crossbench has repeatedly called for stronger whistleblower protection in the NACC legislation. Strong whistleblower protection is fundamental to ensure integrity and to encourage witnesses to corruption and misconduct to come forward. I note that the government's response to crossbench concerns about enshrining whistleblower protection has been to propose introducing a new bill to deliver improvements to whistleblower laws, ahead of a fuller review in 2023. While this is welcome news, I think there is still merit in including the whistleblower protections in the NACC Bill. Whistleblower provisions need to be strong, comprehensive and fit for purpose. I'm concerned that a one-size-fits-all approach applied through separate legislation may not be sufficient. But, if this is not an option, the priority amendments to the Public Interest Disclosure Act need to be substantive and work together with later amendments to support disclosure of relevant information with necessary protection.
As a parliament we need to do more to protect people who've stood up to expose wrongdoing and misconduct from prosecution—brave people like Bernard Collaery, a lawyer exposing the Timor-Leste bugging; David McBride, a military lawyer, exposing alleged Australian war crimes; and Richard Boyle, who's exposed alleged aggressive tactics by the tax department.
In its current form, the bill requires a review to be undertaken after five years, with a response to the review from the government due a year after that. Given the significance of this new body in rebuilding trust in government, this seems a long time to wait to make improvements. I accept that it will take a while before the commission is fully operating, but I'd like to see a review three years after full operation commences, which is probably about four years after the bill commences. I believe this would allow an adequate period of operation for the reviewer to assess the commission's success and allow the reviewer to assess the impact of things like the exceptional circumstances test for public hearings and the impartiality of the committee and appointments process. Critically examining and regularly improving the performance of our institutions is part of holding government to account, and I'll be moving an amendment in the consideration-in-detail debate on this issue.
In conclusion, I commend the Attorney-General on the introduction of this bill and thank him for his consultation and measured consideration of feedback in the lead-up to its introduction. I think this bill will go a long way to restoring some of the public trust in government that's been destroyed over the last few terms. I look forward to the establishment of the NACC, and I'll continue to play my role in scrutinising the activities of the commission to make sure it's operating independently and fairly.
Today I rise to speak about the government's National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022. I'm incredibly proud to speak in support of this bill. This is possibly one of my favourite moments in federal parliament so far in my short six months, because this bill is emblematic of so much about the Albanese Labor government, of which I am proud to be part. It is yet another example of our government being true to our commitment to the Australian people. We said we would restore integrity to the centre of how our politics operate; we said we would lift the standards of propriety to which we are rightly held by our constituents; and we said we would introduce legislation for an anticorruption commission before the end of 2022 and we did it in September this year. Here we are, six months since our election, debating sensible and balanced but, most importantly, robust legislation to implement a national anticorruption commission.
I've spoken previously in this place about how delivering a federal integrity body was crucial in my decision to run for the seat of Boothby at this year's election. Like many of my colleagues here in this place and in the other place, and like so many residents of Boothby and across Australia, I was sick of the constant scandals, the allegations of rorts and the misuse of taxpayer money by the previous government that we saw night after night after night on the evening news—a government that refused to bring on legislation to introduce an anticorruption commission, instead holding out for a model that was widely panned as ineffective by the relevant experts and integrity bodies.
This Anti-Corruption Commission bill that we are debating today is a key election commitment not only for our government but for me personally as the member for Boothby because I, like all Australians, believe our government and all representatives in this place should act ethically. It is crucial to the success and continuity of our democracy that our actions build trust in government in our society, and I'm going to repeat that because I think it's really important. It is crucial to the success and continuity of our democracy that our actions here in this place and in the other place build trust in government in our society.
It is absolutely phenomenal to realise that the Commonwealth is currently the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not have an anticorruption body. This is an egregious failure, and one can only form the conclusion that this failure to introduce an anticorruption body was a deliberate choice on the part of the previous government. I draw my own conclusions as to their reasoning, and at the last election I believe Australians drew their own conclusions as well.
In September, when this bill was first introduced, I said in this place that there is of course a practical reason why an anticorruption commission will be able to improve the relationship between citizens and government: integrity is directly related to our ability to deliver for the Australian people. It is necessary for the public to be able to hold us to account for our commitments and the way we make use of public resources. These public resources come directly from the Australian public, and our job as democratically elected public representatives is to allocate those funds appropriately, to make the best use of the funds for the betterment of Australians and of our country—not betterment for ourselves or for themselves, or that of our families or our mates.
I come to this place with a background of delivering services designed to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable—those experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, ill health or mental illness, or those in aged-care services—and I've seen how far even relatively small amounts of government funding can go to really improve the lives of Australians. We can make a real difference in the lives of Australians, who elected us, when that money is used properly, and that is what we are all here for. This bill will ensure that all of us, whatever our politics or party membership, are held to standards to safeguard this and that the Australian public can be assured of this. Integrity, and this Anti-Corruption Commission, is a priority of this government.
I was shocked when I found out that, according to the Transparency International's corruption perceptions index, Australia's score out of 100 for transparency declined 12 points from 2012 to 2021, and our international ranking dropped from 7th to 18th. 2012 to 2021: that's a decade that coincides with the term of the previous government, and if they would like to argue otherwise I invite them to put their money where their mouth is and back the bill. This finding, obviously informed by the many high-profile instances of alleged corruption and misconduct of recent years, the scandals and the rorts, makes clear that we cannot be complacent about integrity in our system of government.
This bill establishes the National Anti-Corruption Commission as promised prior to the election. Importantly, it establishes the commission as an independent agency separate from government. The bill empowers the commission to investigate and report on matters of serious and systemic corruption in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. It rightly empowers the commission to refer evidence of criminal conduct for prosecution.
The Attorney-General has undertaken a methodical, reasonable and consultative process to reach this point. The bill has been examined by a parliamentary joint select committee, which delivered a unanimous report to the House recommending the parliament pass these bills. I would like to acknowledge the dedicated work by the member for Indi over many years in advocating for this commission, as well as my friend and Labor colleague Senator Linda White in the other place, who chaired the committee.
The process of designing this bill and the commission began following the election with the public announcement of a series of key design principles for the commission. I will speak about this briefly because they underpin the aims and scope of the commission. The commission will have broad jurisdiction to investigate serious or systemic conduct by Commonwealth ministers, parliamentarians and their staff, statutory officeholders, staff of government entities and companies and contractors, and by any person who adversely affects the honest or impartial exercise of a public official's functions. The commission will have the ability to investigate criminal and non-criminal conduct, and conduct occurring before or after the commission's establishment. The commission's independence from government will be assured by its ability to receive referrals or allegations from any source, but also to commence investigations on its own initiative without referral; by granting it discretion to take a range of actions to deal with an issue of corruption, including investigation, referring to an agency or taking no action if that is appropriate; and finally, by ensuring the security of tenure for a commissioner and up to three deputy commissioners.
The commission will also operate under the oversight of a parliamentary joint committee which will review the commission's performance, as well as an inspector who will deal with complaints regarding the commission.
Another of the broad principles that underpin this bill is that the commission will have the ability to hold public hearings and make findings of fact. It will also have the power to enter Commonwealth premises and request information from Commonwealth entities without a warrant. There will be power for the commission to hold hearings, and these are to be held in private unless the commission determines it is in the public interest to hold public hearings. I think this is a really important point: the commission itself, not the government, will determine whether the hearings should be held in public. It can give consideration to a range of issues, such as reputational damage, the context under which a particular witness is giving evidence, personal safety, and the ability for a matter to be later prosecuted should that be the decision.
The commission will have the ability to make recommendations and findings of fact in reports, including a finding of corrupt conduct, but not findings of criminal liability. This can rightly only be determined by a court of law. This commission will have the ability to refer matters for prosecutorial consideration.
These powers represent a reasonable and fair balance to ensure the commission strikes the right balance between upholding the public interest, which includes the ability for matters to be prosecuted if the commission believes as a result of its investigations that a referral to a prosecuting authority is warranted, and ensuring appropriate reputational safeguards for those under investigation.
Boothby cares about integrity, I know that a National Anti-Corruption Commission, one with teeth as they say, that actually holds politicians and public servants to account, is a priority for the people of Boothby. I know that because they told me. I heard it from people who told me that they'd only ever voted for conservative parties but who came out and letterboxed for me and handed out how-to-vote cards because they cared so much about integrity in public life. I heard it from Labor voters, some of whom had been motivated to get actively involved in a campaign like mine for the first time because they cared so much about integrity in public life. And I heard it from people who probably hadn't been interested or actively involved in politics previously but had been moved to participate by sheer outrage at the repeated scandals and misuse of public funds that they saw on the nightly news.
What all of these citizens of Boothby had in common was that they were motivated because they value our democracy—in different ways and with different priorities, sure, but they were not going to take it for granted that the system would just work. It requires oversight, vigilance and accountability. It requires a body that can give assurance that actions and decisions were made with integrity, and that's what this bill delivers.
The people of Boothby told me they wanted an anticorruption commission with teeth, and this Anti-Corruption Commission can make public findings and referrals for prosecution where it sees fit—real consequences. The people of Boothby told me they wanted an anticorruption commission that could take referrals from anyone, and this Anti-Corruption Commission not only can take referrals from anyone but can also commence its own investigations if it sees fit. The people of Boothby told me they wanted an anticorruption commission that would consider matters from both before and after the establishment of the commission—retrospectivity—and this Anti-Corruption Commission will do just that. The people of Boothby told me they wanted an anticorruption commission that would be independent, and this Anti-Corruption Commission will make its own decisions about what it investigates.
