Thursday, 15 May 2014
National Integrity Commission Bill 2013; Second Reading
I rise today very hopeful that both the government and the Labor Party will support the Greens in introducing a new national integrity commission into the federal government arena. The first anticorruption commission around Australia was established as the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales in 1989—25 years ago. Now every state in Australia has an anticorruption commission of some kind. The federal government is the only jurisdiction without the infrastructure to confront corruption. Every time wrongdoing is exposed, one-off reviews or ad hoc investigations are launched.
We are shocked continually by the revelations that come out from the state independent commissions against corruption, namely the one in New South Wales at the moment. And I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the people blockading at Bentley against Metgasco because today the New South Wales government has suspended the licence that was granted because there was no consultation with local people and because, through the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations, it is pretty obvious that the licences were given wrongly. The question is: who facilitated those licences and were there kickbacks paid? No doubt ICAC will be investigating that. But what we should have is those licences in New South Wales cancelled. If they were granted as a result of corrupt practices, they should be cancelled. And I do congratulate the community for standing up as part of the Bentley blockade. But it should not take ordinary citizens taking the action that they have to hold governments to account, to make sure that licences are not given as a result of money paid behind the scenes or undue influence or favours in any other way.
And now for the third time the Greens have this bill before the parliament to create this office to crack down on public sector corruption and promote integrity in our public institutions. In fact I cannot see why anybody would oppose setting up a national ICAC, and I will be very interested to hear what excuses are offered. It is pretty obvious that corruption does not end at the border of New South Wales; it does not end at any other state border. When you consider the likelihood of corruption in the federal arena, it is pretty overwhelming. So many major projects are dependent on some federal licence being given, some engagement with a federal agency. Therefore, there is a huge temptation for people, both at the political level and in the bureaucracy, to engage in talking with lobbyists—and who knows where it will end up.
I want to give an example that is on the go right now. You have the financial services industry, which did not like one little bit the fact that in the last government Labor and the Greens moved to change the law to require those people in the financial services industry to act in the best interests of their client. Now what is wrong with someone being required to act in the best interests of their client? You would expect that to be the case. But what has been revealed is that in a whole lot of the managed investment schemes, for example, the financial advisers were not telling the people they were selling the products to of the massive kickbacks that they, the financial advisers, were getting as a result of recommending that product. So what happened? The financial advisers became rich, but the people who bought the product, well those people lost and lost out badly.
When I think of the tragedy of the people who were sucked into buying from Great Southern Plantations, Gunns and the rest, you have to ask the question: how on earth did the financial services industry get to the point where it was able to con the parliament into agreeing that it could sell a product without having to act in the communities' or its clients' best interest?
Now we have a situation where the financial services industry has persuaded Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government to change the act back to remove the need for financial advisers to act in the best interests of the client. And we what do we find? We find that the financial services industry is part of the North Sydney Forum, which is a fundraiser for the federal Liberal Party—in particular, Treasurer Joe Hockey. What does that tell you about the influence of lobbyists—the way that lobbying groups get involved in private fundraising engagement with political parties? The delivery is given here in parliament in terms of outcomes. And it is entirely secret. Until this was forced out recently, nobody would have known about that backroom dealing that was going on.
That is why it is critical. The same thing goes with novated leasing and a whole range of things, including the salary packaging industry. That industry is in there with the car industry to set up a situation where you can minimise your taxable income by going through this lurk of novated leases. We got rid of it in the last period of government, and I see that the current Liberal Party is about to restore the rort.
That is the kind of thing that goes on, and that is why the community is getting increasingly frustrated and wants to have some reassurance that there is some way of investigating what they can clearly see is on the verge of corruption, if not corruption.
In this Greens legislation, the National Office of Integrity Commissioner is modelled on the successful New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is based on provisions in the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006. The first part of it is about the National Integrity Commissioner, and that is concerned with corruption in relation to public officials and Commonwealth agencies, and has full investigative powers, including public and private hearings and summoning any person or agency to produce documents and appear before the commissioner.
I think that is fair enough. Why shouldn't public officials, Commonwealth agencies and parliamentarians be subject to that kind of oversight in the federal parliament? I will give you an example—it happened recently—which many people will have read about. Just in this last month we saw two men—one from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and another working with the National Australia Bank—using unpublished unemployment, retail and trade data at the Bureau of Statistics to trade in foreign exchange derivatives. Somebody working in a government agency was working with someone in the private sector and using that information. That insider trading brought in millions of dollars to the two men, but in this case it has been picked up by our criminal justice system. I am glad it has been picked up by our criminal justice system, but it may not have been. What pathways do members of the community have to put forward matters and have them investigated?
I want to go to another example—the issue of Securency, a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank. Mr Warburton has been appointed by Prime Minister Abbott to review Australia's renewable energy target. We know that he has been the subject of a secret internal investigation into his role as a former director of a firm involved in Australia's worst foreign bribery scandal. That investigation and those findings by KPMG were sent, in February, to the Reserve Bank Board. They deal not only with Mr Warburton and his fellow former Note Printing Australia directors but go to the knowledge of, and handling by, Note Printing Australia's sanctions-busting trip to Iraq in 1998. Yet yesterday, when I sought the parliament's approval to put that document on the table of the parliament so that we can know what exactly went on and what KPMG found out about those directors—in particular, Mr Warburton—the government and the opposition voted together to prevent the Senate order that would have required that report to be tabled in the parliament. I put the question: why shouldn't the parliament have access to that KPMG report on what has gone on?
I want to give another example. One of my constituents, who I will not name, is a fisherman in Tasmania. He was approached by two Austrade officials in Japan. He was asked to provide fish to this supposedly Japanese businessman who they vouched for. They said he was a credible person and that they had done the due diligence. They said that the government wanted this trade in order to develop the relationship with Japan in high-quality seafood. So this fisherman went ahead and did it, at the request of Austrade. He was quite happy with his own business. He did not need this business but he went ahead with it because they asked him to.
The long and the short of it is that he provided the fish to this place in Japan—to the businessman whose bona fides Austrade vouched for. After a while the fish were collected but no payment was made. Later it was revealed that there was no such businessman. The person that Austrade had vouched for did not exist. Austrade had invited my constituent to get involved with a shonk. Why? In order to justify the Austrade office in Nagoya they had to show that they were turning over a certain amount of business. So they set up this whole thing. The result of it is that my constituent went broke, and the department backed their two officers to the hilt.
There was no natural justice in this. As far as I know, those two officials remain employed in Austrade. I think it is totally wrong. I have pursued it every which way, seeking natural justice for this person. But the bigger question here is: how many other Austrade officials around the world are setting up similar kinds of scams and presenting figures to the federal government on the extent of the business that they are engaged in when, in fact, it has all been set up to secure their postings rather than the business that was supposedly there to be delivered?
I will give you another example, under the Green Loans scheme in the last period of government. It was riddled with incidents of inappropriate behaviour from some public servants, who favoured particular suppliers. They split contracts so that they did not have to go to competitive tender. The audit reports into the scheme make for deeply troubling reading, with systematic breaches of procurement policies and basic financial management regulations. The question is: was it just maladministration or sloppiness? Were they under pressure to get these Green Loans and audits out the door? Did they do this in order to facilitate a government policy, to get it out the door? Or were any kickbacks paid? What actually was done when the audit reports came in and showed there were serious questions to be answered?
The public does not know, and neither does this parliament. Those of us who have constituents bring these things to us have no mechanism to have them investigated. And if we cannot actually give enough evidence for a breach of a criminal kind it goes nowhere. Well, I think that if it is good enough for the states to recognise that there is a high risk of corruption and that they want to actually try to eradicate corruption, then at the very least the federal parliament should go there as well.
It also goes to our international standing. We are a signatory to two important anticorruption conventions: the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which entered into force in December 2005, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. This is another one where Transparency International has previously criticised Australian law for its low and ineffective penalties for corruption. It found, in its 2009 report, that Australia made little or no effort to enforce the OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
I will give you another example: in Zambia, as I stand here, there is an Australian mining company over there trying to get a licence to put a mine in one of their biggest national parks. It was refused by the environment agency in Zambia but then that was overturned by a minister in that country. International NGOs have alleged clearly that money changed hands. And yet you have an Australian state government backing this company to the hilt. What is the arrangement? Who is involved in this?
