Senate debates

Thursday, 9 February 2017


National Integrity Commission Bill 2013; Second Reading

10:32 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. The Greens' position on supporting a national anticorruption agency is longstanding and based on the need to be shining a light on the murkiness that lies beneath a lot of what goes on in Australian politics and business. We have Senator Roberts over here off on his flights of fancy, which are so much more based on his narcissism and his focus that everything that he is says is right, ignoring the reality of the science of climate change, which, as we know, is accepted by 97 per cent or more of the world's scientists. We currently have the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society having their conference in Canberra this week. We have just had Canberra having its hottest year on record. We have just had climate records smashed around the world. Scientists have moved on from discussing climate change to recognising the seriousness of it. Yet Senator Roberts and his One Nation crew are off on their flights of fancy that bear no relationship at all to reality and certainly no relationship to science. If we are to have an inquiry into climate change we may as well have an inquiry into gravity. We have the basic laws of physics and chemistry. Climate change is real. Dangerous global warming is happening.

Clearly the issue of corruption and the need for an integrity commission or an anticorruption commission strikes a raw nerve, because people do not want to believe it is happening. The Labor Party for a long time have been very reluctant and resistant to supporting the Greens' call. Since Bob Brown introduced the Greens' National Integrity Commissioner Bill in 2010 there have been seven years in this parliament. But we are pleased that finally, in the last weeks, they have recognised that this is something that the community see as important and that people want to have happening; they want to have that light shone on the murky world of donations and potential corruption. So we are pleased that they have come on board with their support for an inquiry into the need for a anticorruption body. But we believe the evidence is there. We believe that there is strong evidence that an anticorruption body is really needed. We do not think that it is necessary to go off to an inquiry. Of course, if this inquiry happens we will participate, and we believe that the evidence that will come out of that inquiry will be very strong and will show that there is a need for a really thorough, well resourced, expansive anticorruption agency at the national level, just as there is at state level in the states that already have one.

Senator Macdonald's contribution was amusing, basically. He said, 'Don't worry; not a problem.' The issue is that if you are in the dark, you cannot see that there is a problem. I think that is where the current government is at. I heard the government get up yesterday and say, 'No, not a problem; we don't need one; there is no evidence of corruption so therefore it's not happening.' Senator Macdonald based a lot of his speech on the fact that we already have an agency—the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. When he was speaking I thought, let's have a look at what people feel about how comprehensive and suitable and well-resourced, how capable of dealing with these issues ACLEI is. I pulled up an article from The Sydney Morning Herald in May last year. I think the heading of that article tells you a lot. It really summarises the issue with ACLEI. The headline was, 'The mouse versus the dragon: law enforcement struggles against alleged customs drug network.' This article documented the issues of the underresourcing and lack of powers that ACLEI has to deal with the issue of drug smuggling across our borders.

This article notes that ACLEI is far smaller than most of its state anti-corruption counterparts and is also reliant on the resources of the agencies it is meant to oversee to run complex operations. In particular, it is reliant upon the Australian Federal Police. So when this issue of drug smuggling was finally passed to the Federal Police, a senior AFP officer initially deemed the evidence insufficient to begin a probe. So, yet, more drugs passed through the border. Time after time, there is evidence to show that the resources and the extent of the powers available to ACLEI are just insufficient. ACLEI's ability to investigate serious corruption was expressed as 'woeful' during a probe at Sydney airport. One security source quoted in this article said that, basically, to fight this threat to the nation's borders 'ACLEI needs to be ten-dupled in size'. The article said:

Says another anti-corruption fighter who has worked alongside ACLEI on highly sensitive jobs: "They are heavily reliant on the AFP. The trouble is when you are that reliant, it infects the sort of jobs ACLEI will take on."

This source also has concerns about ACLEI's decision to avoid public hearings into corruption, despite having the power to hold them. ACLEI is also reluctant to engage with the media about its operations, meaning the public rarely finds out about the true extent of corruption, cultural problems and management failures in the nation's border security agencies.

Clearly, ACLEI is doing what it can with resources and powers available to it. But it is not sufficient. It is not a substitute for a broad, wide-ranging integrity commission, which is what the Greens have been calling for now for seven years.

Senator Macdonald also said that there was no evidence, and said hat we have good global ratings for having clean politics. He quoted that Transparency International was not concerned about us. In fact, Transparency International twice in the last 10 years has expressed concern. There was a joint study by Griffith University and Transparency International in 2005 that recommended that a new independent statutory authority be tasked as a comprehensive lead agency for investigation and prevention of official corruption, criminal activity and serious misconduct involving Commonwealth officials. Then, as recently as 2013, Transparency International Australia called for a federal anti-corruption body to be established following reports about Centrelink tenancy leases. There is a clear case that has been established over many years for the need for an integrity commission of the type that the Greens have been calling for.

In particular, the issue which seems to really strike a raw nerve is the issue of the influence of political donations. Our donation system in Australia operates like the downstream waters of Melbourne's Yarra River. Upstream of Melbourne, the river is pure and clean, and a place that we can be proud of. But the further we go down the river the muddier it gets. No-one would want to drink that water. And this is the problem.

As recently as this morning, there was an article on the ABC website with information about political donations. They begin the article by saying:

Companies, organisations and individuals arguably make political donations for one reason only: to influence Australian politics.

They outline a dataset of where the donations have flowed 'to reveal the industries,' as they say, 'and people using their riches in a bid to buy influence.' The influence of political donations is corrupting Australian politics. Exactly how and where and which companies—we do not know because we do not have the tools to investigate it. All we know is it is extremely murky. We do not have the information to actually be able to pinpoint and do the investigation to find out which of these resource companies have actually been unduly using their influence and which decisions have been unduly influenced by those donations that of been made. But what we do know is that a huge amount of money is being handed over by donors—and, as the ABC said, for one reason only: to influence Australian politics. In 2016, there was: $6½ million from individuals; $3½ million from property and construction businesses; $1.8 million from resources; $1.7 million from unions; $1.2 million from pharmaceutical and health companies. This level of donation really shows that there is a reason why these companies are making donations. We can see exactly the influence it has. It becomes very, very murky. Whether it is gambling or pokies, cigarettes or alcohol, property development, the big roads lobby, or fossil fuels—decisions are being made that are not in the public interest.


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