When I spoke about the concept of a federal integrity commission back in September when this bill was first introduced to the House, I said that, without this accountability and oversight, 'faith in our democracy, in our parliamentary processes and in this place erodes'. And we've seen the consequences of this erosion of trust in democracy around the world in recent years. It can happen quickly with a dramatic rupture, or discontent and mistrust can build over time until all of a sudden they can threaten the very foundations and even existence of a functioning democracy. A deficit in the people's trust in government contributes to some of the great challenges of our age: divisiveness, disinformation, social isolation and an inability to face our many profound challenges.
Conversely, the strength of our democracy is that it is for all of us. We are Australians here representing our fellow Australians, governing by the people and for the people, and Australians want to know that when we, their elected representatives, make decisions on their behalf those decisions are for their benefit. The Australian people are entirely correct to demand integrity from their elected representatives, and I encourage all people in this place to stand up for democracy, stand up for accountability and stand up for integrity by committing to stamping out corruption in our politics for good.
I'm sure the Australian voting public will be watching to see who votes against an Anti-Corruption Commission, and they will draw their own conclusions as to why that might be, just as they drew their own conclusions about why the previous government, despite so many calls and promises to introduce such legislation, failed to do so over nine long, scandal-plagued years. So I ask: who's going to vote against integrity? Why would you vote against integrity?
Deputy Speaker, in May Boothby voted for integrity, and you'll be unsurprised to know that I will be voting for integrity. I will be voting for this Anti-Corruption Commission. The Albanese Labor government is delivering on another key promise. I commend the bills to the House.
By the time I decided to stand for election in my community of Mackellar, I had spent years watching parliamentary standards slip to disturbingly low levels, with one pork-barrelling rort after another performed in a clinical and systematic way, and repeated government-friendly appointments to institutions that underpin our democracy, such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, meaning that their independence is distorted. In nine years, the coalition government made 90 party-friendly appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Australia deserves a whole lot better. We deserve a political system we can trust.
Speaking to the community of Mackellar both before and during the election campaign, I realised that I was certainly not alone in these concerns. During the campaign, people in Mackellar would email my office, approach me on the street and tell me during town hall events that restoring trust and integrity in our federal political system was one of the biggest issues they wanted their MP to tackle. In the Mackellar matters report by the Voices of Mackellar group, restoring integrity to our political system was ranked the second most important issue to the people in my electorate, narrowly behind climate action. I came to realise that restoring integrity in our political system was actually the first step to achieving meaningful reform in other areas and that the scandals, the rorts and the unethical behaviour were obstacles to progress and to good long-term political decision-making.
The evidence also shows that corruption is rising in Australia. Since 2012, Australia's position on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index has dropped significantly. In 2012, we were ranked seventh in the world for the strength of our public sector to withstand corruption. A decade later, we are ranked 18th in the world, largely due to the failure of the previous government to implement a national integrity commission.
The Labor government's introduction of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022 to establish a national anticorruption commission is definitely great progress and is welcomed by ordinary Australians across the country. This progress has been hard won through years of advocacy by many, including many from the crossbench. Cathy McGowan MP, the former member for Indi, advocated and campaigned tirelessly to restore integrity in politics. In 2018, she introduced the detailed National Integrity Commission Bill. It was not legislated, but it certainly saw the coalition government promise to legislate on integrity in the next parliament. Helen Haines MP, the current member for Indi, then took up the baton. I congratulate her for her incredible persistence and for the hard work she has done to bring this to fruition. As we know, the coalition government failed to deliver on its promise of a national integrity commission in the 46th Parliament. This was despite Helen Haines's introduction of the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2020, which provided a gold-standard model for an integrity commission. Helen and so many other community Independents around the country, including me, campaigned hard in this year's federal election, and have done so since, to ensure a national integrity commission would be achieved in this parliament.
So what does the government's National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022 promise? How will it restore integrity and trust in our political system and protect our democracy? As we've heard, the bill creates the National Anti-Corruption Commission, to be led by a commissioner and up to three deputy commissioners. It will be overseen by a joint standing committee of the parliament and by an inspector, who will be empowered to require the commission to provide information about its work. The commission established by this bill will investigate and report on serious or systemic corruption in the Commonwealth public sector, refer evidence of criminal conduct for prosecution, and introduce education and preventative activity regarding corruption. These are all sensible objectives and long overdue. But are they enough?
During my election campaign, I promised the people of Mackellar a federal anticorruption commission—as we keep hearing—with teeth, one with considerable powers of investigation and with the independence and funding necessary to carry out its duties free from government input. This bill goes a long way towards that end and, on behalf of the Australian people, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Attorney-General and the government for the consultative approach they have adopted in bringing this bill to parliament and for adopting all six recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation in addition to the three recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. I also commend the inclusion of the inspector role and the parliamentary committee, which will provide strong oversight of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. I remain of the view, however, that the bill could be amended in several key ways to ensure it meets the Australian community's high expectations.
Firstly, it is critical that the joint parliamentary committee which is tasked with the oversight of this commission is robustly independent. To achieve this, it would be optimal if members of the government held fewer than half of the positions on the committee. In addition, I consider that having a non-government chair of the committee would bolster its independence.
Secondly, I would like to see the bill contain stronger protections for whistleblowers. We heard just yesterday in this chamber the member for Clark detail whistleblower allegations in relation to coal exports, which reminded us just how important it is for whistleblowers to feel confident to come forward and that they will be protected from prosecution and personal harms. We have seen several other instances recently where the existing whistleblower protection laws have failed to protect whistleblowers. In July of this year, the Attorney-General ordered that the case against Bernard Collaery for unlawful disclosure of information be dropped. Our current legislation has failed to protect whistleblowers in that example and several others. Protection for people who seek to blow the whistle on conduct which has otherwise been suppressed is a critical part of ensuring integrity in our political and governmental systems.
Thirdly, a national integrity commission could have an increased role to play in actively promoting integrity in politics and government. Deterring and investigating conduct is one side of the coin, but prevention is better than cure. This includes inquiring and reporting on types of corruption, developing anticorruption plans, advising on agency interventions and educating office holders across the government. By expanding the functions of the National Anti-Corruption Commission in this regard, we can get to the root of corruption and stop it before it gains a hold.
Lastly, public hearings are amongst the most powerful deterrents against corruption. Public hearings bolster public trust in our institutions, educate the community on the critical role that an anticorruption commission plays and ensure procedural fairness for defendants. As the New South Wales ICAC commissioner said, in comments on 20 October this year:
We've had investigations which have commenced in public and as a result of that information, other people have come forward and … have raised significant issues of corruption.
It also, I think, shows transparency and accountability for the agency and justifies the case that ultimately is made for change.
The bar for hearings to be held publicly should not be as high as it currently is proposed in this bill. It should not take exceptional circumstances for the public to be entitled to witness the operation of the commission's investigations. I consider that the commission should have the power to hold public hearings where it is in the public interest to do so. That test requires the commission to give due consideration to whether the conduct in question is sufficiently serious to warrant a public spotlight on it. Former judges and lawyers have sharply criticised the inclusion of the exceptional circumstances requirement. Anthony Whealy KC found that, in legal terms, 'exceptional circumstances' has no real meaning and it will act as a brake on the public interest test.
To finally be debating this bill in the House is actually momentous. Its passage will enhance democracy, and I wholeheartedly thank the government for addressing this critical issue so early in their first term, as promised. This bill is strong. It will be a potent tool to combat corruption, but further amendments will assist in achieving this high ambition. A non-government majority on the committee, robust whistleblower protections and public hearings will ensure that the National Anti-Corruption Commission is as effective as possible.
I thank the government, all transparency organisations, my fellow crossbench colleagues and former members of parliament who have worked tirelessly towards this historic moment in our nation's political history. I commend this bill to the House.
Corruption undermines trust, and trust is the basis of legitimate government. I'm pleased to speak on this bill to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission that will have a broad, independent jurisdiction to investigate serious or systemic corruption, including criminal and non-criminal conduct, and conduct that occurred before this commission is established. Having been a member of the joint select committee which examined the legislation, I was satisfied with the process and grateful to all those who took part, both committee members and witnesses. I wish to pay a special tribute to the committee secretariat and the Parliamentary Counsel, whose expertise and professionalism enabled us all to work within the timeframe. In speaking in favour of the bill, I want to go back to what I said in my first speech some five months ago. I said then that integrity and respect are vital in our national institutions and that I was keen to examine and vote on legislation for a federal integrity commission. This is in fact one of the reasons I decided to stand for office; one of the reasons I was elected in Hasluck; indeed, one of the reasons each of the new members of this House sit here today.
No-one stands for public office without great motivation. One of my motivators for standing was that I was angry with the careless attitude of some politicians to vital questions of probity. I felt deeply the need for this body to come to being. The ALP took this policy to the election. It was front and centre during the campaign. It cannot be overstated just how integral to my campaign and to the campaign of so many of this chamber today the push for a national anticorruption commission, or a federal ICAC, as we sometimes called it back then, was. Indeed, very early in my campaign, in July 2011, I stated that stamping out corruption is important to me, that we needed a national anticorruption commission, and only Labor would deliver one. There wouldn't have been a single one of my supporters out doorknocking with me or phoning the electorate who wasn't also in some way motivated to see a strong, transparent and independent anticorruption body implemented to stamp out corruption and to start the process of restoring trust in the institution that is our federal parliament, our democracy.