You have the United States currently investigating BHP in China in relation to corruption. This was one of the things referred to the Australian Federal Police. It was not taken up by the Federal Police, but I raised it at the last estimates and they now have.
Equally, in Macau, where the Chinese took action against a citizen there for bribery in relation to casino developments—in particular, Crown casino developments. The Chinese citizen was jailed there for taking a bribe of $100 million to free-up the land for the casinos and provide the licences. And yet when that was referred to the Federal Police to look at from our end, what was done? Zilch, zero—nothing! Now, why? Why are we allowing this to happen? I would like to have a very considered explanation from my parliamentary colleagues in other political parties here as to what they could possibly have against setting up a national integrity commission—a commission against corruption.
The other thing we need to do is to reassure the public that the entitlements we get are appropriately accessed and spent. That is why as part of this National Integrity Commission, the Greens are saying that we want a new Office of the Independent Parliamentary Adviser, to advise MPs and ministers on entitlement claims and the ethical running of their offices that the public rightly expects. That adviser that would be tasked with developing a legally-binding code of conduct for MPs for the parliament to adopt.
Of course, this goes to the heart of the recent wedding scandal, where people had claimed expenses to go to various weddings, functions and so on, and the question was really: were those really for parliamentary business or were they using an entitlement just because they could get access to it? There was the famous case here, many years ago, of an MP who flew to Perth and back and who did not leave the airport lounge, simply to get the entitlement in relation to frequent flyer points. This was using a public, taxpayer funded fair to flow from the eastern states to Perth, sit in a lounge, have lunch and come back in order to get the frequent flyer points. This is why we have had the awful scandal in the last parliament with the former Speaker, Peter Slipper, and allegations made about him and his use of entitlements. But he is not the only one by any means. There have been a lot of allegations. That is why it is actually to the benefit of parliamentarians that we get this, because it enables people to go and ask the question, 'Is this an appropriate use of my entitlements or not?' and actually to have that sorted by someone who is overseeing it.
So I implore the parliament: corruption is serious. It distorts our democracy and it hurts communities, communities who end up like those in the Bentley Blockade, having to take action because governments have colluded with business to get the outcomes that business wants against the community. So, come on: let's get a national ICAC for Australia and let's do it in this parliament to restore and maintain our reputation, and to help build trust in the parliament rather than the level of cynicism about the revolving door between big business and politics.
I rise this morning to also speak on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. I would hope that we would all take it as read that, as senators in this place, we believe we should take a zero-tolerance approach to the issue of corruption. Certainly those of us on this side of the chamber believe we should be doing everything in our power to stamp out corruption in all its forms, and we should use the most effective means available to us in order to do so.
The bill which Senator Milne has brought to the Senate calls for the establishment of a National Integrity Commission to investigate and prevent misconduct and corruption in all Commonwealth departments and agencies, as well as federal parliamentarians and their staff, and investigate and prevent corruption across law enforcement agencies. The bill also proposes establishing an independent parliamentary adviser as a component of the National Integrity Commission to provide advice to parliamentarians on ethics, conduct and issues of propriety, although it is not proposed that this adviser have any investigative powers.
My own starting point when I hear about any proposal to establish a new body like this is to ask why we need to do it. Is there clear public demand? Does the creation of the new body fulfil a function that is currently being overlooked? Will the creation of the new body lead to different and better outcomes? It seems to me that the bill is going about things in very much the wrong way. It is looking to establish a new body, the National Integrity Commission, without really being clear about what we hope to achieve by doing so, because it is not clear, based on the evidence that I have seen, that doing this will result in better outcomes—in this case, reduced instances of corruption.
In some important respects, this bill strikes me as being very reminiscent of the modus operandi applied by the former Labor government—that is, it is creating a new, government funded body without really thinking about whether we need it. If there were some compelling evidence that our federal agencies were awash with corruption, then the case, of course, would be very, very different, but I do not think anyone is suggesting that. Accordingly, I do not think we need to be setting a precedent where we simply create a body for the sake of appearances and then only afterwards worry about whether there is any work for it to do.
As I said a moment ago, the federal government already has a very effective, well-established, multiagency approach to dealing with misconduct and corruption in Commonwealth agencies and departments. For instance, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity is already responsible for detecting, preventing and investigating serious issues of corruption in federal law enforcement agencies. And of course we already have a parliamentary committee that is overseeing the work of that commission. Likewise, the Commonwealth Ombudsman performs an important function in investigating and auditing various agencies and functions, and the Australian Federal Police are playing their role in investigating and dealing with instances of corruption across Commonwealth agencies. Presumably the Greens, as the authors and sponsors of the bill, are not suggesting that these bodies are in any way deficient in fulfilling these functions.
Of course, I am not suggesting that the present arrangements have always been perfect. We can always do better in this area, and that is why the coalition government has taken a number of important decisions in this area since coming to office in September last year. That is why, in addition to the existing measure, the government has recently announced Task Force Pharos, which is designed to root out any corruption in the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. As we have seen in recent days, there is also the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, which was announced by the Prime Minister in February and is now underway.
It is curious that the Greens have come into the Senate with this bill on repeated occasions over the years and spoken about their deep concern about corruption. Would they not be publicly supportive, therefore, of a royal commission designed to deal with corruption in trade unions? It makes sense. If you keep coming to this parliament talking about corruption, why wouldn't you also come to this parliament and talk about corruption in our trade union movement?
The Abbott government, consistent with the commitment we made to the Australian people, decide to hold a royal commission into union corruption to deal with the numerous instances and concrete examples we have of the money of union members being misused by those in positions of authority, and what do the Australian Greens do? What do the Australian Greens say? The response of Senator Milne, the Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate, is that the royal commission is 'an ideological witch-hunt'. The evidence is there for the world to see of corruption in some pockets of the Australian trade union movement, but the Australian Greens call a royal commission that is set up to expose that corruption 'an ideological witch-hunt'.
There are no expressions of concern from Senator Milne and her colleagues about the fact that people like the former member for Dobell and others in the Health Services Union were spending the union dues paid by low-paid health workers to fund their own nocturnal entertainment activities. There have been reports of thuggish behaviour, of kickbacks, of bribes—of what we would normally call corruption. But, bizarrely, the Australian Greens do not want to highlight any of this type or style of corruption. They do not want to hold these people to account. Investigating and exposing this sort of corruption is apparently 'a distraction', as Senator Milne has already said of the royal commission. Yet now the Greens come into this place, the Senate chamber, and try to pose as the heroes of an anticorruption movement.
I have read Senator Milne's second reading speech on the bill, and I could not find any clear evidence—allegations, of course, are not evidence—offered that our existing mechanisms for investigating and dealing with corruption are in any way inadequate. Because an inquiry does not get the response you wanted does not necessarily mean that the mechanism has failed.
The crux of Senator Milne's case seems to be that most states have dedicated anticorruption bodies; therefore, there should also be a federal one. Well, no. I think the bar needs to be set a little higher than that, especially in an environment where the government is committed to getting rid of duplication between the Commonwealth and the states. I know there is a long history to this bill. It goes back a couple of parliaments, when it was first pursued by former senator Bob Brown, the former Leader of the Australian Greens. But I do not think this is an area where a one-size-fits-all approach is going to bring about better outcomes.
Yes, the states have now established various forms of anticorruption commissions. Those states have made a decision, as individual jurisdictions, to deal with corruption as they see fit and in a manner that works best for them. That is federalism working at its finest. But no evidence has been offered by the proponents of this bill that changing our robust, multiagency approach at the federal level is going to achieve a better result. It is not enough to merely assert it; you actually need to provide the evidence. Being shocked about hearings at the New South Wales ICAC is not the same as having evidence about corruption across the Commonwealth.
As I have said, Australia should be proud of its record in dealing with corruption at a national level. We should also be proud of Australia's position and reputation. We are consistently ranked by Transparency International as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It is interesting to note that many countries identified as some of the least corrupt in the world do not have national anticorruption commissions—including Canada and the United States. While it is true that, internationally, some countries have established national anticorruption commissions, many of those countries are developing or emerging economies fighting against endemic corruption. Established liberal democracies like Australia, Canada and the United States typically adopt a multiagency approach to the issue of erasing corruption.
We on the government side are committed to taking a zero tolerance approach to corruption and will continue to consider options for strengthening our nation's anticorruption framework, where it can be demonstrated that additional measures will lead to improved outcomes. However, just assuming that merely establishing a new national body is the best way to proceed, absent any real evidence of that, is an unwise basis on which to formulate public policy in this critical area.
