Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Bills

National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2); Second Reading

12:16 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum, and I seek leave to have my second reading speech incorporated in Hansard and to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

NATIONAL INTEGRITY COMMISSION BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

The Greens have been campaigning for 10 years in federal Parliament for a national anti­corruption commission. Back in 2009, former Senator Bob Brown moved a motion in the Senate calling on the Government to establish a National Integrity Commission. Since then the Australian Greens have introduced four Bills, this is the fifth, the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018.

The federal Parliament is facing the prospect of ending the 45th Parliament as the only jurisdiction in Australia left unchecked against the very real threat of internal corruption or maladministration across the Parliament and federal public service.

In the years since former Greens Senator Bob Brown introduced the first Australian Greens bill for a National Integrity Commission in 2010, every Australian state has now developed and implemented their own independent anti-corruption commission. This week we expect to see the ACT pass their own anti-corruption bill into law. On 30 November 2018 the Northern Territory Independent Commission Against Corruption will commence operation. That leaves the Commonwealth as the final jurisdiction in Australia without an anti-corruption body. The overwhelming evidence of these culture-changing institutions has reinforced the need for such a body at the Commonwealth level.

I note that Labor and the Coalition have voted against Greens motions in the Senate calling for a National Integrity Commission in 2009, 2016, 2017 and 2018, with a motion in 2014 not even proceeding to a vote.

There was a debate on the Greens' 2013 National Integrity Commission Bill in the last Parliament during which Labor senators stated that their party was open to considering a National Integrity Commission but they argued that the bill was premature. It's been several years since that debate; surely we're all mature enough now to vote to restore integrity to our politics.

Not until January of this year did the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten announce Labor finally supported a federal anti-corruption watchdog and would move for one to be established within their first year of government, should Labor be elected. Well, Labor doesn't have to wait that long.

We have recently learnt that the federal cabinet, under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, was due to decide on the national anti-corruption commission in a detailed plan prepared in June 2018. That plan was allegedly derailed by the leadership spill a few months ago. Now our new Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, has declared that a national integrity commission is a 'fringe issue'. Once again our democracy has become collateral damage for prime ministerial ambitions.

On 13 November 2018, after almost 10 years since the Greens' first motion, the Senate passed my motion calling for a National Integrity Commission. This week that motion was put to the House for concurrence - and it passed. Both Houses of our Parliament are in favour of this, let's get it done.

We must act on this issue to regain community trust in our democracy. Since former Senator Brown introduced that first bill in 2010, research by the University of Canberra and the Museum of Australian Democracy has revealed that the percentage of Australians who are satisfied with the way democracy is working today has plummeted from 72% to just 41%, and only three in ten Australians trust the federal government. The longer our politicians stand in the way on this issue, the more trust is lost.

This bill was drafted using the bill of the same name introduced to the House of Representatives by Cathy McGowan AO MP on 26 November 2018, which itself is built on bills introduced by the Australian Greens. There are two major changes that have been incorporated in this latest version to address concerns raised by the Government and Opposition. A 10-year limit on retrospectivity of the Commission has been added, and the definition of corrupt conduct has been tightened so that only substantial breaches of codes of conduct which apply to Ministers and Members of Parliament are capable of being corrupt conduct, rather than any additional codes of conduct that apply to public servants. For employees and former employees in the public service, the standard will be set at criminal offences, disciplinary offences or grounds for termination. This returns the scope of corrupt conduct to that originally proposed by the Greens' National Integrity Commission Bill 2017. The definition of corrupt conduct has also removed the unclear terms in the House bill which were taken from existing NSW ICAC provisions which are being challenged in the High Court.

This bill will provide the infrastructure to challenge corruption by establishing the National Integrity Commission as an independent statutory agency. It establishes the office of the National Integrity Commissioner, based largely on the successful NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) model. It would absorb the existing Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI).

The office of the National Integrity Commissioner will actively prevent and investigate misconduct and corruption in all Commonwealth departments, agencies, federal parliamentarians and their staff. This will fill the largest gap in our country's anti-corruption framework. The powers of the National Integrity Commissioner are based largely on provisions in the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006.

It will focus on corruption in relation to parliamentarians and their staff, public officials and Commonwealth agencies and has full investigative powers, including summoning any person or agency to produce documents and appear before the Commission, conduct investigations, and apply for and execute search warrants.

Importantly the bill provides the capacity for the Commission to investigate cases where corrupt conduct is foreseeable, making the Office's role proactive in addressing corruption.

The National Integrity Commission will operate in the federal jurisdiction and will not replace or override state legislation.

The second office within the National Integrity Commission is the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner, focusing on federal law enforcement agencies in accordance with the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006. It will continue to have the functions and powers conferred under that Act.

The Commission also includes the Whistleblower Protection Commissioner to receive and investigate disclosures of wrongdoing, and provide advice, assistance, guidance and support to persons and agencies who disclose wrongdoing.

There has only been brief exposure time for this bill since its previous version was introduced to the House earlier this week by independent Cathy McGowan AO MP, so I will be moving several amendments in the committee stage to address concerns raised since the bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. These include:

      communications after getting a warrant from a judge, as per state anti-corruption commissions.

      In summary, this bill provides the legislative framework for the comprehensive prevention of corruption and misconduct in the federal Parliament and public service. It fills the most glaring defects of our governance framework and it will provide the public with an institution it can rely upon to ensure the highest standards of public administration now and into the future. Our democracy belongs to the people of Australia, not to vested interests, corporate donors and those who can afford to buy access in the halls of Parliament. We need transparency and accountability in our political system and until we get a federal anti­corruption body, our politicians will keep working for the big end of town, not the community they are elected to represent. This reform is well overdue; it's time to get this done.

      I therefore commend this bill to the Senate.

      Debate adjourned.

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