Throughout the many thousands of conversations I and my campaign team had at that time, I cannot recall one individual who argued against the concept of an independent federal body with the power to investigate corruption. There is no doubt in my mind that the lack of an anticorruption body and the steadfast promise that Labor would deliver one had a significant influence on the election result. This is not to understate the suite of important reforms and policies we took to the election and have already started to implement here, but I know that I am far from alone when I talk about the power of the promise to hold power to account and to restore trust.
Many people from all around Hasluck followed the announcement of this policy closely during the election. Chris Miller stated: 'This is one of the most important policy initiatives of the election.' Jonathan Mann of Lesmurdie commented simply: 'We need this.' Peter Williamson of Gidgegannup said: 'Sing this long and loud: we need to stamp out corruption in all our public organisations.' Rob Richardson of Mundaring agreed, saying: 'Too many in government turn a blind eye to the goings-on in government. Remember the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.'
Really, how can we expect people to uphold standards in their daily lives, in their workplaces, in their business dealings, and in their other interactions in the communities if we here do not hold ourselves and the whole of government to the highest standards? In this government must lead.
The coalition had announced plans for an integrity commission back in December 2018. No bill was brought to the parliament. A model was floated which was generally regarded as lacking teeth. No-one will describe this bill as lacking teeth. There may yet be some members here or in the other place who don't want to see an integrity commission. I hope not because, as I said at the start, corruption undermines trust, and trust is the basis for legitimate government. The coalition members, though, who served on the joint select committee are fully supportive and played an integral role in examining the legislation. Crossbench members too were constructive in that process. I need to especially mention the fine role played by Senator White, who chaired the committee and did so with respect; and the deputy chair, the member for Indi, whose dedication to this area of governance is commendable.
Interest in the review of the bill, though, was not limited to committee members, staff and witnesses. Members of the public, too, have been following the process of the review with great interest. On 6 October, soon after the joint select committee had begun its work, I announced to the Hasluck electorate via social media that we had begun examining the legislation so that we could ensure that we ended up with a powerful, transparent and independent commission. I'll share one comment from a supporter, Ms Denise Murphy, who replied as follows:
Thank you. Wishing the committee all the best in their endeavours on our behalf.
It's a simple comment heavy with meaning. I was thanked for my work on the committee before we had even started. Ms Murphy wished us well as we embarked on our work. She recognised that it was indeed an endeavour, that we had serious work to do, and, above all, that the committee's work, as the parliament's work, was done on behalf of every Australian—'on our behalf'. This is true of any work done in any committee and in the parliament. I think that it is especially true when the legislation goes to heart of good governance itself, as this bill does.
I will make a few comments about the bill. The proposed commission has a broad jurisdiction. One of the important aspects of that broad jurisdiction, and one that I know is important to the Attorney-General, is that it treats all of those covered—from the Prime Minister all the way down to the most recently employed public servant—equally. Australians expect and appreciate that equality of treatment.
The commission will be independent. Its power to act on its own initiative is underlined and stressed in the bill, something recommended by the committee. The commission will have oversight from both a parliamentary joint committee and from the office of the inspector. During the joint select committee review process, we heard, usefully, from a broad range of witnesses, including Mr Bruce McClintock SC, who shared his views on the role of the inspector. That evidence has found its way into the bill via the second recommendation of the committee—to expand the role of the inspector in relation to witness summons, arrest warrants and other matters.
The bill sets a high bar for public hearings. The distinction between the commission as a body investigating corruption and the courts' subsequent prosecution of corruption is an important one. I think the balance struck in this bill is the right balance. Where the commission makes a finding of corruption, that finding will be reported upon according to the commissioner's discretion under the act. The commissioner is also empowered to make statements that serve to protect the reputation of witnesses where necessary. The government had also agreed to recommendation 6 of the joint select committee—that the commissioner will be required to advise persons investigated of the outcome of the investigation, regardless of that outcome.
I welcome the government's amendment in relation to the application for warrants. Members opposite have quite rightly been concerned about the politicisation of the AAT, and I commend them for their interest in that question. Regardless, the powers of the commission to pursue warrants are significant powers, and significant powers require significant balances and protections. Federal Court judges are legally qualified, have wide and deep experience and occupy a position of status commensurate with the powers sought to be exercised under this legislation.
Recommendation 1 of the joint select committee report suggested extending protections for journalists' sources to those working across the editorial chain. I'm happy to see that recommendation has been taken on by the government. I believe in a free and independent press, and if we're serious about restoring trust in the institution of government and in our democracy then we must be serious about the role an independent press plays in that process when free in their pursuit of truth and accountability.
I am pleased, too, that the government has taken on recommendation 4 of the joint select committee—that wellbeing safeguards be improved for persons who are issued a summons or notice by the commission. Commission proceedings, by definition and by their nature, will be likely to cause stress to all involved. Alleviating that stress and supporting witnesses and those subject to the inquiry should be supported.
I do feel compelled to address the ridiculous claim by the opposition that unions are somehow excluded from the National Anti-Corruption Commission because they are classified as registered organisations. Unions are treated exactly the same way as any other third party who tries to corrupt a public official. Registered organisations include employer groups like the Australian Industry Group, the chambers of commerce, the real estate institute and the motor traders association. Is the opposition seriously suggesting now that each of these employer groups should also be regarded as public officials?
Let's be clear: the bills we have before us will create a National Anti-Corruption Commission, which will be able to investigate corruption across the Commonwealth public sector. It is not directed at private activity; it is directed at the public sector and has a broad jurisdiction to investigate those who corrupt or seek to corruptly influence the public sector. I hope and expect to see this bill passed by both houses this week and to see the new Australian National Anti-Corruption Commission commence work by the middle of next year. The people of Hasluck too hope and expect to see this occur.
Lastly, I wish to pay tribute to the Attorney-General, the member for Isaacs, and his team. He has poured a great deal of his attention and energy into this bill and also a great deal of hope—hope which he referred to in his first speech in this place in 2007, when he spoke of the quality of the laws we make, the policy we shape and the administration we provide. The Attorney-General understands that corruption undermines trust, and trust is the basis of legitimate government. This bill is a testament to his vision.
It's quite an understatement to say that I'm very pleased to rise and speak on this bill. Finally we are debating a National Anti-Corruption Commission. Today I'm wearing a special brooch gifted me by the people of Indi when I started my crusade around establishing an integrity body in the federal parliament. It's a cockatoo, and the cockatoo is a mascot of the people of Indi. But they made me a special one, one with teeth, because they told me, 'Helen, you must not rest until we have an integrity commission with teeth.'
As parliamentarians we're sent here by the people we represent to make decisions in their best interests, to make laws in the public interest, to approve spending public funds on the most worthy causes in the most efficient way possible. We are sent here to act with integrity, to uphold the dignity of public office and to execute our significant powers in good faith. Yet too often this is not what the Australian people see. Instead, they've seen public money spent for political gain, marginal seats that get all the shiny infrastructure projects while safe seats get nothing and decisions that seem to benefit the interests of major donors over the interests of the community. We've seen sports rorts, car park rorts, Leppington triangle, Helloworld, Paladin, jobs for mates, pork-barrelling.
It's these scandals and more that have chipped away at the trust Australians have in government, in democracy, in all of us here in this place. If we want the trust of the Australian people, if we want them to trust in government and democracy, we have to show that bad behaviour won't be swept under the rug, that there are consequences, that we're holding ourselves accountable to them. That's why we need a strong National Anti-Corruption Commission that is independent of government, that has a broad definition of corruption, that is properly funded, that is transparent—to bring integrity back to politics and to earn back the trust of the people who elect us.
I was elected on a platform of integrity, to bring the standards of integrity and decency I saw upheld by my colleagues in my career as a nurse and a midwife; as a research academic in hospitals, clinics and universities; and as a company director in not-for-profit organisations. I wanted to bring that to this place. By the time I came to parliament in 2019 there'd been more than six years of parliamentary advocacy to establish an integrity commission and more than a decade of public advocacy. In 2018 this House passed a Senate motion calling for a national integrity commission. Emboldened, my predecessor Cathy McGowan introduced a national integrity commission bill, with the Greens introducing a similar bill in the Senate. A month later the former government committed to establishing a commonwealth integrity commission, a promise they took to the 46th parliament.
I started my parliamentary career as an optimist. I still am, but I've learned a thing or two along the way—particularly about parliamentary process. I believed the then Attorney-General's assurances that an integrity commission was priority reform. But as the year wore on and the stalling tactics became obvious, and then insulting—not just to the parliament, but to the Australian people—it felt to me like the whole thing had become a farce.
Tired of waiting, I worked with constituents, with esteemed judges, ethicists, legal academics, integrity bodies and MPs across the parliament to write a consensus bill that made the grade. And to those dedicated, erudite people who worked so hard with me—people such as Professor AJ Brown, the Hon. David Harper, the Hon. Margaret White, the Hon. Anthony Whealy, the Hon. Stephen Charles, the Hon. Mary Guadron, the Hon. Geoffrey Watson, Fiona McLeod KC, members of the Accountability Round Table, Transparency International Australia—the list goes on—the nation owes all of you a debt.
In 2020 I tabled my Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill, which I am proud has served as a model for the legislation here today. Just one week after tabling that bill, we finally saw the exposure draft legislation from the previous government for their Commonwealth Integrity Commission. Standing here now it is important to reflect back about that and to understand really how bad that model was: no public hearings, no public referrals, a definition of corrupt conduct limited to criminal offences, limited ability to look into corruption that occurred in the past. It was rightly trashed from pillar to post.
I want to highlight now the work of the new Leader of the Opposition, and to highlight his leadership role in bringing the coalition to the table in such a way as we have now. I want to thank them very much. I want to thank Senator Scarr and the member for Menzies for the way they worked in the parliamentary committee that I've just served on inquiring into this bill.
