Monday, 9 September 2019
National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2); Second Reading
As a servant of the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to support the intent behind an ICAC. But I want to go into the matter of accountability, because the people of Australia do not hold federal parliament in high regard when it comes to the matter of accountability. It's something I realised before entering parliament, having had to deal with people from both sides of parliament in the upper house and the lower house—accountability is low or nonexistent in many places, and the people of Australia laugh at the people in this building. In my first speech, I mentioned that accountability was one of the areas I wanted to improve in this parliament. It's something that Senator Pauline Hanson has repeatedly stated—accountability, accountability, accountability. We see Labor in Queensland, Labor in New South Wales, Labor in Ipswich, Labor in many shire councils in Queensland and the Liberal Party in some councils in Queensland. We see Chinese donations. We don't get answers.
Last week and the week before, I was involved with a committee of inquiry looking at the post-retirement incomes of former ministers Bishop and Pyne. I interviewed, or questioned, the most senior bureaucrat in this country, who retired just a few hours later—Dr Martin Parkinson. After talking to us about the investigation he had done on behalf of the Prime Minister, repeatedly mentioning the word 'investigation', he admitted under my line of questioning that he had no investigation powers. The undertaking that ministers give to the Prime Minister on being appointed is simply an undertaking—unenforceable and uninvestigable. Accountability is low. I have seen it firsthand. That's why this building, in my opinion, is often the most damaging building in the country. It's because it has so much power over the people of Australia and doesn't work for the people of Australia.
I mention energy, immigration, taxation, multinationals not being taxed, the theft of property rights—these are fundamental, basic things that are being ignored, blown away, by the people in this parliament. We must get rid of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. I'll say it again: we must get rid of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. We see something is needed. Should it be internal? Should it be a matter of, as Ms Bishop stated last week, holding ministers accountable under legislation so they can be held accountable after they retire? Well, that's one way of doing it, and I would prefer to see something like that. But, having had introductory talks on that matter, I know it is difficult to do that. So that leaves us, then, with an external body that would be free of politics, would be legal and would be tight. That's what the people of Australia want—free of politics, legal and tight. My concern there, though, is that parliament could be used as a shield. But we have seen some instances of success with this in the state bodies, so it's worth exploring.
I want to compliment the Greens for raising this. There you are, people of Australia; I've actually complimented the Greens! It's not the first time. We will always compliment the Greens and work with the Greens when they come up with a sensible idea. Clearly, the people have lost faith in parliament and they tell us that. They tell One Nation that a lot, and they want us to do something about it. In fact, we see that parliament itself has lost faith in itself, because we see motion after motion requesting inquiries. Parliament has lost faith in itself. So I want to compliment the Greens because they're doing more here than just fabricating victims, which they normally do. The real victims of this corruption and this abuse of power in this building are the people of Australia.
But there is a very big 'but'. In fact, there are 17 'buts', and we put these fundamental questions to the Greens. We have received answers on some, but these questions came out of review by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. These are serious questions that people have asked about this bill, and they have largely gone unanswered, or else problems have been confirmed. So I want to go through those.
As I said, the intent behind this, to drive more accountability in parliament, is sound, but let's have a look at the execution. The person under investigation is not required to be informed that they are being investigated. That's fundamental. That's a deficiency. The Integrity Commission is being given the powers of a royal commission, but it is not a judicial investigation. It does not have the requisite legal staff to support the powers of a royal commission—another flaw. The commission will have no powers for telecommunications intercepts, surveillance devices and so on—another flaw.
Referrals of matters can be made by any person. No framework for specious or political referrals exists. There are no checks or balances on the referrals. This could be used politically outside the parliament as well as inside the parliament. Heads of Commonwealth agencies are required to make referrals to the commission where they believe corrupt conduct has occurred. That's fine. However, the definition of 'corrupt conduct' is so broad this whole section becomes unworkable. It may result in a known incident being buried in hundreds of specious incidents and claims. Remember, this is not me talking. This is from the reviews by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. Those are real and serious questions.
No. 9—we like this one—is that the commission has the power to hold public meetings. That seems unpopular, but we think it's probably appropriate. No. 11 is that the commissioner appears to have the power to refuse a person's right to be represented before them. The Greens actually replied to this one, and they said, 'That's not always the case, but it is in some cases.'
The next matter is that the commissioner may order a person arrested and brought before the commission. That arrest does not need to be carried out by law enforcement—merely authorised persons. Sure, the Australian Federal Police could do that, but in the instances where it's not done by the Australian Federal Police it could undo the process. So that's questionable, and we need clarification there.
The next matter is that the bill allows persons other than police officers to execute search warrants, including powers to force entry and search in the absence of the suspect. There is no requirement on experience or qualifications of the commission's operators. Unless they are experienced, they could be prone to mistakes, and that could throw out the validity of the whole inquiry—the whole action.
The next matter I want to discuss is No. 15, the reversal of evidentiary burden of proof. The person under investigation has to raise evidence to disprove their guilt. There is no longer presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Greens say that people don't need that protection.
The next matter is that failing to appear after receiving a summons or failing to produce a document or thing is a strict liability offence carrying six months in jail. This takes out the ability to get sick or be geographically or financially unable to respond and also to appeal the order to hand over a document or item. The commissioner may give an extension, but they're pretty broad powers. That is item 16 raised by the two committees.
No. 17—the last one I'll talk about—is that members, including staff of the commission, are exempted from civil action from defamation and a group of civil remedies. They can literally do anything. They can lie or say anything about a person they wish, and they are good to go.
So we are caught here with something that is of sound intent but complicated and flawed in its execution. As I said, it has been reviewed by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. It fundamentally goes against basic tenets of the law in our country. Our conclusion would be that we are caught in between the Greens bill that goes too far and undermines some fundamental principles of law in this country and creates a body that would embarrass the Stasi and, on the other hand, the government's proposal that investigates and reports in secret and only investigates matters referred to it by the government. Both are not acceptable: poor to the Left; poor to the Right.
What we see in this bill is sound intent destroyed, submerged and squashed by virtue signalling. The Greens are the squealing pigs of the Australian parliament. They talk about integrity but don't have integrity of using the science on climate change, which is now emasculating millions of people's economic welfare and future. It's based on a lie. They have never provided the evidence and yet they talk to us about the integrity of their climate claims. All they use is emotion and stories.
This is a political stunt. It is embarrassing that they try to foist this upon the people of this country. The Greens give more rights to illegals entering this country than they are giving in this bill to the people of our country. We won't stand for it. We will not support this bill until it is cleaned up and the intent is supported by the specific provisions. I want to repeat: One Nation are in favour of an ICAC or an external body to hold this parliament to account, but we are not in favour of this stunt.
We as a parliament must do things properly because time after time the government stuffs it up and the people pay. On energy the people pay. On the theft of property rights the people pay. On excessive immigration not only do the people pay financially but they are inconvenienced and our standards and values are destroyed. We ask the questions that people want asked in this parliament. We have the guts to say what people are really thinking. The people want accountability, not a sham. We want a proper ICAC, a proper external body, to hold the parliament and individual parliamentarians accountable. This bill does not do that adequately.