Senate debates

Thursday, 25 September 2014


National Independent Commission Against Corruption

3:38 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Milne, I move:

That the Senate calls on the Government to establish a National Independent Commission Against Corruption, delivered through an integrity commissioner, to ensure Australia is equipped with a national framework for the comprehensive prevention of corruption and misconduct, and to restore faith of the Australian people in the integrity of our democracy.

A national ICAC, a corruption watchdog, is well overdue. Evidence is mounting for this around the country, particularly in New South Wales. It is a time where we need leadership from the Liberals, Nationals and Labor on this. For too long these parties have worked together to thwart this happening. The leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne, has taken this up on many occasions and has a bill before this parliament that would very quickly put this body in place. I put it to the senators in this chamber that it is time for leadership. It is a time for leadership rather than avoidance. That is because if there is not leadership from the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, sooner or later a scandal will push this onto the front pages and it will be clear to everyone. Then the need for a national ICAC will be unstoppable. That is why I put it to those from the coalition parties and the Labor Party that now is the time.

The backroom deals, the lobbying, the money trails that have been exposed at the New South Wales ICAC do not stop at the border. People often joke with me that things look pretty bad in New South Wales. Yes they do. But we know about them because we have a corruption watchdog. That corruption watchdog, with the work that it is doing, has already laid an important foundation and sent an important message to people in public life in New South Wales about how they should act and about standards. The public will not have any confidence in our federal parliament and Commonwealth institutions until we have this body in place.

I certainly acknowledge a lot more is needed, particularly around electoral funding reform. But more and more, the need for a national ICAC is going at the top of the agenda with regard to the need to protect our democracy. This is an issue that we have taken up many times. I would like to share with my colleagues in this place some of the evidence that is coming out before New South Wales ICAC that further underlines the need for this body at a national level. What we have seen as the hearings at ICAC have proceeded is that more and more the federal Liberals have been drawn into the orbit of this investigation.

On 7 August this year, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Federal Director of Liberal Party, Brian Loughnane:

…knew federal channels were being used to subvert NSW laws banning political donations from property developers.

That report goes on to say:

'Brian Loughnane has agreed that for the time being the Fed Sec will operate on the policy … in effect, there is no benefit for a NSW donor to donate via the Fed Sec, unless they are a property developer,' said federal Liberal executive Colin Gracie in a 2010 email to Simon McInnes, the finance director of the NSW Liberal Party.

This inquiry heard allegations that were very relevant to this issue. They set out that there was clear work undertaken, collusion, to divert money that could not be taken as donations in New South Wales. I acknowledge it is a grey area. But when money is consciously redirected through a national body, usually the Free Enterprise Foundation, that then goes back to New South Wales where it could not be accepted as a donation. That has been done by elected officials in a political party, in this case the Liberal Party. It certainly highlights some very serious behaviour, possibly breaking the law. I would certainly argue it is not of the standards we require in any political party.

The Sydney Morning Herald editorial on 7 August this year said:

Revelations last week at hearings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption have gone much further than merely highlighting that political graft runs across party divides in NSW. The highest levels of the state and federal divisions of the Liberal Party are being examined over how much they knew about what counsel assisting the ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, QC, called the use of a Liberal-linked federal fund-raising body as a 'means of washing and re-channelling donations made by prohibited donors' to the 2011 state election campaign.

This is very serious. Some excellent work has been done in New South Wales to reform the electoral funding laws there. That came about after a decade of work by the community groups, by the Greens and by many independent voices. To their credit, Labor eventually heard that message and reformed the laws in 2009. That is when the ban came in on developer donations.