It goes without saying that establishing a new body like this would also be a very expensive exercise. During the 2012-13 financial year, the cost of running Queensland's anticorruption body reached the $50 million mark. We on this side of the chamber accept that Australia is in a very difficult financial situation. It does not mean that we compromise issues of good governance, but it does mean we have to take a careful approach to building new agencies when there is no demonstrated evidence of a need. Senators from other parties are apparently unwilling to accept this important reality, but that is the fact of the matter at this point in time.
Given that, I am not sure taxpayers would thank us if we rushed to set up a new national anticorruption body, given that those who are seeking to do it have continued to fail, over many occasions now, to demonstrate that corruption is rife across our federal agencies. Nor have they explained how it is that a new anticorruption body will reduce corruption beyond what is already being achieved in the existing framework. This is a time for careful, prudent, evidence-based decision-making. It is not clear to me and it will not be clear to others what it is in this proposed legislation that will deliver a better outcome for our nation when it comes to erasing corruption.
We have seen over the last few years that the performance of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales has had many beneficial outcomes for the good governance of New South Wales. More recently, however, we have seen that the ICAC has touched on federal political figures, and yet there is no federal body to which the wrongdoing can be put to to be further investigated. That is really what lies at the heart of what is before us here today, the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013.
Labor has always had the view that we would support a broad approach to anticorruption consistent with our longstanding Labor policy. I agree with Senator Milne that corruption does hurt communities and that we do need to build trust in our communities. An independent anticorruption body can provide a mechanism to ensure that we have the best governance processes and that people are acting at all times in line with the trust that they have been endowed with in their positions. Senator Smith talked of royal commissions as being the best way forward to look at some of the issues to do with governance and trust. But an independent anticorruption body could be a much more effective body to deal with such issues facing society than the ad hoc and very costly approach of royal commissions, which the current government seems to have a fetish for.
Given the present scandal infecting the federal branch of the Liberal Party, I think there is a clear need for a focus on campaign finance. If we are looking at an anticorruption body, I think that we should have a broader debate about our donation laws, their enforcement and their oversight. This is where such a body could play an effective role. Such a body could even look at the administering of our electoral funding system. This should be given serious consideration.
We must review the operation of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption and consider whether there are ways in which it could be improved upon. We must review its procedures. We should make sure that any federal anticorruption body is capable of protecting the innocent and securing not just embarrassment but convictions for the guilty.
Labor has never objected to a federal independent anticorruption body in principle. We have had concern that there was in the past perhaps no clear case for the necessity of such a body. In the last Labor government we were very serious about tackling corruption at the federal level. There was not during our time in government any clear evidence of the nature, extent and sources of corruption at a Commonwealth level. We supported improving Commonwealth anticorruption efforts which would make it easier to prevent, detect and respond to corruption. We strongly supported existing anticorruption agencies, the Australian Crime Commission being one of those along with the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. We took a national anticorruption plan to the last election—a plan on which the Abbott government has taken absolutely no action. But, in light of the recent revelations, Labor is open to considering a federal anticorruption body. If there is any serious question of significant corruption in the federal sphere, we are of course open to the full suite of measures which might be necessary to restore public trust.
Indeed, a standing federal anticorruption body deserves consideration as one such measure. But, in looking at the Greens's National Integrity Commission Bill 2013, a private senator's bill, before us, we see that it is similar to others that the Greens have introduced. I think the National Integrity Commissioner Bill was introduced by Senator Bob Brown in June 2010 and reintroduced when parliament reconvened after the August 2010 election. Then I think there was the National Integrity Commissioner Bill 2012 introduced by Adam Bandt MP. So those bills lapsed without having been debated when the 43rd parliament was prorogued. But I understand none of the bills have been considered in substance by a committee. The House of Representatives Selection Committee concluded that the 2012 bill was an appropriation bill and could not proceed in its current form. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs recommended that the 2012 bill not proceed prior to the establishment of a joint select committee to investigate the feasibility and the cost of a national integrity commission, considering amongst other things the threshold issue of whether such a body was needed.
I think that particular House committee's recommendation was a very good point to refer back to. That is where the establishment of a joint select committee could be one of the ways forward to actually consider further the need, structure and idea of there being a federal independent anticorruption body. I actually think there is quite a lot of merit in that way to proceed.
But we know that, for the first time, this current National Integrity Commission Bill has now come on for debate. It has not gone to any committee. There has been no serious consultation out in the community about this bill and its substance or even any kind of discussion. So, though Labor is very much open to the principle of looking at a federal independent commission against corruption body, this particular bill, I believe, is slightly premature in that sense.
But I do want to make it very clear that, in light of these recent revelations that we have been made aware of in the federal Liberal Party, there certainly is a need to have that debate and discussion. And why is that? Because there is new cause for concern about corruption in Australian politics. I think there is something very sick and rotten going on in the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party, the home branch of both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption has heard allegations that illegal political donations have been funded to the New South Wales Liberal Party via various slush funds. A longstanding Liberal staffer has confessed to ICAC that enormous sums of money, including from property developers banned from making political donations under New South Wales law, were laundered through sham organisations Eight by Five and the Free Enterprise Foundation before being passed on to the New South Wales Liberal Party. ICAC in just a few months forced the resignations of former New South Wales Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell and two New South Wales Liberal cabinet ministers. New South Wales Liberal police minister Mike Gallacher, the senior law minister in the government of Australia's biggest state—New South Wales—and the man tasked with fighting corruption and crime, was forced to resign due to revelations made through the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Most damningly, it has caused federal Liberal Senator and former Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos to be stood aside by the Prime Minister. Evidence given in ICAC has now indicated Australian Water Holdings made donations to Eight by Five while Senator Sinodinos served as the company's chairman or deputy chairman. As Neil Chenoweth wrote in the Financial Review on 7 May:
Any investigation of NSW state finances inevitably involves some scrutiny of federal fund-raising. It’s done by the same people, the same structures, there are constant crossovers.
That in itself reveals that this has now become a federal issue, and that is why we do need to have a broader debate and discussion to consider whether we need a federal independent anticorruption body in this country.
These current scandals necessarily call into question the integrity of federal Liberal politicians in this country. It calls into question the integrity of our political finance laws. As I said that the outset, that is where I believe that any consideration regarding a federal independent anti-corruption body needs to consider the idea of looking at our federal electoral funding system. At the moment, we know that the Australian Electoral Commission certainly does not have those investigative powers, but it is something that a national independent anti-corruption body could have. It is something that could be investigated, and it is something that I believe should be considered if we are going to talk about a national integrity commission.
This bill, however, does have three components that need to be addressed: a federal body based on the New South Wales ICAC model; the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, in its present form, which, I might say, works very effectively; and an independent parliamentary adviser to advise MPs on ethics and entitlements and develop a parliamentary code of conduct. I think the creation of an independent parliamentary adviser is not necessarily good policy in general. In any case, whether such an office should be housed within a watchdog body is open to question. That is something I think needs broader discussion and consideration. I am not sure if Senator Milne and the Greens party have considered that. There are also open questions about how a number of federal integrity bodies, including ACLEI, ought to be integrated with this particular body in this bill or situated alongside any kind of federal ICAC body.
These are some of the issues that I think need to be considered when we look at the bill before us. As I said that the outset, Labor is very much in support of a broad approach to anti-corruption. That has been a longstanding Labor policy position. Given the recent scandals in the New South Wales Liberal Party that have now affected some federal Liberal parliamentarians, we need to consider how we move forward and ensure that we do have the best independent bodies available to us, be it at the state level or the federal level, that can deal with this sort of thing. We want to hold our heads up high as a nation, knowing that we have some of the best laws in place to ensure good governance, good ethics and integrity. That is something I am sure we can all agree on in this place.
I rise to support the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013 and congratulate the Australian Greens Leader, Christine Milne, on her comprehensive speech in which she detailed not just what this bill will do but why it is needed. There are so many examples that reinforce every day why a national corruption watchdog is so urgently needed. I believe that every politician in this parliament would know that there is deep cynicism among the public about the state of politics, about how politics work, about how decisions are made. Setting up a national ICAC would be a step towards restoring confidence in how politics works in this country and the standing of our democratic institutions.