But I want to take us back to November 2021, when I tabled my Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill for a second time in the parliament and called on us all here at that time to bring on debate. Historically that vote had the majority on the floor of parliament because the majority of people in the House wanted an integrity commission. I was unsuccessful on that day due to a technicality in the COVID rules, and the former government dug in. They had a model and they weren't going to change it. If people didn't like it that was their problem. But, as it turns out, it actually was the coalition's problem. Integrity in politics is not a niche issue. From Mansfield to Wahgunyah, from King Lake to Corryong, people everywhere told me to keep up the fight. Independents who made integrity their central policy were elected in record numbers at the last election and their communities, like mine, have sent them here to secure a strong anticorruption commission.
I am a vocal supporter of this bill. I believe it is an excellent model. It will establish a powerful anticorruption commission. But it can be better. I worked hard as deputy chair of the committee, as did my fellow members who examined this bill, to ensure that we gave it proper scrutiny. I'm pleased that the government has accepted all of our recommendations. I'm especially pleased the government has taken up the proposal from my Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill to explicitly give the NACC the power to commence corruption investigations on its own initiative. This is a crucial power, central to the National Anti-Corruption Commission's independence and to its role in education and improving Commonwealth governance. But this model can be improved further before we deliver the Australian people the National Anti-Corruption Commission they deserve, that is fit-for-purpose and fulfils its role for many years to come because, as legislators, we are legislating right into the future.
I promised the people of Indi and the nation that I would work all the way to the finish line on this legislation to get the best possible integrity body that we can. Not all parliaments get the opportunity to set up a transformative independent body such as this. We do.
Firstly, I will move an amendment to strike out what I consider the unnecessary and alarming 'exceptional circumstances' requirement. This is the single-most important change to the bill. The 'exceptional circumstances' requirement is the biggest threat to the openness of the commission. My amendment will ensure that the commissioner may decide to hold public hearings if the commissioner is satisfied it would be in the public interest—tested, simple and safe. This is not just a fine legal point; it's a threshold question for public trust and the principle of transparency.
The committee inquiry heard little support from witnesses or submissions for the 'exceptional circumstances' test and an overwhelming amount of evidence against it. Former judges, past and current ICAC and IBAC commissioners and transparency advocates all want it gone. The 'exceptional circumstances' test has been opposed by Professor Anne Twomey, the Hon. Robert Redlich, National Integrity Committee member and former Supreme Court judge the Hon. David Harper AM, the Centre for Public Integrity, the Accountability Round Table, the Ethics Centre, the Governance Institute of Australia, Transparency International Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law. Looking back through materials presented to me at stakeholder round tables with the Attorney-General in June, there was no mention of exceptional circumstances. The very department that drafted this bill was unable to say when the clause was added. People have drawn their own conclusions, and, rightly, they should.
In standing by the 'exceptional circumstances' clause, coalition members have cited fears about the grave mental health impacts which may arise from appearing before a public hearing. These are really important concerns, and I share them, but they can be addressed in a way which enhances protections but does not hide the most critical corruption investigations away in the dark. That's why I will move an amendment to make it mandatory for the commissioner to consider certain factors when deciding whether to hold a public hearing, including unfair prejudice to a person's reputation, privacy, safety or wellbeing caused from a public hearing. This was supported by Transparency International Australia and the Law Council of Australia. It is already in place for the Australian Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner and in some state anticorruption commissions, including in New South Wales.
If 'exceptional circumstances' remains, it should be defined. The public deserves to know what circumstances justify the holding of a public hearing. My amendment will define 'exceptional circumstances' to mean 'circumstances where it is preferable or appropriate for evidence to be heard in public'. This will ensure the number of private hearings is not unreasonably increased due to the ambiguity of the phrase. This was supported by the Australian Federal Police Association, the Community and Public Sector Union and Transparency International Australia.
Secondly, my amendments will seek to enshrine a broad definition of 'corruption'. My amendments will ensure the commission has explicit jurisdiction to investigate pork barrelling when it meets the threshold of serious and systemic corrupt conduct. 'Pork barrelling' will be defined as 'any conduct that involves the allocation of public funds and resources to targeted electors for partisan political purposes'. The major parties' silence when it comes to pork barrelling is deafening. Let's call it for what it is: it's buying votes with taxpayer money. It doesn't pass the pub test, and my constituents are stumped as to why it still goes on. Given the level of public concern regarding the alleged misuse of billions of dollars of public grant funds, there should be no ambiguity regarding the NACC's ability to investigate this questionable practice. I will also move an amendment to ensure that the conduct of any person, notably third persons, that could impair public confidence in public administration can be investigated by the NACC when it meets the threshold of being serious and systemic. That's a tried and true provision in every single anticorruption body in Australia, apart from Western Australia and Tasmania, and it belongs in this model too.
Thirdly, I will move amendments to strengthen the all-important parliamentary oversight committee's role in keeping the National Anti-Corruption Commission independent. This amendment will ensure that the decision to approve or reject recommendations for the appointment of the commissioner, deputy commissioner or inspector is a true consensus decision, not a government fait accompli. I have two alternative amendments to do this. The committee must make the appointment decision by a majority, and my amendments ensure that either this majority must have two non-government members or, alternatively, a majority must be made up of two-thirds of committee members. I will seek to amend the bill around those areas. This will ensure that appointment decisions have multipartisan support and that the committee does not become a rubber stamp as a government-stacked oversight body.
Fourthly, I will introduce amendments to enhance budgetary transparency and oversight. Around Australia, anticorruption commissions have been starved of adequate funding. Even the threat of funding cuts could have a silencing effect on investigations. My amendments will require the parliamentary joint committee to review the NACC's budgets every 12 months and will require the minister to table a statement of reasons if they deviate from the recommendations of the parliamentary joint committee in relation to the budget. And these amendments will ensure that the review function is used and will give the parliament and the public the chance to scrutinise government decisions in relation to funding requests.
In conclusion, it is persistent advocacy that has brought us to this moment today—from civil society, from the crossbench, from the Australian people. Keeping the pressure on has kept this on the agenda, and I congratulate the Attorney-General for his work on this bill. I congratulate the government for making this a priority agenda item for this parliament. Big reforms don't just happen. They're made up of dozens of quiet conversations between unlikely allies, united across party lines. At this point I wish to acknowledge the member for Bass, who, through the difficulty of pressures in the last parliament, stood true to her convictions to restore integrity to this place. History will judge her well.
Parliamentary moments that cut through the noise—another trip to the Attorney-General's office or the Prime Minister's office, collaboration, working with the people—have borne results. I call on all members of this parliament to support my amendments and for us all to support this bill. I sincerely hope today is the first step in the long road to restoring trust in federal politics and integrity to public life. (Time expired)
I'm so pleased to stand and speak in support of a National Anti-Corruption Commission. Six months ago this week, the Australian people put their faith in an Albanese government precisely because they wanted to see integrity in politics. I am every single day both humbled and proud to represent my community of Chisholm, and I know how important the promise of a National Anti-Corruption Commission is to the people I stand here for. This was a promise that we, the Australian Labor Party—now the Australian Labor government—made ahead of the recent federal election, and I know just how important it is to deliver this, both to ensure that we have integrity in government and to show Australians that governments mean what they say.
For too long Australians have been governed through spin, through announcements with no delivery. We need to move away from those craven, cynical times—and we are. This bill goes some way to restoring the faith that has been lost in institutions like this. Indeed, all the things the Albanese government has achieved so far—climate change legislation, a responsible budget, cheaper medicines and child care and much-needed funding for important infrastructure projects—demonstrate that we are doing what we said we were going to do. It's as simple as that. Australians not only deserve better than what we've had over the past decade from a federal government; they demanded better, on 21 May this year. An independent, transparent anticorruption commission with teeth is something this nation absolutely needs.
I really personally care about this deeply. It is impossible to emphasise enough how important integrity in politics, in our public institutions, is to our community in Chisholm. Recent OECD reports revealed alarming results for Australia, with less than 40 per cent of respondents having trust in government. This should be cause for all of us, regardless of party or persuasion, to reflect and to take real steps to restore trust, restore faith in government, in public institutions, in politicians. We make decisions about spending public money. It needs to be for public good. We need governance that is in the best interests of our community, of the nation—not of ourselves in this chamber.
We are taking real steps in this legislation to restore that faith. When I was speaking to my community throughout the election campaign it was really heartbreaking and harrowing to hear the cynicism for the institutions just like this, just like the parliament of Australia, that people had. This place was established to serve the public, but it has been treated with disdain and distrust, and, I must say, understandably so in many instances. Every day I encounter people in my community who've experienced despair and abandonment at the hands of the former government. I'm working hard every single day to repair trust in this institution, to give people hope that our democracy works for them, that we're here to serve our communities and not to serve ourselves. The sports rorts, the car park rorts—people, myself included, have been angry and disgusted at what they've seen. The effects of this distrust are profound.
I appreciate why a family in my electorate, in Mount Waverley, might have little faith in government after their experience with the NDIS and the devastation and desperation that they felt. I know that this government, the Albanese government, is doing all it can to repair this important but broken system.
Last week I met with a family from Glen Waverley who have been broken down with a $30,000 robodebt. I can understand why they may not regard government as an institution that is compassionate and that acts with integrity. I understand why community and sporting groups across my electorate don't always believe things politicians say or promises made, because announcements with no follow-through were made in Chisholm in the period of the previous government.