And then we have the 2011 state election. Everybody thought the Liberals were going to win because Labor were caught up in various scandals, but they got themselves involved in these very murky arrangements, which are now coming to light thanks to ICAC—again highlighting why we need these bodies to do the investigation but, most importantly, to lift the standards so that hopefully this sort of behaviour does not continue. To share with you some more reports, on 9 August, the Sydney Morning Herald stated:

This week ICAC's hearings produced a telling email between NSW Liberal Party finance director Simon McInnes and his federal colleague Colin Gracie—

That is the one I have just described. It goes on to say, because there was more information:

In it, McInnes raises the matter of a potential donor 'will who want [sic] to donate towards the NSW campaign (Banks) for this federal election but don't want to be disclosed in detail under NSW disclosure laws'.

That is another example of the same issue that I have raised, that there is a style of fundraising which developed in the lead-up to the 2011 election where we have collusion, where developers have given millions of dollars to Labor, Liberal and Nationals, when you add it up over about the last 12 years. So big money has come in.

Interestingly in that time in New South Wales you also saw a weakening of the planning laws, which made it much easier for developers to undertake everything from coal mines to shopping centres et cetera, with such little public involvement or scrutiny. So certainly some interesting trends have been going on there, but there has been a way of running election campaigns which has largely relied on a lot of money from a certain sector, in this case the developers. Then that is banned and we have this collusion at high levels within the Liberals and within the federal Liberals for this to be avoided. So that is one aspect of where the federal Liberals have been drawn into the New South Wales ICAC.

We also have some interesting examples on the New South Wales Central Coast. For a bit of background, we all would obviously remember the 2010 election, when then opposition leader Tony Abbott thought he was going to win. He did not win it and became quite furious with his own party, with the New South Wales Liberals, and particularly blames them because of the loss of the seats on the Central Coast—there were a couple of marginal seats there. So come to 2013 and he really wants to parachute his people into those seats. So here we have Karen McNamara and Louise Wiest, MPs from those marginal seats, who have been given the nod—however that works in the Liberal Party—who were parachuted in with the support of the Prime Minister. Where this becomes interesting is that some of these MPs have been very closely associated with a number of MPs and with some former Liberal state MPs who have got caught up in the New South Wales ICAC hearings.

Those hearings have covered a range of activities—I think it is up to 12 between state and federal Liberal MPs who have either resigned or stepped aside while these hearings are going on. In the case of the MPs on the Central Coast, what we see is that some of the candidates that the Prime Minister was very keen should run and did successfully run were closely linked with the campaigns of some of the MPs on the New South Wales Central Coast—either illegal or highly questionable with regard to raising political donations and then the campaign manager linked with that. I find it hard to believe that a campaign manager would not know that the donations being raised for a campaign she was linked with were problematic. We do not know whether that is the case. I am not suggesting that the Prime Minister knows about any of this but the problem we have is that, because of the lack of investigation and the lack of standards, people's reputations become tarnished and rightly or wrongly the public do not know. Then a great deal of cynicism develops and that takes us back to the issue of why we need a federal ICAC.

With regard to the federal ICAC, as I mentioned, Senator Christine Milne has brought a bill before the parliament about this issue. Back in May we tried to get that up but what we are seeing too often is that it is just not taken seriously. It seems as though Labor and the coalition are at one on this. Too often there is a revolving door between people who are one minute MPs and the next minute lobbyists, that there is a very unhealthy way these relationships play out. At the moment they can avoid scrutiny. When you have a corruption watchdog in place, it helps put the spotlight on and, I think, focuses people's attention on the fact that they are accountable, that when you are in public life you have been elected to serve, that you are being paid by the public, you are accountable to the public and surely there are certain standards which should be followed. That is why we say that we need to be serious about cleaning up politics.

The Greens proposal in our private member's bill calls for three new integrity officers: a national integrity commissioner, a law enforcement integrity commissioner and an independent parliamentary advisor. We are hoping to advance that private member's bill; for the moment, we are able to discuss the issue in this motion.

Surely it is time to hear, from Labor, the Nationals and the Liberals, not just excuses about why it is not needed and excuses—sadly, I have heard such the excuses from some Liberals—that all ICAC does is ruin people's reputations. That is not a good starting point. This needs to be taken seriously. What will work best at a federal level needs to be worked out.