Often in this debate the example of the New South Wales ICAC is given, a body that has certainly earnt its stripes. Time and time again the New South Wales ICAC has shone a light on the relationships between politicians, lobbyists and corporate backers—how that whole network of making decisions actually plays out. When you are on our side of politics it is something you do not often see, and certainly the public rarely see it. Because of the revolving door—somebody is a politician, or has been an adviser, or may be sitting on a board or even be a CEO—they are moving from one position to another, and that can often mean that there is a financial benefit.
We are seeing a response from politicians that something needs to be done about this, but my concern remains that a lot of that is just words to try and deflect the growing public concern. We have recently heard the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, promise that he will fight influence peddling and that he is going to crack down on lobbyists. But what does that really mean? We are yet to see the detail. But clearly so many measures need to be brought in, and it needs to sit under a national ICAC.
The Greens proposals call for three new integrity officers—a national integrity commissioner, a law enforcement integrity commissioner and an independent parliamentary adviser. Thee process that we need to develop does need to be very broad. Any commission will need to be empowered to investigate and expose allegations of corruption in the public sector. I emphasise that that should not just be among members of parliament; we need to include public agencies and departments, courts, public officials and all MPs. I note the speech that we have just heard from Senator Singh. I also note that the union leader Tony Sheldon recently called for a national ICAC and gave great emphasis to the need for there to be greater transparency, particularly with regard to financial donations. It is good news to see that there is a shift going on here because having a national ICAC is certainly overdue.
I have listened to the debate, and it is an area I have followed for a long time. In recent times I cannot help thinking whether, if there were a national ICAC, Senator Arthur Sinodinos would have the problems that he presently has. If this body were in place, as set out in the bill before us, the senator could have gained some advice and maybe he would not have made the mistake that came out on 23 February–he called it an innocent oversight that he failed to declare his directorship of various companies. But when you look at how issues are playing out in New South Wales with the evidence coming up before that state's ICAC with regard to other issues to do with Senator Sinodinos's work, again there is a national flavour here. It certainly reminds us why we need to have a body to be able to look into how decisions are made, where the influence is coming from, has money exchanged hands, has it been done in a proper way.
One of the decisions I have been asked about and which has been written about is the decision of the former Assistant Treasurer, Senator Sinodinos, with regard to the Future of Financial Advice. This was a set of reforms that Labor put in. It was limited but it was an important set of reforms essentially designed to prevent financial planners from hitting clients with commissions that the planners did not deserve. This Future of Financial Advice was also designed to reduce the risk of disasters like the one we saw with Storm Financial. When Senator Sinodinos held that position of the Assistant Treasurer, he effectively got rid of and moved to wind back the Future of Financial Advice. This is something that now warrants being very closely looked at because in the context of the current inquiry it starts to look like a pattern of rewarding those who would benefit at the expense of the public, the taxpayers and the consumers. This is a pattern we saw in New South Wales when the Greens were doing a lot of work exposing developer donations that were coming in in millions of dollars over the years to the Labor Party. People would often say to us, 'Give us an example of where that actually influenced some project being granted.' There were a couple of them but I acknowledge there was not a huge number. But what we did see was a change in legislation, in this case the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, a fine piece of legislation once upon a time. Through the 2000s it was gradually weakened by the Labor government, and then the coalition government in New South Wales to the great benefit of the coalition. This is the sort of thing that is so hard for the public, even investigative journalists, to be able to penetrate because of the limited reporting requirements currently. But we do not want it to happen, we want to change the culture, and having a national ICAC is an important step towards achieving that.
Another issue that is relevant to this is with regard to the Prime Minister himself. We are seeing that more questions are emerging about Mr Abbott's role in selecting Karen McNamara. She was the Liberal candidate and is now the Liberal MP for the seat of Dobell. It was reported that Mr Abbott was quite angry after the 2010 election because of the failure of the New South Wales Liberals to win a number of seats on the Central Coast where there are marginal seats and it was identified that that was one aspect of the coalition losing the 2010 election. So coming up to the 2013 election the pressure was on to find candidates and Mr Abbott favoured Ms McNamara. What is interesting here is that it is reported that the Prime Minister was behind the decision of the New South Wales state executive on 20 April 2012 to appoint Ms McNamara. However, three months before that senior Liberals had received complaints of an unreported donation on the Central Coast that is implicated with Ms McNamara. Many of you would have heard all the details of this at ICAC. Here we have again national issues involving national political parties, possibly reaching to the higher levels of one of our major parties. Again it underlines why a national ICAC is needed.
What we are seeing here is a very murky way money moves around Labor and the coalition. Much of the evidence that is coming before the state ICAC involves these associated entities, bodies associated with political parties, and so often the money is not properly reported. It is a reminder not only with regard to the issue we are immediately dealing with here about consistency of corruption watchdogs between the state and federal level but also that we need consistency in the laws governing political donations, because these two issues are very much coming together at the state ICAC. So much of the evidence is now on the aspect where we have laws in New South Wales that limit the donations that can be given by corporations, and we know that federally we do not have those laws in place. It looks like so much of how the donations coming to the Liberal Party were working is that they would be ostensibly coming to the federal body, which is legal, but then being funnelled to the state Liberal body because that was the way they could get money in there. It is illegal for a New South Wales political party to take money from developers and various other corporations and there are certainly limits in place. So we are getting into a very murky world there.
To give you some examples of that, property developers like Harry Triguboff and Westfield donated to the Free Enterprise Foundation and they said the funds were for the federal Liberal Party. But counsel assisting ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, has said that the Millennium Forum executive director, Paul Nicolaou, told the Free Enterprise Foundation that many of these donors wished their funds to go to the state party. Again it is a reminder of why we need consistent laws with regard to political donations. We need the bans and the caps in place on election expenditure, we need much greater transparency in disclosure of those political donations and we need the national ICAC. Bringing those reforms in would be an important step to bringing greater confidence back to our democratic process.
Clearly corruption is not isolated to New South Wales. I can understand why people laugh about the situation going on with some of the extraordinary evidence, but we are hearing that because we have a corruption watchdog that is able to undertake investigations and is able to expose these crimes. Obviously that is the first stage in restoring confidence in the democratic process. The public interest is best served by the clear separation between politics and business—and, to achieve that, we need a national ICAC. I certainly commend this piece of legislation. It is long overdue.
My apologies to the Senate and to you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I was talking on the phone to the most important people—and, of course, that is the media—about some good things coming out of the budget. I am very pleased to enter into this debate on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. It is a debate on a motion moved by the Greens political party. Before I get into the matters that I want to address, I will just address some of the issues that have been raised by other speakers.
I heard Senator Singh listing some activities happening before ICAC. They are serious matters. They relate to donations to political parties. But what about when these 'donations' go not to political parties but to politicians themselves? If Senator Singh wants to come in here and start slinging mud, perhaps we should ask her about Labor minister Gordon Nuttall from Queensland, who was not taking money for the Labor Party for elections; he was putting it in his pocket. Similarly, although there have been no convictions yet, my namesake in New South Wales, New South Wales Labor member, Ian Macdonald, is accused of taking money himself and giving money to his friends in the union movement—not for the benefit of the Labor Party but personal payments to them.
If you need an integrity commission to stop federal parliamentarians doing that, then I rue the day that I ever came to this chamber. I would have hoped that people who sit in this parliament have a greater sense of propriety and credibility than the likes of Gordon Nuttall, Keith Wright, Brian Burke, Milton Orkopoulos and Mr Eddie Obeid—a former Labor minister.
Yes, Rex Jackson—and the list goes on and on and on. I would just say to Senator Singh that, if she wants to make accusations about suggestions of money going for political campaigning to political parties, she should have a look at her own party and see some of the absolute crooks and shonks that have been elected by the union movement to the Labor Party and, from the Labor Party, to various parliaments around the country.
We are talking about a possibility of a similar activity in this parliament. I wonder if such an organisation would have a look at the current Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I suspect Senator Conroy did nothing wrong, but there were some suggestions that he had received a benefit from Mr Eddie Obeid.
I am happy to withdraw, if I made any accusations. I think if you have a look at the record of Hansardyou will see that I said that I do not think Senator Conroy did anything wrong. I think you will find that I said that. I said that some would say that his acceptance of a chalet up in the Snowy Mountains from Mr Eddie Obeid would need to be investigated. I heard Senator Milne listing examples from one side of the political spectrum, but I did not hear her mention that and I did not hear her talk about whether Mr Brian Burke's acceptance of accommodation from Mr Obeid needed investigation. Again, I am not suggesting there was anything wrong, but I do get a bit tired in this chamber when the Greens and the Labor Party, in particular, rise to their feet and make these accusations—never about themselves; always about the Liberal and National parties.