I am really pleased that in the budget we've delivered on each and every one of the commitments I made during the federal election. I think this goes some way to restoring trust in government, to deliver what we said we were going to.
I can understand the cynicism though. I will give an example, the headspace in Box Hill, a much needed service in my electorate. I announced a commitment a few months ago during the election campaign. It turns out the previous government had the money budgeted years ago but they sat on the money, sat on the photo opportunity, until they had already committed, so they could roll it out as a flashy campaign moment. That's disgraceful. I think of all of the young people in my community who have contacted me about a service like headspace. I think about all of the young people who, in the years between my announcement and the money being squirrelled away previously, could have made great use of a mental health service. Of course treating our community in this way erodes trust. Of course it does. That's why this legislation is important. It's about restoring trust. But it's also more than that. It's about ensuring accountability. There must be consequences for bad behaviour. This legislation is about ensuring justice.
The joint select committee's recommendations on this legislation are welcomed, and a significant sign of how genuinely embraced our government's efforts have been to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission. The work of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills has also been welcomed by the Albanese Labor government, a government that seeks to unite where others have sought to divide, to restore trust and repair a sense of faith and hope for the future of our great nation.
Today's tabled amendments follow careful consideration of recommendations made by the reports of the joint select committee on the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. These amendments will broaden safeguards for the protection of journalists in relation to search warrants and extend protections for their sources. They will improve safeguards for the wellbeing of persons who may require assistance to comply with a summons or notice to produce; explicitly permit people to disclose information to a medical professional; require the commissioner to advise a person whose conduct has been investigated of the outcome of the investigation; amend the definition of 'corrupt conduct'; clarify that the commissioner may deal with a corruption issue on their own initiative; require surveillance and interception warrants to be issued by eligible judges of federal superior courts; enhance the power of the National Anti-Corruption Commissioner inspector regarding witness summonses and arrest warrants; narrow the grounds for bringing contempt proceedings; and amend the requirement that all evidence which discloses legal advice be given in private. I think these amendments are a sign of good faith and genuine commitment to improving the standards of this place, and personally I'm really pleased to see it, as I know the people in my community of Chisholm will be too.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill continues to deliver our commitment to legislate a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission. I'm proud that ours is a government that values integrity, honesty and accountability. I will always respect my community and act in a way that is befitting the people I care about, and part of demonstrating that is providing my full support for this legislation. This legislation gives full effect to the design principles we took to the federal election. These principles were designed by some of the finest minds in the land—eminent legal and integrity experts—and were, of course, endorsed by the Australian people, including the people of Chisholm, six months ago this week. This legislation draws on the very best elements of the state and territory anticorruption commissions and laws and has been a very long time coming indeed.
The legislation provides the commission with broad jurisdiction to investigate serious or systemic misconduct across the Commonwealth public sector. The commission can investigate ministers; parliamentarians and their staff; statutory office holders; and a range of other employees and contractors. The commission will have significant powers. It will be independent and will report to ensure transparency. Of course, we don't want corrupt conduct to occur in the first place, and this commission is not merely a stick; there is a prevention and education function embedded in it. This is really important. This legislation contains protections for whistleblowers and journalists and, once again, through this promotes transparency. The people of Chisholm demanded this legislation, the people of Australia demanded this legislation, and I am so proud to be part of a government who will finally deliver a National Anti-Corruption Commission that treats our communities with respect.
I rise to speak in support of the National Anti-Corruption Bill 2022. It is an equivocal support, though. I've grappled with this bill. There's no doubt in my mind that people who are in positions of responsibility have an onus to always act responsibly and conduct themselves in accordance with the law. No-one is above the law, whether it's a politician, a judge, a public servant or a member of the ADF. It doesn't matter who we're talking about; no-one is above the law. It's one of the principal tenets of our criminal justice system in this country and, in fact, in many Western countries. Corruption is wrong, and it should be stamped out where it is present. People who break the law should face the law.
Having said that, I want to talk a little bit about some of my concerns with this bill. I have some concerns about the draconian measures of this bill, where people no longer have a right to silence. They are compelled to give evidence. If you've been charged and you're on trial for a criminal offence and you are in a court of law, you can insist on your right to silence. A court or, in fact, even an investigating police officer can't compel you to answer questions. It's one of the fundamental principles, once again, of our criminal justice system. And yet in these ICAC models—pretty much across this country, in states and territories and in the federal model that's being proposed—you don't have that right. That right is stripped away from you. As a person who used to represent criminals, or alleged criminals, many years ago, I have some fundamental concerns about that. The criminal justice system provides people who are alleged to have committed offences greater rights than this bill will. I know that some people will say that this is not a court that makes a finding of guilt. I accept that. I think that what saves this is that ultimately these hearings will be done, in most instances, behind closed doors.
What really, really worries me—and I want to get this on the record—is the potential politicisation of this forum. Someone who could be acting with mala fides could make a complaint against an opposing parliamentarian, for example. Someone who might have it in for that person could make a complaint to the commission. We are kidding ourselves if we think that that's not going to happen. Unfortunately, it's going to happen. I know people who have appeared before these sorts of commissions and the sorts of pressures that people will feel. I wouldn't say it is duress, but it is extreme stress that these bodies put people through. These are things that we should tread very, very carefully around.
I do acknowledge that the model before us will predominantly have closed hearings, unless there are exceptional circumstances and unless it's in the public interest to have a public hearing. But we should also be very, very mindful that this bill is not just—and I say this to Australians who may be listening to this or reading this at a later time—a corruption commission for politicians. It will capture Australian public servants. It will capture members of the Australian Defence Force. It will capture people who are working in the NDIS system. It will capture anybody who is working in the Commonwealth Public Service, or, in fact, people who are contracted to the Commonwealth Public Service. So it is not just a commission for politicians. That's really quite an important point to make.
Having talked about of some my concerns—Mr Deputy Speaker, I won't wrap up there because I've still got another eight minutes, despite your wanting to wrap me up, let the record show. But the coalition—
I'm happy to ask for an extension of time. I'm just warming up! The coalition was the first party to seek, or in fact implement, a corruption commission, back in 1988. So we have, as a conservative political force, been the ground breaker. While we as a party support the NACC, it's important, as I've said, that we take serious care to get the balance right. We've engaged in this process in good faith through the parliamentary processes and through the committee processes. We're committed to being a constructive opposition. The coalition opposition is supportive of good policy where it's good policy but, where it's not, we will call it out.
I am concerned about the doubletalk of those on the other side of the House. They talk the big talk about integrity, but what we've seen in the last couple of weeks in this place, through their Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022 that passed this House in the last sitting week, was the abolition of the ABCC. I'm not going to talk at any great length, as I normally do, about what Labor do in relation to the ABCC. But what's quite amazing is that they talk the big talk about integrity and yet, when it comes to the CFMMEU—which the Federal Court has acknowledged as the 'greatest recidivist organisation in Australia'—they've removed the watchdog in relation to that union.
Of course it's a different bill. I'll take that interjection. Of course it's a different bill. The principle remains the same. You either believe in integrity or you don't, and, where you profess the importance of integrity, you can't stand up on the same dais and say that the most recidivist organisation in Australian history should not be under the same rules and should not have some form of integrity commission. Those members opposite should reflect on that very fact.
Interestingly, this bill effectively provides a carve-out for unions. Those members opposite will quibble with that. The Attorney-General will quibble with that, but sections 12 and 14 make it very clear that the unions are getting a carve-out. So the CFMMEU are getting not only a free ride here, through the abolition of the ABCC, but also a carve-out of this bill. For the life of me, I don't understand how the media and the crossbench are not jumping up and down about this very point. Whilst Australians want integrity, they want integrity across the board, not some sort of a la carte integrity.
One of my other concerns about this bill is in relation to gag orders. This place has just gone through a torturous process about acknowledging people's mental health and the wellbeing of workplaces, yet this bill, in my view, does not appropriately provide for the care and the wellbeing of individuals who may be the subject of investigations. I note that the Attorney-General put out a press release today about making some amendments in that regard. I haven't had an opportunity to go through that point in any great detail, but, if someone is the subject of an investigation, surely, for goodness sake, that person should be able to share the fact that they are the subject of an investigation with their doctor or their psychiatrist or a psychologist. If their partner is not also the subject of a similar inquiry, they should be able to share it with them as well. Otherwise, that individual is left totally exposed on their own. Think about the sorts of pressures that would be brought to bear on you as an individual if you were the subject of an investigation and you could not tell a soul. Have a think about what sort of impact that would have on you.
Some of the amendments that we are looking at, as a constructive opposition, are in relation to public hearings. We believe that it should be compulsory—not optional—for the commissioner, when considering whether it should be a public hearing, to consider factors including whether confidential information is involved, whether there would be unfair prejudice to a person's reputation or whether a person giving evidence has a particular vulnerability, such as being under direct instruction or control of another person.
When it comes to telecommunications warrants, I've seen that the Attorney-General has also put out an amendment today in relation to making the decision-maker of those warrants a judge of a federal superior court. That's common sense and is preferable to having decisions about the issue of warrants being made by AAT members. With no disrespect to AAT members intended, warrants are very, very serious things to issue, potentially in relation to politicians. It could be the Prime Minister, for example. It could be the Chief of the Army or the Chief of the Defence Force. It is very important that that issue be considered by a very senior judge. And, I'm sorry, but an AAT member—particularly given they don't have security of tenure—is not, in my view, properly equipped to make those decisions. I'll leave it there. I could go on for hours, but I won't.