I would argue that the New South Wales model is a very good one, because they can investigate and it has many more teeth than the Victorian model. Something like that is warranted. But if it is not going to be like that, at least come into the debate and say what form it should take rather than just rejecting it. I put it to senators that if you are going to say in this debate that a national ICAC is not needed—that it is not warranted and that the New South Wales ICAC is out of control, that it is just ruining reputations—that is not just damaging to yourselves and your party but is betraying our responsibility to strengthen the very democratic fabric that is so important to the running of our country.

We do need to restore confidence. Public confidence in the political process has been hit hard. That has been going on for many years, now. On a one-to-one basis—I say this across parties—a lot of us work very hard. When people get to know you they might have respect, but across the board there is a deep cynicism about the political process.

One of the things that makes me most sad—it is why I am so pleased that ICAC got into all these investigations—is that people often say to me, 'Why should I bother trying to influence and say my piece that I do not want this huge box of a shopping centre plonked in my little heritage township?' or 'Why should I even bother to try and resist this new coalmine application? Who is going to listen to me? They won't listen to me or pick up my phone call because I don't give lots of money.' Or people say, 'They're all corrupt.'

I am sure you have all had something similar said to you. This damage to the democratic fabric has been going on for years. I would say that that impacts on all of us. Again that brings us back to why we need a national corruption watch dog.

Let's get into the detail. It is time we started talking about what form that should take rather than just saying no. This very much goes to our accountability, our integrity and how we are perceived in the work that we undertake extensively throughout our communities.

I would also say that this is very urgent. We are now into the second half of the year. In a few months time we will be enjoying the lovely time of Christmas and the New Year, which is so wonderful in Australia. But for another year to go by—to get into 2015—when at a federal level we are still dragging the chain on this most important area is just not acceptable.

I also wanted to note that former Australian Greens leader, former senator Bob Brown raised the issue of a need for a national corruption watchdog when he was here. So the Greens have brought it up in the 42nd Parliament, the 43rd Parliament and, now, the 44th Parliament. To continue with these delaying tactics or a negative attitude to it will be a real set back. I hope that we can have some debate. I seek some indication that we can sit down and progress this issue.

It is important for the standards, not just of ourselves but of the Commonwealth agency and of public officials. It needs to have that broad brush-stroke that we see in the New South Wales ICAC in terms of people who are associated with public institutions. And I would argue that it needs full investigative powers, including the ability to conduct public and private hearings and the ability to summon any person or agency to produce documents and appear before the commissioner. It should be able to conduct investigations, apply for and execute search warrants, and hold public inquiries. That is the type of federal ICAC we need. We need to ensure that the commissioner has the capacity to investigate cases where corrupt conduct is foreseeable, making the officer's role proactive in addressing corruption. We do not have that in the New South Wales ICAC but the experience at the state level shows that this is needed.

Sometimes you can anticipate where possible corruption could occur. For a national ICAC to have that proactive aspect to its work would be outstanding. It would give a lead across the country in improving the standards under which we all operate. I believe it would help change the culture so that people do not just think, 'I can get away with it. I can come up with this scheme where we funnel money. It's illegal to take it in one state but we will take it somewhere else—this time at a federal level—and send it back to the state.' It seems as though that is the culture in the federal Liberals and how they operated in the last state election. That is not good.

I congratulate the New South Wales ICAC for bringing it to light. It is a reminder why we need a national ICAC and why we need to raise our standards so that we change the culture and that we understand. We need to ensure that there is a widespread commitment to ensuring that our democratic process is protected and if there is a breakdown it can be investigated and we can restore the standards as quickly as possible.

3:59 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before we seek to establish new bureaucracies and before we seek to make substantial changes to our law enforcement structure we should have a problem that we need to act upon. We should have evidence that there is an issue before we go about spending lots of money, before we go about replicating processes that are already in place and, most importantly, before we go about reducing the normal law enforcement practices that exist in this country and the restrictions that are placed around them.