I repeat again: have we heard a squeak from the Greens about Bob Brown's ship dumping oil into the Barrier Reef? Have we heard a thing about that from the Greens? No. But they talk about a project that will create thousands of jobs for workers in Australia, that will create wealth for Australia, that will improve our standard of living because of that wealth, and that will enable Australia to be a country that can be very generous to those less fortunate in our society—and the Greens are opposed to that. And haven't we heard them go on and on to try to shut down the coalmining industry that supports so many of the people who allegedly support the Labor Party—the unionists the CFMEU are supposed to be looking after. Where was the CFMEU when we needed them to stand up for the workers in the coalmining industry? But, no, the Labor Party have this cosy deal with the Greens and, if the Greens say it, they just roll over.
I do want to speak on the bill before the chamber, and it is actually a very interesting comment. If an establishment like this were set up, I wonder if perhaps the first thing the federal ICAC, if I could call it that, would investigate would be the actions of the Greens political party when it received Australia's biggest ever single donation from an individual. Senators will recall that, a couple of years ago, a Mr Graeme Wood, who was the Wotif man I think, made a donation of $1.7 million to the Greens political party.
We hear the Greens screaming about corporate donations to the Liberal Party; we never hear them talking about union donations to the Labor Party, but that is an aside. We hear the Greens carrying on and on about corporate donations to the Liberal Party. What about biggest ever political donation in Australia's history of $1.7 million to the Greens political party? Well, that is okay; I guess people choose to support various political parties with donations. But you would have to look at that particular one, because I was in the Senate at the time and I remember how the then leader of the Greens in the Senate, Dr Bob Brown, asked a series of questions, in this chamber and publicly, about a number of issues. Then Senator Bob Brown said, after Mr Wood's donation to the Greens political party, that he would be 'forever grateful' to Mr Wood. And Mr Wood said he was helping the Greens with the balance of power in the Senate, and he said it was: 'probably a good return on investment'.
I want you to think about those words from Mr Wood, and I will repeat them. He said, when he gave $1.7 million to the Greens, that it was: 'probably a good return on investment'. That might lead you to then look to see if Mr Wood did get a return on his investment. Those of us who were in the Senate at the time would remember that Senator Milne and then Senator Bob Brown asked a series of questions—somewhat contradictorily, I might say, depending on where Mr Wood's investment and interest in the Triabunna mill site of Gunns was at that particular time. You might recall that Senator Brown and the Greens went to extraordinary lengths to sabotage Gunns' sale of its Triabunna woodchip mill to the Aprin consortium, which wanted to continue milling there, and the Greens were trying to force the then Labor government into not supporting Gunns so that Gunns would have to sell the Triabunna site to the other bidder in the market, who just happened to be Triabunna Investments—run by who? Mr Graeme Wood, the donor of the $1.7 million to the Greens.
You might recall, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, as I do, because I sat through it all, that they were asking questions in the Senate, taking points of order, making numerous statements to the media and personally lobbying the then government over these issues. Their votes on notices of motion in the Senate were also exercised in Mr Wood's interests. And the seriousness of the matter is evidenced by the fact that the actions of the Greens deputy leader then, Senator Milne, and other Greens senators, were caught up in the sleaze, particularly in the Senate, where, over a period of weeks, questions were asked, points of order were taken, and votes were cast—all favouring Mr Wood's interests. I could go through, chapter and verse, that sorry, sad tale—that almost sleazy, I would say, tale—of the 'investment' and the 'return' on the investment that Mr Wood might have received. That is the sort of thing that, if this motion were successful, perhaps this organisation could have a look at.
It was quite remarkable, because, in the early stage, the Greens were trying to oppose the sale by Gunns to another timber industry, so that Mr Wood's alternative bid could get the property at much less than its real value. Then, when the then Labor government in Tasmania did a deal with Gunns which reversed the situation, but Gunns had to keep the mill, the Greens started changing their position entirely. So that led many of us to believe that Mr Wood was certainly getting a 'return' on his 'investment'.
You only have to remember, as I do, the debates on tax deductibility for citizens' journalistic enterprises. That came around as one of the Labor government's early silly ideas. It, fortunately, disappeared without trace once Labor senators and members realised just how stupid the idea was. But those of us in this chamber remember that there was this push by the Greens to get tax deductibility for any person who might be investing in community journalism. Curiously, at the same time, this same Mr Wood, as I recall, was sponsoring an organisation called the Global Mail, which was to be a citizens' journalistic enterprise—non-profit, supposedly. Well, there must have been some profit in it because the Greens were quite insistent at the time that there should be tax deductibility for any investment in those sorts of things. Again, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that, but those are the sorts of things that perhaps should have had greater investigation.
The other issue I talked about did go before the Privileges Committee and the Privileges Committee, in its inimitable way, found that on the direct questions asked of it, no breach of privilege was determined. But this whole episode involving Australia's largest ever donation to any political party still has a lingering smell about it. If this bill did get up, then that matter would certainly need to be addressed.
I turn, again, to the bill, which proposes establishing a National Integrity Commission, comprising three officers with oversight functions: a national integrity commissioner, a law enforcement integrity commissioner and an independent parliamentary adviser. Insofar as individual members of parliament are concerned there are certainly procedures in place, the disclosure of interests et cetera. I would hope that federal parliamentarians have the ability and the integrity to do the right thing. But if you are talking about this group looking at agencies of the Commonwealth government then I wonder whether this measure is necessary, because there are already a number of bodies in place to prevent corruption.
Just very recently there was, clearly, corruption involving some Customs officers. It was the subject of some lengthy questioning at the last estimates hearings. Perhaps it was not so much questioning but more listening to the head of Customs telling us right at the beginning of estimates about these inquiries that had been conducted by the Federal Police and by Customs itself which resulted in legal prosecutions, dismissals and a new process put in place to prevent that sort of corruption in the future. So, in that instance, I was very proud of and impressed by the way Customs had addressed that issue with the Australian Federal Police themselves. I am not sure that any new body proposed by the Greens would have got a better result.
It is very clear that this government—and I think the previous government as well—has a zero tolerance approach to corruption. I would think any government would be committed to stamping out corruption in all of its forms. This government's approach to combating corruption is based on a multi-agency model which vests specialised functions and responsibilities in a number of agencies.
I listened to Senator Milne running off a list of complaints she has had and different incidents which, I guess, she thought might get a headline in some paper somewhere. But can I say to Senator Milne and any other senator—not that they need my advice on this—that if you or your constituents have evidence of illegal activity then they should be immediately reported to the Federal Police, the state police, the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. These bodies are already in operation.
The Greens are, unashamedly, a genuine socialist party, unlike the Labor Party these days, which cannot work out whether or not they are a socialist party. I note the recent debate about removing the socialist objectives from the constitution of the Labor Party; however, I think the Greens, at least in that area, are absolutely frank. They are of that socialist party intent but, again, that worries me with this proposal. It would mean, as with most good socialist ideas, huge bureaucracies, more red tape, more regulation and perhaps that is part of the Greens' overall proposal or aim, as I see it, to try to shut down Australia at some time in the future.
Certain processes are underway. As senators in this chamber well know, there is currently a royal commission into trade union governance and corruption, which is dealing with allegations of impropriety in the trade union movement. So there are bodies around. In fact, I am very proud of Australia's position and reputation. We are consistently ranked by Transparency International as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. As I say, we have a multi-agency approach to combating corruption. We are always looking at ways of strengthening these current arrangements rather than throwing out the whole system, based on a presumption that a National Integrity Commission would be more effective. I must say that I am not convinced of that. (Time expired)
No-one ever argues that governments should have less integrity, that elected officials should not be accountable or that public servants should behave unethically. Broad statements of the value of integrity, transparency, accountability and ethics gain general agreement from all sides of politics and from all participants in public debate. Integrity and trust are critical not only to good government; they are critical to the public's faith in government.
However, it is now obvious that words and good intentions are not enough. Evidence to the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption has been devastating for public confidence and trust in government, whether Labor or Liberal, and it has been devastating in terms of that confidence in the political process more generally.