I rise to speak on the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022. Before I begin my remarks, I want to respond to the previous speaker, the member for Fisher. I understand that he raised concerns around mental health non-disclosure amendments. I can say to the member that the government has made clear that the non-disclosure won't apply to those people who are seeking mental health support from psychiatrists or psychologists. That was made clear by the government, as was another non-disclosure consideration around people with a disability so that, if those people need to speak to a support worker, for example, that is a consideration of the commission at the time. I appreciate the concern raised, but hopefully that alleviates the member for Fisher's concerns with regard to that.
Usually in this place, when rising to speak on a bill, it is customary for members to say how pleased they are to rise on a bill, but the truth is that it is with mixed feelings that I rise today on the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill because of the way in which we have got here, the necessity of this bill and the fact that, even though I was proudly a member of the previous parliament, the 46th Parliament, we didn't get it done in that parliament.
Our institutions in this country matter. We need to make sure that Australians feel empowered by what happens in this place as well as by the standards by which our politics is practised here and around the country. And Australians need to feel empowered by our institutions—for feel that they are acting in their national interest and feel a sense of pride that our institutions are helping to create a society and a community that is worthy of the Australian people.
Leading into the last election we heard from the Australian people that the expectations of the people we are fortunate and privileged to represent were not being met by this place on matters of anticorruption and integrity in government. In this place, under the previous government, the Australian people made it abundantly clear that the standard by which they wanted to see politics practised in this country was not being met by the Morrison government. The Morrison government made a commitment to introduce a National Anti-Corruption Commission bill, but they didn't introduce it into the parliament. An exposure draft was put on the Prime Minister's website, but the Prime Minister didn't stand in this place holding a piece of legislation and moving it in this place in order to try to bring forward a national anticorruption body.
I'm not here today to run through the list of political scandals of the previous government, because that's not what this bill is about. This bill isn't about the Morrison government; it's about the Australian people. It's about making sure the Australian people feel a sense of empowerment and pride in the institutions of our democracy and that we in this place are holding ourselves to a higher account. The problem is not that there were things that happened in government; of course there were. The problem was that the previous government promised to the Australian people that they were going to bring in an anticorruption commission and an integrity commission. They went to all the effort of releasing an exposure draft, but they didn't actually bring it to this place. You don't get points as a government for putting things on a website. You get points for doing the job you are privileged and elected to do. That changes right now with this bill.
How this bill is formed and the aspects of this bill are really important. I want to go through some of the details of the bill and how they align with the commitments made by the then Labor opposition and now Labor government, and I want to take this moment to congratulate the Attorney-General and his team. He has helped steer this historic bill into this place and is going to, once it is passed—and I do believe it will pass—be able to say that he, at this time, gave the Australian people a great reform, an important reform, a national anticorruption commission. It is a great Labor reform and one that will last longer than hopefully all our political careers and one that the Attorney-General can be extremely proud of.
The bill delivers on our commitment to introduce legislation for a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission by the end of this year. We are doing it and it is still 2022, and the bill is here before us. The commission will have full powers to investigate and report on corruption in the Commonwealth public sector, including ministers, MPs, their staff, statutory office holders, staff of government entities, and contractors. Most importantly, this bill will be independent of government.
In this place it's important that we hold ourselves to higher account than ordinary Australian workplaces, and any MP who is feeling squirmish about the fact that we are bringing in a National Anti-Corruption Commission should really take a long, hard look at themselves as to whether or not they belong in this place. A national anticorruption commission should make members of parliament feel pride and feel like they are part of a reform that is going to lift the standards of politics in this country. If you are in this caper for any reason other than to serve your community, you are in it for the wrong reasons. This National Anti-Corruption Commission will ensure the politics practice in this country is of an extremely high standard.
Another important aspect of the National Anti-Corruption Commission is it will be able to receive referrals or allegations from any source and commence investigations of its own initiative. Being independent means being independent. It means being able to investigate matters in which it sees a potential for serious or systemic corruption. Being independent means it is not for the government or the cabinet to dictate what can and cannot be investigated. We saw patterns of investigation closely controlled by the cabinet. We saw patterns of investigation where the Public Service was very closely linked to the political wing of government. Trust was eroded from the Australian people by the people running this parliament, and that cannot occur. This body must be independent.
The other important part of this bill is that the powers of the National Anti-Corruption Commission will be retrospective as well as prospective. The commissioner and deputy commissioners will have the same status and security of tenure as judges, and I'm confident the selections of commissioners will be ones where the Attorney-General and others will consult with those on the National Anti-Corruption Commission parliamentary oversight committee and ensure the people serving this body will be of the highest calibre and people who are worthy of the institution we are setting up in this country. The commission will be fully funded and free to determine its own budget.
The Australian people clearly demanded that integrity be lifted in politics. I think the key things brought in from the last election that I was speaking to people in my electorate on were about making sure the National Anti-Corruption Commission was independent and that it had the power to look at previous matters, along with the fact it could decide what it was going to investigate without influence from government. They were the main criteria that people in my electorate wanted to ensure and see as part of this National Anti-Corruption Commission, and all of them are in this bill. I am proud of that, and I am proud of this bill.
Referring back to my other hat as chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, it is worth noting as part of my contribution to the debate on this bill that, as part of our routine inquiries into pieces of legislation and into government instruments, we received independent legal advice that raised concerns around the right to privacy and the right to a fair trial in relation to public hearings. Public hearings are not something that should be taken lightly; it is a serious tool of the commissioner to access, and it should be used in a way that is mindful of the human rights implications of such hearings. I absolutely believe that public hearings are an essential tool for the National Anti-Corruption Commission. I'm pleased the commissioner has the power to utilise public hearings when they deem it appropriate, as per the conditions. But it is not something to be dismissed. It is not something that we should be easily swayed by politically. This is a serious decision relating to the rights of Australians and the human rights implications of Australians. There absolutely need to be public hearings; I'm a firm believer of that. But it does raise human rights implications, and we are a country that doesn't make legislation hastily; we do it carefully and in a considered way. This is something that I think the parliament has the right balance on and something that I think we can be confident will protect the interests and the rights of Australians.
I'm proud of this bill. I'm proud of our Attorney-General. I'm proud that Australians can breathe a sigh of relief that the institutions that they elected us to are holding themselves to a higher account; that Australians can know that we, in this building, take the matter of integrity and public governance seriously; that corruption is not allowed in Australian politics; that we, in this place, are firm believers in Australian democracy and Australian democratic institutions. I say to any Australian, or any person in my electorate: have faith and believe, and help create good institutions in this country. It's what helps create a good society. If we do not empower and believe in our own institutions, then we have nothing.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission is an important institution that adds to the framework of our democracy. It's not good enough that we didn't have one. It's not good enough that all the states and territories had one. It's not good enough that there was one promised and never delivered. This is now a change to that long line of unsatisfactory outcomes. I'm proud of the Australian Labor Party, of the Albanese Labor government, which is delivering a national anti-corruption commission. It will leave our country in strong stead. It is an important reform not just for this parliament but for the Australian people, and I commend these bills to the House.
It is an honour to speak to this bill, the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022, and a related bill. The Albanese government has presented a model for the NACC in its first six months, a model which is much stronger and much more independent than that proposed by the previous government.
I congratulate the Attorney-General and his team for the speed, dedication and commitment that they have displayed in bringing this legislation to this place. In this last sitting period for the year, the parliament has an opportunity to keep faith with the Australian people and to pass this legislation for a national anti-corruption commission. It's a very exciting moment for this parliament.
Integrity in government was high on the agenda in this year's election. In my electorate of Kooyong, the integrity and transparency of our federal government was a leading concern, along with urgent action on climate change and women's equality. There are, however, three residual areas of particular of concern in this legislation. They are of concern because they go to the issue of trust. Public confidence in a government's ability to govern fairly, transparently and with integrity underpins the success of its every policy. To prevent perceptions of interference, governance of the NACC, including appointment of its commissioner and allocation of its budget, should be beyond the reach of the elected government. The NACC must be able to operate independently in order to reinforce its transparency and effectiveness in the public eye and to rebuild public trust in our institutions.
Firstly, the government proposes a committee with broad representation from parliament to oversee appointments to the three key NACC roles. Involvement of all sides of the political spectrum is important in ensuring that these appointments are above reproach. Giving a government member overriding power on this committee renders it vulnerable to influence from a political appointee with a sympathetic ear. The stacking of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with some 88 political appointments by the former government is a salient reminder of the risks of government interference. An appointment committee with broad representation from this parliament, and with decisions made by the majority, would provide assurance of the commission's independence. I know that my crossbench colleagues will be speaking in detail to this really important matter later in this debate.
Secondly, the NACC will be different from other government agencies. Its purpose is scrutiny of our government, but our government is the entity which will decide on its funding. This engenders conflict, and the conflict means that the funding of the NACC cannot, and should not, be dependent on the usual appropriations processes. To ensure that the NACC has the staffing and resources sufficient to discharge its statutory obligations, it has to have sufficient resources to discharge all of those responsibilities to a high standard and in a timely manner. We know that governments can starve oversight bodies of funds through the usual budget processes in order to limit or delay their scrutiny. Claims of underfunding of anticorruption bodies in other jurisdictions in the last few years demonstrate that this is a real possibility. In 2020, the state Auditor-General, reviewing the New South Wales ICAC, decried the absence of an independent adviser on its funding requirements. In Victoria, the head of our own Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, Robert Redlich, has also suggested that funding should be removed from the discretion of the government of the day and given to the parliament.
