Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Consideration of Legislation
Senator Patrick, in your contribution last week you acknowledged that you had sought to bring this bill on for debate last week—through you, Mr President. The will of the chamber at that time was that the chamber didn't want to bring this bill on. So now you come in here and try to hide behind the fact that you can somehow amend what you previously stood for, just to bring on something because you've decided that you want to come in here and seriously disrupt the chamber. I've always had a great deal of respect for your policy wonkiness, Senator Patrick, and your procedural wonkiness—probably more so than anything—because you have always been a great stickler in this place for procedure. To come in here this week, after the will of the chamber last week was that it wasn't to be brought on for debate, and seek to do it again probably undermines the purity of your position when it comes to procedural matters. I would draw to your attention the flaw in your argument that you just put forward.
As you know, Senator Patrick, it is the prerogative of the government to set the agenda. We've got a very serious agenda of legislation that we would like to put before this chamber—and I thank the chamber for the nine bills we were able to get through this place last week. Despite the number of times that suspensions were sought to waste time, particularly by those at the other end of the chamber, we still managed to get nine bills through, and some of them were really, really important. Something like the funder-of-last-resort amendments to the redress bill that we put through this place last week were super important, and I was really proud that we were table to do that. I thank the chamber for that, but we could do more if you would stop with these stunts of wasting time on these sorts of processes. I don't particularly want to be standing here having to defend this situation when we could be talking about substantive legislation that's part of the program that we have put forward. We were completely transparent last Friday about the agenda that we wanted to put through, but here we are again talking about a procedural motion.
On the substantive matter that you're seeking to bring on today, Senator Patrick, the government have been particularly clear around the fact that we issued an exposure draft of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill, along with explanatory memorandum. It was provided to the other side as this is a really important issue that we hope we might be able to get consensus on. I'm sure all members of this government would be more than happy to sit down and get agreement about bringing something forward, but what we will not be bringing forward, Senator Patrick, is a bill that deals with what is a very serious issue—that is, dealing with corruption in public places—and seeks to turn around the basic premise of Australia's legal system, and that is that somebody should be presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty.
To be proven guilty by the court of public opinion, by the mechanism by which a particular commission is put forward or designed, is not something that this government will support. We will support an Integrity Commission that allows us to root out serious corrupt behaviour, but we will not allow an Integrity Commission to be turned into a political witch-hunt tool. The mechanism of suggesting that politicians can refer other politicians under a model that we've seen put into this place, that politicians can refer other politicians to an Integrity Commission, is a complete outrage. I believe fundamentally in the law of natural justice, and that is that everybody in this country should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
It is completely unfair to have a commission that does not do what it's designed to do. A commission should be designed to root out serious corruption in public places. It shouldn't be designed to duplicate the current processes that are in place in many other integrity-type bodies that sit within the Commonwealth space, not the least of which is one that we in this place all have to adhere to, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority. There are a number of authorities—including the AFP and the Ombudsman—that already undertake a level of integrity. We are more than happy to support an integrity commission that roots out serious corruption but we will not be party to one that turns it into a witch-hunt that means people who are innocent are not afforded that privilege.