I have said before and I will say it again: I was utterly disgusted by the behaviour of some former New South Wales Labor ministers. I have never minced by words about the actions of Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald. I said in a speech about political integrity at the University of Melbourne law school in December 2012 that it was time then for the Labor Party to publicly acknowledge that there were some within its ranks who had neither political principles to defend or moral convictions to uphold. Of course I was referring to Obeid and Macdonald whose behaviour has been exposed at the New South Wales ICAC as obscenely corrupt. They disgraced themselves; but so much worse: they disgraced the Australian Labor Party.
For the record, I also acknowledge that that corruption and misdeeds of Mr Michael Williamson, a former long serving vice president of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party and shamefully former National President of the Labor Party, and Mr Craig Thomson, a former Labor member of the House of Representatives. But I am equally disgusted by the recent evidence at ICAC of systematic corruption within the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party. Two New South Wales ICAC inquiries, Operation Credo and Operation Spicer, have already had extraordinary repercussions.
The New South Wales Premier, Mr Barry O'Farrell has resigned. Mr Michael Gallacher, the New South Wales police minister has resigned. Mr Chris Hartcher resigned as Minister for Resources and Energy, Special Minister of State and Minister for the Central Coast, and was suspended from the Liberal Party. Liberal MLC Marie Ficarra lost her position as Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier and withdrew from the Liberal Party. Mr Chris Spence—the member for the Entrance—has been stood down from the Liberal Party. The same is true of Mr Darren Webber MP—the member for Wyong; and Mr Tim Owen MP—the member for Newcastle—has announced he will not contest the next state election as he has indicated it is likely he received prohibited donations in the last election.
In this chamber, the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Sinodinos, announced in March that he would stand aside from his ministerial responsibilities while ICAC investigates the dealings of a company he was involved with before entering parliament.
We have also seen numerous ministerial staffers and Liberal Party officials, including very senior Liberal Party officials, also either resign their positions or stand aside, pending the outcome of the ICAC inquiries. These revelations have raised serious concerns about corruption on both sides of Australian politics and they raise the question of how effectively we deal with those allegations.
There remain many questions to be answered, some of which I suspect are beyond the jurisdiction of the New South Wales ICAC, about how laws in relation to political donations may have been circumvented; how illegal donations have been hidden from New South Wales authorities; and how slush funds or sham organisations may have been used at the federal level for the laundering of donations, some of which may have been returned to New South Wales.
I also remain perplexed and intrigued as I have been for many years about the role of the Free Enterprise Foundation, so I intend to ask at Senate estimates in a fortnight's time what role, if any, the Australian Electoral Commission has had in investigating these and related matters at the federal level. I would be very concerned—and I hope this is a concern that would be shared around the chamber—if there is a legislative or communications fault line between state and federal electoral authorities, and if such a disconnect has resulted in any unethical or illegal behaviour perhaps going unchecked.
I have, as I think you would know, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, argued long and hard about the need for reform of our electoral funding laws at the federal level. Unfortunately, I was not persuasive enough, particularly when I was the Special Minister of State, to convince this Senate in 2008 and 2009 that reform was desperately needed. My attempts to make our system more transparent, freer from corruption and improper influence failed. They were blocked by the then coalition in opposition with the assistance of then Senator Fielding.
The reforms I proposed as the Special Minister of State included significant measures to reduce the donations disclosure threshold to $1,000 and remove indexation, and that level is currently $12,400; prohibit foreign and anonymous donations; limit the potential for 'donation splitting' across branches, divisions, different units of parties; require faster and more regular disclosure of donations; and introduce new offences and significantly increase penalties for offences for the breach of electoral law.
These reforms would have enhanced the transparency and accountability of political donations, and I would like to think they would have had at least some dampening effect on the behaviour that is being exposed at the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is quite clear that much more needs to be done in this area. I really do hope that the recent events in New South Wales will motivate all Australian political parties to work together for far-reaching and long overdue reform of our electoral donations, funding and expenditure laws. This will be a real challenge for our current political leaders.
I commend the New South Wales ICAC. I think its work is critically important. I for one do look forward to its findings and recommendations in relation to its current inquiries. But, with the almost daily revelations of political corruption coming from the New South Wales ICAC, and with the suggestion of federal links, it is timely that the Commonwealth parliament considers this National Integrity Commission Bill 2013 that we have before us today. The parliament needs to ensure the events in New South Wales cannot be repeated in Canberra or anywhere else in Australia. In my view, the sort of issues being raised at the New South Wales ICAC do not miraculously stop at state or territory borders, and it is reasonable that this parliament consider how we can strengthen the Commonwealth government's integrity and its resistance to corruption.
In my view this bill that we are debating today has merit. I am supportive of its intent. I acknowledge, of course, that at this stage this bill has not been considered by the federal parliamentary Labor Party, so there is no Labor caucus decision about whether it will be supported, amended or opposed. I also acknowledge that perhaps some of the sentiments that I have expressed in this contribution might not be shared by all my colleagues; but, my personal view is that this bill is heading in the right direction.
I also believe, and I do know this perspective is shared by shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus that it would be appropriate for a substantive parliamentary committee examination to be undertaken of the provisions of this bill, including, of course, the proposal for a federal independent commission against corruption based on the New South Wales model and the proposal to establish an independent parliamentary advisor, something of which I have spoken about in this chamber for the best part of two decades. Any such committee consideration, though—and I want to be clear about this—must ensure that a new federal anticorruption commission must fully respect the rights of citizens. In particular, we must ensure that those who appear before such a commission only as witnesses do not have their reputations damaged or sullied because of such an appearance.
I am pleased we are now debating the issue of integrity in our political system. I have said before that human nature is variable and fallible—that individuals do from time to time succumb to temptation or fall into error. We are not miraculously immune from wrongdoing, malfeasance and corruption just because we serve in Australia's federal parliament and not at the state or territory level. There is no doubt in my mind that we must do all we can as federal parliamentarians to ensure the integrity of the political process, the parliament, the government and all our institutions at the federal level.
No-one is ever opposed to integrity. No-one ever argues that our political system needs less integrity. But support for integrity in the abstract all too often fractures in the face of specific measures. We need strong, substantive measures to enhance the integrity of our political system in Australia. I conclude my speech by reminding the Senate, as I have previously, of the words of Alan K Simpson, Republican Senator for Wyoming, who said in a slightly different context:
If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate—a debate that I think is really important. When you are talking about establishing a federal corruption commission, you have to take this debate extremely seriously.
I think there are only two senators in this chamber who have experience at ICAC. I am one of them; Senator Sinodinos is the other. My personal experience as a witness was in the investigation into the conduct of Ian Macdonald, John Maitland and others by ICAC. These are two people whom I have known for between 25 and 30 years. I was advised by the commission that I was not under any investigation and that I was not a person of interest. The commission simply wanted my assistance to establish factual issues, and I provided a statement to the commission and I was examined on that statement in both public and private hearings. As a politician, providing evidence to ICAC in public hearings presents significant personal and political challenges—let me tell you that.
My involvement with ICAC was simply to assist the corruption inquiry. Despite this, I was faced with significant attempts by the media to portray me as being involved in some unacceptable behaviour. On the day of my appearance before ICAC, I was confronted with News Ltd posters from Penrith to the CBD of Sydney linking me to Ian Macdonald, who was under serious investigation by ICAC. I was confronted by the media when I left the inquiry and was prominently featured in the Murdoch press on both the Saturday and Sunday following my appearance, in an attempt to find me guilty by association. This was not a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, like the late, great Neville Wran, who said, 'Balmain boys don't cry,' Bellshill boys don't cry either. I copped it. I copped all of the media attention. I didn't whinge about it, I didn't cry about it, I got on with my life in the full understanding that I had done nothing wrong and that I was simply being asked to assist the commission. What did gall me was the involvement of my family by the media. But that is what happens in political life; it is a tough gig sometimes. You have got to take the ups with the downs, you can't whinge about it, you've got to get on with it. But I was a bit peeved, let me tell you—to use the best word I can think to use in here; there would probably be a stronger word—when Senator Sinodinos became the focus of the ICAC inquiry when he was the shadow Assistant Treasurer and he stood up and said, without any need to do this, that if he needed any advice on appearing before ICAC then he would ask Senator Cameron. Again this was simply to try to smear me in a hearing that I think has exposed significant corruption, subject to those matters being dealt with by the appropriate courts.