At a federal level, in recent years we've seen how the previous government responded to the Australian National Audit Office's examination of the sports rorts affair and of a dubious transaction in which $30 million of taxpayers' money was paid to a Liberal donor for land valued at one-tenth of that sum, to name just two of the rorts that we saw with the previous government. What did that government do when the ANAO identified these rorts? It cut its funding. It also cut funding to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. It cut funding to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. It cut funding to the Australian Law Reform Commission. I could go on and on, but I only have 15 minutes.
What is the solution? The solution is to safeguard the funding base of the NACC with legislated annual indexation and with an independent parliamentary body reviewing the agency's requests for greater funding. This is the basis for the amendment which I move today. I move the second reading amendment circulated in my name:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House calls on the Government to set a funding floor for the NACC which is equal to the amount allocated to the NACC in the 2022-23 Budget; and ensures that the annual budget for the NACC includes a minimum indexation which is not less than the annual CPI".
This amendment calls on the government to set a funding floor for the NACC equivalent to that allotted to it in the 2022-23 budget and to ensure appropriate indexation of the NACC's annual budget. This would ensure that subsequent governments can't cause this important body to die a miserable death by a thousand budget cuts. A budget mechanism independent of the executive government will ensure that our National Anti-Corruption Commission is robust and viable and able to do its job.
Thirdly, the arguments for public hearings are fundamentally about transparency. Public hearings are an opportunity to see our anticorruption mechanisms in operation, particularly in cases that do not meet the criteria for prosecution in the courts, in which public hearings are, of course, the norm. They can expose systemic failings of government of the sort that we're currently seeing with the robodebt royal commission. They can set a standard for public servants of the level expected and desired by our constituents and by the public. Politicians should be held to a higher ethical and behavioural standard than other members of the public, not a lower one.
The late inclusion of the exceptional circumstances clause in proposed section 73 of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill is disappointing. 'Exceptional' is not defined. In effect, all investigations under the NACC will be unusual, given that its primary remit is to investigate serious or systemic corruption. Proposed section 73 separately mandates a public interest test aimed at protecting reputations, safety and security. So exceptional circumstances are separate to the question of public interest. The effect of this is to set the bar too high for there realistically to be any public hearings. Should a brave commissioner attempt to exercise her discretion to hold public hearings, the potential is there for witnesses to initiate potentially drawn-out litigation on the meaning of the term 'exceptional circumstances', which will render the process unproductive and expensive. The Victorian IBAC is the only state or territory integrity commission to have this test, and it has told us that the exceptional circumstances test has the effect of placing an artificial limit on the IBAC's ability to conduct examinations.
We do need to have public hearings when they are in the public interest. Australians need to see the checks and balances of our government in action and to hear the evidence of its investigations at first hand, without media filters or political spin. Without these areas being addressed, we risk having a NACC which does not fully give the country what it really wants: a strong, independent body which will re-establish our faith in the transparency and the integrity of our public institutions.
This is not just a test of the Albanese government; this is a test of every member of both houses of our federal parliament. Your votes for a stronger NACC will be a public record of the importance that you place on restoring trust. This is an opportunity for our parliament to keep faith with the Australian people and to build an independent and transparent anticorruption body as a pillar of accountable government. The last election was largely about climate, but it was also about trust. Our public institutions suffer from a chronically low level of public trust, and so I say to my parliamentary colleagues, on both sides of both houses: this is your opportunity to keep faith with the Australian people.
The NACC will not just expose corruption; it will expose weaknesses in our systems and, importantly, it will set the standard for what integrity in our government looks like. The amendments that I and other members of the crossbench are submitting are the checks and balances required to safeguard the reputation of our National Anti-Corruption Commission and to ensure that we have an anticorruption body that all members of this parliament can be proud of. This will be our legacy to future Australians. This is the way to restore trust. When we all return to our electorates, they'll know how we voted for this amendment. They'll know if we were prepared to stand in the light. They'll know if we were happy to provide this important body with the assurance of the appropriate funding that it needs and deserves.
I'd like to finish by circling back to the significance of this legislation. In 2012, the people of Indi banded together to elect Cathy McGowan, an Independent who pledged action on integrity in government. Her lead was then taken by Helen Haines, a much-respected member of this place, who fought with tenacity and grace on this most important of issues during a time in which the previous government was not interested in engaging on this important issue in any meaningful way. More recently, a record number of electorates around Australia have acted, singly but simultaneously, to elect Independent representatives chosen by their communities.
In 2022, a people-powered coalition of the willing and the passionate came together and listened to the voices of my electorate. The people of Kooyong told me that integrity and transparency was one of their most significant concerns. The people of Kooyong want to be able to trust their government. The people of Kooyong want to be proud of their government. I'm privileged to be in this House and to have the opportunity to support the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill. The people of Kooyong voted for this law, and I'm proud to be able to deliver it. I commend my amendment to the House, and I thank the government for the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation.
I just bring it to the attention of the honourable member that, given that you've already spoken on this bill, you are unable to second the amendment. I call once again: is there a seconder for the amendment? In the event that the amendment is not seconded, it lapses.
I too rise to speak on the Albanese Labor government's National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022 and, of course, our amendments. Trust in government is so important, and this bill delivers on our election commitment to legislate a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission by the end of the year. We went to the election and put that to the people. The bill will establish the commission as an independent agency and empower it to investigate and report on serious or systemic corruption in the Commonwealth public sector and also to refer evidence of criminal corrupt conduct for prosecution and to undertake, really importantly, education and prevention activities.
The Commonwealth is the last jurisdiction in the nation—the last one—to implement an anticorruption body, and our national model draws on the very best elements of all the state and territory jurisdictions, which have been operating for a considerable amount of time. The reason that we are indeed the last jurisdiction relates specifically to the inaction of the Liberals and Nationals over many, many years. We heard them promise, quite falsely, many times that they would introduce some form of a national integrity body, albeit a very inadequate form, but they never actually delivered on that. They failed to establish one. They also failed to actually introduce any legislation into the House to that effect. This was despite widespread calls right across the community for such an entity. People en masse were calling for greater transparency in the federal government and the federal jurisdiction.
Establishing a national anticorruption commission is vitally important for our nation. It's important for people to have trust and faith in all their institutions. This is an issue that I have publicly called for on so many occasions over the years, and it's one that Labor is absolutely committed to. It is Labor that are now delivering on this and delivering on our election commitments. It was also, of course, one of the major issues in this year's federal election. In my electorate of Richmond, this is an issue that I have spoken about with many locals for a considerable time—for years, in fact—and it was one of the major policies that we took to the election.
I'm very proud to be a strong voice for the New South Wales North Coast in the Albanese Labor government. We are a government that is delivering on integrity, on honesty and on accountability through this National Anti-Corruption Commission. We know how important this is.
I come to this from a number of perspectives, but particularly as a former police officer. I certainly know why oversight and transparency are so important to the proper functioning of all our institutions. It actually matters, because integrity matters, and we need to have those oversight bodies across all of our institutions. That's why commissions with oversight and investigative powers really do matter in terms of people's trust.
Today we tabled our amendments to further strengthen the bill, and these amendments follow very careful consideration of the recommendations made in the reports of the Joint Select Committee on National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. These committees presented the government with a range of recommendations and changes, and I would like to run through some of these because they are very important and really do strengthen the bill.
In particular, it broadens the safeguards for the protection of journalists, and I'll go into further detail about that later. It also improves the safeguards for the wellbeing of persons who may require assistance to comply with a summons or notice to produce, and it expressly permits people to disclose information to a medical professional, which is vitally important as well, given the circumstances they would be in. It also requires the commission to advise a person whose conduct is being investigated of the outcome of the investigation. It amends the definition of 'corrupt conduct'. It requires surveillance and interception warrants to be issued by eligible judges of federal or superior courts, and it enhances the power of the commission inspector regarding witnesses summons and arrest warrants. It narrows the grounds for bringing contempt proceedings. It's amending the requirement that all evidence which discloses legal advice be given in private. So these are really important amendments to strengthen the bill. It is through this entire process of listening to all of the concerns that have been raised that we have been able to strengthen the bill.
This legislation is a cornerstone of our agenda to restore public trust and strengthen the standards of integrity in our federal government, and that is what Australians voted for. The design principles were developed with legal and integrity experts. And, as I've said, this national commission—very proudly the first of its kind—draws on the best elements of existing state and territory anticorruption commissions and laws.
I would like to now speak to a number of important principles of the bill regarding the jurisdiction of the commission. The bill provides the commission with a very broad jurisdiction—which is important—to investigate serious or systemic corrupt conduct across the Commonwealth public sector. The commission will have the power to investigate ministers, parliamentarians and their staff, statutory office holders, employees of all government entities, contractors and contracted service providers. It will, very importantly, have discretion to commence inquiries of its own initiative or in response to a referral, and it'll be able to investigate both criminal and non-criminal corrupt conduct, and conduct occurring before and after its establishment. That issue of retrospectivity is vitally important, too.
The definition of 'corrupt conduct' is central to the functions and jurisdiction of the commission and is consistent with very key elements of existing definitions. The definition encompasses conduct by a public official that involves an abuse of office, a breach of public trust or the misuse of information. The commissioner's powers will be very widespread, a full suite of powers, very similar to those of a royal commission. The commissioner is able to use these powers to undertake an investigation into a corruption issue if the commissioner is of the opinion that it could involve serious or systemic corrupt conduct. To determine whether such an allegation would be serious or systemic, the commissioner can also undertake preliminary inquiries by using powers to compel the production of information, which is vitally important to establish the facts to move forward.