What I said to Senator Sinodinos the first chance I got, and what I said to the press, was that Senator Sinodinos had not asked me for my advice, even though he said he would ask me if he needed any help. He obviously did not need any help. I am not sure that that is quite the case, after watching his appearance. But what I did say to him was, 'You do two things at ICAC. You tell the truth and you don't take a section 38'. I was one of the only witnesses in the inquiry I was in who did not take a section 38. Section 38 provides you with immunity from prosecution against the evidence you give in ICAC. I had nothing to fear. I had no problem so I went in, and when I was asked whether I wanted immunity for my evidence to ICAC I said no—unlike every other witness who appeared. I said no because I had nothing to worry about. I had nothing to hide, and if my evidence meant that I had to appear again in another court I was very comfortable with that. So I did not take a section 38, and I told Senator Sinodinos to tell the truth and not to take a section 38. I can only comment on one part of that: he did take a section 38, and it is entirely his right to do that. But contrary to the impression that the media were trying to create, Commissioner Ipp, the Commissioner of ICAC, described me in the final ICAC report on that issue as 'an impressive and honest witness'. Let me tell you, any politician who appears before ICAC are doing okay, I think, if they can get that kind of character reference from ICAC—'impressive and honest'. That is why when I get media copies waved at me from across the chamber from the other side about my appearance at ICAC, I have nothing to fear, I have nothing to worry about, I was honest. I assisted the commission and I will continue to assist the commission if they need any further assistance. I will assist the courts if they need any assistance with prosecutions arising from ICAC. These are serious issues for politicians. Given my experience, I can understand how Senator Sinodinos feels and I can understand how his family feel because I was not engaged in any problems and it was a really tough time for me and my family with the Murdoch press trying to square up with you. When you say things about the Murdoch press, it is very tough. But you have to be big enough and your shoulders have to be broad enough to take that.
Given my experience, you might believe that my default position on this would be to oppose the bill. On the contrary, I believe that corruption in all spheres of public life must be exposed and, on that basis, with proper checks and balances, I support the establishment of a federal corruption commission. I just think there was an arrogance in Senator Macdonald's contribution today, along the lines that if he felt that he had to be overviewed by some corruption commission then he probably would not have come here. I have absolutely no doubt that Senator Macdonald is not corrupt. But I do not think you can argue that simply because you come to the Senate that you are not open to some business trying to get you involved in corrupt activities. We just cannot run the argument that senators are above corruption and MPs are above corruption. That has been proved not to be the case over many, many years.
Senator Smith's contribution was very interesting. I think that will be the standard contribution that we will get from the coalition on this bill. The problem is not with the coalition, regardless of what is happening at ICAC; the problem is with these corrupt unions, these corrupt Labor Party people who are engaged in activity that is reprehensible. I, like Senator Faulkner, have got absolutely no time for anyone who engages in corrupt activity. In all my public life, and that goes for some years, my track record is out there as fighting corruption, fighting any violence and fighting any intimidation anywhere I find it. So I think that after appearing at ICAC, I was lucky enough—not lucky; it was because of what I had done in the past and because of how I behaved at ICAC that I received that glowing position from ICAC. That is not going to be the position for many who go there, even in a federal ICAC.
One of my heroes, I must say, is former senator and former Justice Lionel Murphy. Lionel Murphy describes the features that distinguish royal commissions from the normal course of criminal justice in his judgement in Victoria v ABCE BLF. If you establish a federal ICAC, that federal ICAC will be a standing royal commission. I think you have to take on board some of the issues that could arise, and my personal experience is one of them. If you go along to ICAC even as a witness, there will be those in the media who will be political opponents who will try to smear and have guilt by association. In my view, I accept what Senator Faulkner has said and I accept what the Greens are trying to do, but I think we have to make sure there are proper checks and balances. After being in ICAC and watching how ICAC operates, it does not operate according to the rule of law. So there could be checks and balances that we would need to implement in any federal ICAC that give everybody who appears a fair go. This is what Justice Murphy said:
The Royal Commission is a non-judicial body authorised to conduct some sort of investigation and to find persons guilty of serious offences without the protection afforded them in the regular exercise of judicial power. The persons are deprived of trial by jury. Their reputations may be destroyed, their chances of acquittal in any subsequent judicial proceedings hopelessly prejudiced by an adverse finding … Experience in many countries shows that persons may be effectively destroyed by this process. The fact that punishment by fine or imprisonment does not automatically follow may be of no importance; indeed a government can demonstrate its magnanimity by not presenting to prosecute in the ordinary way. If a government chooses not to prosecute, the fact that the finding is not binding on any court is of little comfort to the person found guilty; there is no legal proceeding which he—
and these days, she—
can institute to establish his—
So there are problems with royal commissions. One of the biggest problems with royal commissions is when governments use royal commissions to attempt to attack their political opponents. We have seen two examples of that recently. We have seen the example of the royal commission into the trade union movement and the royal commission into pink batts.
Again I emphasise that royal commissions are not independent bodies. They are set up using the executive powers of government and the government establishes the parameters within which the royal commission will work. If you are like the Liberal Party and you want to use royal commissions as a political weapon against your political opponents—which is not how Labor uses royal commissions—then you set them up they way they have set them up.
There are two things that the Liberal and National Parties do repeatedly when they come to power—and this government has gone down the same path. First they establish a commission of audit to identify false problems with Labor's economic management. They then use that to create fear in the population that there are economic problems that are going to destroy the country. That, in turn, is used as a pretext to attack the most vulnerable in the community: pensioners, young people and the like. That is one tool they use—commissions of audit. The other tool they use is royal commissions.
I support the proposition argued by Senator Faulkner—that no-one is above the law and that we should treat this very seriously. In contrast, Senator Macdonald seemed to be saying, 'We are above the law.' Senator Smith, on the other hand, argued that there are already a lot of established bodies to look at such matters and that we do not need any more—that there is already enough oversight. He used the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, ACLEI, as an example. ACLEI oversees a number of bodies under federal jurisdiction—the Crime Commission, customs and border operations, the Federal Police, AUSTRAC, CrimTrac and aspects of the Department of Agriculture. It oversees all of those areas.
But ACLEI does not oversee senators or members. In fact, senators and members oversee ACLEI. So it is not right to say that ACLEI can do the job. I was on the ACLEI committee when I first came to parliament, as was the now Deputy President, Senator Parry. ACLEI had been set up by the Howard government but, when I first came along, it had fewer employees and officers than the oversight committee and its secretariat. We had more people overseeing ACLEI than ACLEI had itself. Senator Parry played a big role, working on a bipartisan basis with the rest of the committee, to make sure ACLEI was given enough resources. It has done a great job since then.
The other argument you hear is that there is no evidence of corruption. But there was very little evidence of corruption in the bodies ACLEI oversees before ACLEI came into being. Since then, ACLEI has carried out a range of investigations—in one case leading to an officer of the Australian Federal Police being sentenced to seven years jail with a four-year non-parole period.
So ACLEI is not the answer. A parliamentary ombudsman is not the answer either. Given what we have seen in New South Wales, it just beggars belief to have members of the coalition stand here and try to avoid scrutiny by saying that all the problems are in the trade union movement and the Labor Party. I cannot believe we have a government in power that says that pensioners should have their pension cut while at the same time we have Senator Sinodinos trying to justify $4,000 an hour to drive from the CBD of Sydney to Castle Hill as the chair of Australian Water Holdings—a company that was operating, in my view, while bankrupt and a company that was, despite not being able to pay its employees' superannuation entitlements, handing over tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of dollars to the Liberal Party and the National Party in donations.
These are big issues and Senator Sinodinos's role in that is still being looked at. We will wait to see what the outcome of that is. But, in my view, any senator that stands up here and says that we in this Senate or we in this parliament are above scrutiny, that we are above the law, that we should not be scrutinised by an independent body—I think that beggars belief given what is happening in New South Wales and given the evidence that is coming through about payment for influence with the Liberal Party at both the state and federal level. We have heard now about bodies like the Free Enterprise Foundation, a slush fund that is laundering money for the Liberal Party. If there is royal commission needed, or if there is a standing commission needed, it is to look into the slush funds of the Liberal Party. That is where the corruption in government is—and that should be dealt with. (Time expired)
I would have thought that the case for a National Integrity Commission makes itself. That there is a need for MPs and the Public Service to be investigated by an independent commission is so obvious, really, that I cannot understand why we are having to argue the case for it. I would have thought that the facts and the situation make the case themselves.
Every state now has an anticorruption commission. The first to be established, in 1989, was the Independent Commission Against Corruption. That was 25 years ago. The federal government is now the only jurisdiction without this infrastructure to confront corruption. Every time wrongdoing is exposed, the public has to lobby—and members of parliament get involved in that lobbying too—for that wrongdoing to be investigated. When the lobbying is successful, we see one-off reviews or ad hoc investigations launched.
I heard Senator Macdonald say, 'Well, Senator Milne, you could just report it and you can take it to the authorities.' Senator Milne clearly articulated an example where she has been pursuing what she strongly suspects is corruption but has been unable to get anywhere with it
If we had this body in place, she would have been able to go to that body to get them to have a look at it. If there was nothing there, that could have been identified, but if there was something there, that could actually have been dealt with. Senator Milne was clearly articulating the case in the Commonwealth Public Service. It is not good enough for MPs and senators who get involved to have to keep lobbying to get something that stinks dealt with. That is not effective, it is not transparent and it is not holding the federal government accountable. We need a permanent commission set up so that we do not have to continually lobby to get something investigated, to get a review set up, or to get a Royal Commission set up.
I think back to when we had to keep pushing for the wheat scandal, in 2006, to be investigated. The amount of lobbying and work that we had to do across Australia to get the government to finally took into that was enormous. If we had had this commission in place, we would not have had to do that lobbying. It was clearly an issue, as the Royal Commission found, that needed to be investigated.
As I said, we need this permanent commission to prevent corruption occurring and to investigate claims as they arise. For the third time in three consecutive parliaments the Greens have a bill before the parliament to create this office, to crack down on public sector corruption and to promote integrity in our public institutions. It is clear that we need to have this body in place, and also it is very important that we have public confidence in our public institutions. It is absolutely critical.
Our bill sets up the National Office of Integrity Commissioner, and it is modelled largely on the successful New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is based on provisions in the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006. The bill would establish a National Integrity Commissioner. It would be concerned with corruption in relation to public officials and Commonwealth agencies and it would have full investigative powers including conducting public and private hearings, which of course are very important, and it would have the ability to summon any person or agency to produce documents and to appear before the commission. Again, that is a very important function. The new office of Independent Parliamentary Adviser, which is contained in the bill, would be established to advise MPs and ministers on entitlement claims and on the ethical running of their office, which of course the public totally expect from their representatives in both houses of parliament. The adviser would also be tasked to develop a legally binding code of conduct for MPs and senators for the parliament to adopt. Of course the very important word there is 'legally'.
We believe that integrity, accountability and openness in politics are vital and critical to a healthy democracy. To have an engaged public, voters need to trust what the politicians are saying. I understand that the public are very cynical at the moment because of all the things they are seeing in the media around the country, but I also understand their cynicism. I am sure that there are a lot of other senators and MPs in this place who are getting bombarded with emails about the trust with the community having been broken, yet again, because of the government going back on their commitments to not change the pension, to not cut funding on health, and to not cut funding of education. Of course all those commitments have been broken. This government's actions have undermined the trust of the community and their willingness to believe that the politicians are doing the things in their best interests. Of course that is a slightly different matter, but it does all add to the mix of the community needing to have trust in their politicians, to have trust that the institutions are not corrupt and to understand that there is an institution that can look into those issues as they arise and provide a check at the national level.
I just do not get it. I do not get why it is not obvious to some that we need this commission. It is obvious that we needed it in the states and they now have various forms of commissions in place. Why would anyone rationally think that we do not need it at a national level? We need to have trust throughout our political system, and that includes throughout the institutions at the federal level. We want to see an end to deals for mates which clearly permeate a lot of decision-making. We need to ensure that empowered citizens keep an eye on their government and on government institutions instead of the government keeping a secret eye on them. Only when we have this in place, I believe, will the community have a sense that they have a body that they can go to and a body that they can trust that does keep an eye on corruption and deal-making with our politicians and in our institutions.
As I said, we believe the case for this commission is very clear. Senator Macdonald did his usual thing again. Instead of arguing the issue he tried to smear the Greens in particular. He never misses an opportunity for that. He brought up the donation issue, yet again. When the current government were in opposition, they did everything they could to attack us about that. They sent it to the Privileges Committee. Of course that trick failed completely when the Privileges Committee found that there was absolutely nothing wrong. So, instead of addressing the issue, Senator Macdonald tried to smear the people proposing the bill.
You have to wonder why the government do not embrace this bill. They can see what has happened in New South Wales. They can see what has happened elsewhere. Why doesn't the government embrace this? They have not taken it on and the previous government did not take it on. Senators Faulkner and Cameron have argued articulately why we need this form of commission in place. Embrace this; we need this. We need to build the confidence of the community in this political body and in our public institutions at the federal level. No-one can argue, just because it is the Commonwealth, that everything is squeaky clean. They cannot argue that. We believe it is time that we put this commission in place. Of course I commend the bill to the house and urge senators to rethink their support for this bill.
I am speaking today in response to the Greens Party's private senator's bill, the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. The bill proposes establishing a permanent national integrity commission that would oversee the investigation and prevention of misconduct and corruption in all Commonwealth departments and agencies and among federal parliamentarians and their staff. The bill advocates the appointment of two commissioners and one adviser who would head up a staffed and resourced support commission to undertake the intended functions and activities: a national integrity commissioner to oversee the investigation and prevention of misconduct and corruption in all departments and agencies and among federal parliamentarians and their staff; a law enforcement integrity commissioner to oversee the investigation and prevention of corruption across law enforcement agencies, absorbing the functions of the existing Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity; and an independent parliamentary adviser to, purportedly, provide independent advice to ministers and parliamentarians on conduct, ethics and matters of propriety but with no investigative function.
In September 2012 the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs noted that the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee had examined the bill and had expressed concerns about possible undue trespass on personal rights and liberties. These related to the right to a fair hearing and representation; the revocation of legal professional privilege; protection against self-incrimination; the broad definition of 'authorised officer' in the proposed bill; and concerns about the inadequate explanation of the need for the increase in search powers. I would respectfully submit that any one of those issues, standing alone, would present as a fatal flaw in any proposed legislation that respected the rights of its citizens and recognised the fundamentals underpinning the principles of natural justice.
The House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs recommended that the bill not proceed until a joint select committee is established to investigate the feasibility and costs of a national integrity commission. This has not occurred, and the Senate should not be persuaded to consider this legislation, or like legislation, until that has happened as a matter of course. Proposed legislation of this nature needs to expose itself to the most stringent examination and review measures that this place has to offer.
In support of Senator Cameron's comments—although directed at the coalition: in 2002 a paper submitted to the World Bank's investigation into anti-corruption bodies stated that adding additional levels of bureaucracy does not in and of itself indicate that there will be any reduction in corrupt activities. It has been suggested that the establishment of such an anti-corruption body would be a political response to scandal and provide a mechanism for political leaders to reassure voters and reformists that action is being taken to bring corruption under control. The extent to which the objectives of a new agency reflect a desire for systemic change, as opposed to scoring political points, is rarely clear and is rarely intended to be clear.
This government is proud of Australia's position and reputation. Australia is consistently ranked by Transparency International as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. This is a recognition of the net measure of respective coalition governments in this place and in states right across this country. As a political movement, we have a sub-zero tolerance to corruption. Accordingly, I would urge the Senate to reject this legislation not because it is not honourable in its intent but because there are many better and effective ways to strengthen the already developed capacities to ensure that Australia continues to be one of the most democratic and corruption free nations in the world.
Yes. Unfortunately, that hardly gives me enough time to develop the argument that I was intending to develop. I did want to speak in some detail on this bill. Fundamentally, I support the motives behind this bill. It is important that the public have trust not only in their Public Service and their parliament but in the institutions that we rely on to implement our laws, especially in the criminal areas. Recently in Victoria we have seen the UN shine a light on some of the inherent problems of investigation with the Victoria Police Force. We know that, while all agencies have different cultures, simply relying on agencies to investigate themselves, in the hope that that would lead to the finding and prosecution of corruption, is a forlorn hope. The UN shone a light on what happened in Victoria and we need to shine a light on what happens everywhere else. Regrettably, I think my time has now expired.