Very importantly, too, the commission will be able to hold public hearings if satisfied that it's in the public interest and exceptional circumstances justify doing so. This is extremely important. The exceptional-circumstances test is really an appropriate threshold because of the significant nature of the power to compel a person to answer questions at a public hearing, the sensitivities involved in holding public hearings—for example, there may potentially be the risk of prejudicing a future criminal investigation or a trial—and taking into consideration the issues of reputational harm that may arise. So it's important that the commissioner has that capacity.
But this commission and this commissioner will be totally independent, and that's, of course, secured in a whole variety of ways. As I said, they can conduct investigations of their own initiative in response to referrals or allegations from any source, and it's vital to the absolute essence of this integrity commission to ensure that independence. There will be oversight of the commission by a parliamentary joint committee and an inspector, and the joint committee is multipartisan. They will have a number of roles as well. These are all very important safeguards.
Really importantly, this bill provides whistleblower protections, something that I and many people in my electorate feel strongly about. There are strong protections for whisteblowers against adverse consequences, including criminal offences and immunities. Public officials making disclosures to the commission will be protected under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013, and it is vitally important that people feel confident to put forward that information.
Another very big issue in my electorate and right throughout the country was the importance of having journalistic protections also, and this bill ensures that the appropriate protections are there. It does include an exemption for journalists, for a journalist's employer and for persons assisting a journalist in their work from answering questions or providing information that would enable the identity of an informant to be ascertained. There may be a number of people who assist a journalist in their professional capacity, either associated with their work role or associated indirectly—for example, a lawyer providing legal advice. It's vital that we have these protections and that that particular aspect is enshrined in this bill, because those journalistic protections, too, are at the heart of the importance of this legislation.
Equally important are the reputational and wellbeing safeguards, and the commission needs to be balanced with really strong safeguards to ensure that corruption investigations do not cause undue damage to a person's reputation or wellbeing. This can include requiring public hearings to be held in private, unless the commissioner's satisfied that it's in the public interest and that exceptional circumstances justify holding a hearing in public or requiring the commissioner to clarify the capacity in which a witness is appearing at a public hearing. It's important to have all of those safeguards in place. Also, permitting disclosure of information that is subject to a non-disclosure notation to a medical practitioner or psychologist—I think that it's important that people are able to do that and have the capacity to do that sometimes, given the circumstances of the investigations. Also, if the commissioner forms the opinion that the person has not engaged in corrupt conduct a statement to that effect, and if a person gives evidence at a hearing and is not subject of any findings or opinions in relation to the corruption allegation a statement to that effect—that is so vitally important. We need to make sure those safeguards are provided.
The element of reporting is vital as well. Reporting at the end of investigations will provide transparency and support the commission's prevention and education function as well. After completing a corruption investigation the commissioner will be required to prepare a report setting out their findings and recommendations. We know how important it is that that is in place. The prevention and education functions are also necessary. They will also have a mandate to undertake a whole range of corruption prevention and education functions, and that can include undertaking public inquiries to examine corruption risks and vulnerabilities and measures to prevent corruption. Also, the role of broader public education, in terms of the role of the commission, and the corruption risks that may potentially occur, and avenues to report corrupt conduct—the commission will have a very widespread remit. I think those educational aspects and prevention play a very vital role in the success of the commission.
As I said, for many, many years I have been on the public record absolutely supporting the establishment of a national integrity commission. I called for that because of the need for transparency and accountability. As I say, we need to have it in all of our institutions across all levels of government. The fact that we haven't had it has really been a disgrace. It has taken the election of a Labor government to make it happen. It has been many, many years. We have had so many people right across the community—not just in legal circles but in a whole range of different community sectors and individuals—countless numbers of people, who have raised it with me over the years. I have wholeheartedly supported having it in place for many, many years, as I say, for many reasons, but primarily—my background is as a former police officer. I know how important it is that people can see there are avenues to have protection for our institutions and a capacity to make sure that action can be taken and investigated. It is important for all of those people within the institutions to know that such strong integrity measures do exist. At the same time, it's important to have a whole range of safeguards in place. The balance has to be right and this bill and our amendments get that balance right to ensure that people can absolutely have faith in this.
I'm really proud to be speaking on this bill today, because it has been many years to get to this point and it is really important. It's one of the many important bills that we'll pass here. I, along with all my colleagues, and the Albanese Labor government, look forward to the whole parliament coming together to pass this important legislation to finally establish—and we will do that—a powerful, transparent and, very importantly, independent National Anti-Corruption Commission. I certainly hope that indeed all of the House supports it. It's important for us in this institution and important for the general public to see that this is what their government is doing, this is what the Labor government is doing. I commend the bill to the House.
In the months leading up to the election in 2019, as a first-time candidate I spent a great deal of time speaking to people about the national integrity bill and the national integrity commission, because I believed in it. I believed that it was required and was needed at a federal level. To be perfectly honest, I was quite surprised to find that there wasn't one. Having spent 12 years as a police officer and 18 years as a lawyer, I've always had a governing body watching over me, watching over conduct and watching over my colleagues, and calling out corrupt conduct where they saw it. As I said, it was quite surprising and the reason why I was quite open and was happy to see that the government I ultimately joined was going to push for a national integrity commission.
So it is with some frustration that I now stand here on the other side of the floor, having to talk about amendments and look at the integrity bill being put forward by Labor and the flaws in that bill. It is frustrating that we didn't get it through in our time. To be perfectly honest, it was a missed opportunity, and, if I want to be completely honest, it is one of the reasons we are on this side of the floor. It is imperative that we have the right National Anti-Corruption Commission Act and that it is fit for purpose, and there are a number of sections that concern me greatly that it is not fit for purpose. I can speak from experience because I've actually appeared before commissions in my 18 years as a lawyer. I've acted for those people who have been called to commissions by way of subpoena.
One thing that strikes me as ironic, and is one of the flaws in this bill, is that some of the worst people called before commissions are afforded protections that we see are not afforded to people who are high-profile. That is one of the major things that concerns me about this bill—that it will allow, through the 'exceptional circumstances' test, trial by media. Others across the floor may say, 'That's not going to happen; we've never seen it before.' I can think of three examples right now that I have watched. The first is of former minister Mike Gallacher. He was a former police officer. He was well respected. He left the police and became the minister for police in New South Wales. He was called before the ICAC in New South Wales, and the ICAC counsel assisting, Geoffrey Watson SC, accused him of corruption in a public hearing. That was it for him. It didn't matter that he was ultimately exonerated; his career was over. He could have been the Premier of New South Wales, but, because of an allegation in a public hearing, rather than a hearing behind closed doors, to find whether there was a case to answer, his career effectively came to an end. He was, as I said, a well-respected police officer. He lost everything. The Liberal Party lost a good member. He was cleared of all charges but in the real world that meant nothing. There was that taint attached to him. People don't understand that the rules of evidence don't apply. The rules of evidence are paramount in a criminal trial. But before a commission you can make allegations, you can make suggestions and you can make innuendos that will crush not only a person's career but a person's life. It will crush their family.
I move on to extremely skilled and professional senior counsel Margaret Cunneen, in New South Wales. Margaret Cunneen was well known as an officious, professional barrister in the criminal field. Due to a set of circumstances and the fact that the definition of 'corrupt conduct', as in this bill, is ambiguous, is vague, she ended up in ICAC with allegations of a personal nature that bore absolutely no relevance to her professional position and therefore couldn't be defined as corruption. In my view, and in the view of the High Court ultimately, it was an abuse of process, and the High Court found on 15 April 2015 that the authority had misinterpreted the definition of 'corrupt conduct'. Thankfully for Margaret Cunneen, being such a tough woman and well respected in her field, she is still now at the top of her game—senior counsel.
And of course we all know about the former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, whom I have personally known for over 20 years. Her reputation was dragged through the mud unnecessarily in the interest of the public and a public hearing. There was no reason that they couldn't have taken that evidence in camera, in private, and made a decision—which we're still waiting for, mind you. Gladys Berejiklian has had to stand down, and she'll never be back. Why would she be? She's been dragged through the mud, her personal life thrown all over the TV, the newspapers and social media. We still don't have a result. They could have had that behind closed doors.
Again, I am in support of a National Anti-Corruption Commission. I can say that I was in the police during the police royal commission, and there was a definite need for a police royal commission. I'm not walking away from that. But I did see colleagues whose families were targeted by investigators and terrorised to get evidence from them. It turned husbands against wives. So, we need to ensure that any type of anticorruption bill or anticorruption commission that we have does not do that again. Police officers were having mental breakdowns, institutionalised because of the bastardry and terrorism—the overreach—by the commission and the investigators. That is not what this bill is intended for.
Another flaw in this bill that greatly concerns me is that the bill doesn't make all decisions of the commissioner subject to judicial review, and I believe that is a serious mistake. There are scenarios in which the commissioner would be the sole decision-maker in a matter such as commencing a public hearing. In my view, this is a dangerous precedent based on the examples I've just provided.
Every level of the judiciary, with the exception of the High Court, which is exempt under this act, has a court of review. The local court has the district court reviewing. The district court has the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has the Court of Criminal Appeal. Then why does this commission not have a body review? It is because people make mistakes. People have bias. When those considerations come into play you need that body of review. You need to have the honesty of the High Court to review these decisions so we don't ruin lives, so that people who have been accused of corrupt conduct but who have not engaged in corrupt conduct get a fair trial. As I said, there are no rules of evidence here. Any allegation can be made based on assertions, based on innuendo, and it will destroy lives. To those people who have been corrupt, I can tell you from a lawyer's point of view that when you enter into a commission, an ICAC, rest assured—and this is what I used to my client—they already know the answer to their question. So don't lie.