I did not catch all of Senator Rhiannon's contribution but I just do not see that kind of corruption problem in this country at a federal level. Yes, there have been high-profile issues at the state government level and, yes, those issues have involved people and members from all political parties; however, we have not had that evidence presented at a federal level and we should have that in view, if we are going to make a decision of this significance. We should take some pride in this country that we are ranked very highly in the world for our lack of corruption.

Transparency International, I believe, is one of the more renowned bodies in this field that assesses these issues, and Australia is ranked ninth out of 177 countries on corruption issues. So we are very, very highly ranked throughout the world on these issues. We are equal with Canada on that table. We are above many advanced economies such as Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States. So, again, there is no evidence that there is a great problem with corruption in our government or bureaucracies.

There is more evidence in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2013-14. That report asked businesses that do business in Australia what limits them from acting or conducting their business in a free and open way. Corruption was listed by those businesses as equal last in terms of the issues that they face with crime and theft, and corruption was mentioned by only just half a per cent of those surveyed.

Some of the other issues, which are quite interesting here in this regard, that are much more significant include restrictive labour regulations—that was mentioned by 17.3 per cent of businesses in this World Economic Forum survey—as a barrier to doing business; and 13.4 per cent suggested inefficient government bureaucracy.

I think the proposal here from the Greens is about creating more bureaucracy and, to the extent that our current bureaucracies are not living up to best practice or best standards, we should surely be focused on making sure that happens first before we go about creating new bureaucracies.

I note for interest that 13.3 per cent of businesses mentioned tax rates, which fortunately this government has helped to get down.—although I know my colleague Senator McGrath wants to increase some of those tax rates but to reduce other taxes.

Senator McGrath interjecting

Sorry, that is true. Sorry, Senator McGrath is going to get rid of other taxes—and regulations were mentioned by 11.4 per cent of people. I spoke yesterday in the chamber about the government's focus on reducing red tape and regulation. So we are going about tackling those issues first which are most keenly felt by businesses, and that should be our approach.

In saying all of that, we do not get that result without taking the issue of corruption very seriously. There is no doubt there is still a risk of that occurring wherever there are funds spent, people are looking after other people's moneys and decisions are made which help people make money. It is a very high risk that we must always be wary of, and the government has a zero tolerance approach to corruption. We have bodies in place already to try to root that out.

The primary body at the federal level is the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. It works with the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police to make sure that corruption does not exist in those organisations. Most importantly, that multiagency approach has helped keep our governance relatively clean and at those high standards across the world.

It is important to note that the Australian government is strengthening those protections, and decisions made by this government and the previous government have helped to do that. Last year we expanded the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to cover AUSTRAC, CrimTrac and certain aspects of the Department of Agriculture. The government is also investing a further $1 million into the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to help it stamp out corruption at Australia's borders—and there have been some incidents on our borders with regard to corruption.

Last year there was an arrest of an AFP officer in July following a 15-month investigation by the AFP and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. That particular officer has been charged with corruption related offences, so there is that ability to enforce the law and the law is being enforced right now with actual charges—I might come back to that later, if I have time. One of the key things is that people are actually brought before a court of law and charged, which does not always happen at the state level with their various bodies.

The government on 31 July this year added to the strength of this structure by formally establishing the Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre to be located in the AFP headquarters. The FAC centre will deliver a whole-of-government fraud investigations training process to the AFP and it brings together various government organisations in this area that are exposed to these issues, including the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian Crime Commission, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. All of those bodies will be covered by this training at the new centre.

The centre will maintain a coordinated specialist cell that will collect, analyse and disseminate data from Commonwealth partners; engage with existing local intelligence initiatives; and work with financial intelligence agencies to assess, prioritise and respond to serious fraud and corruption matters.

Further to all of those announcements, the Commonwealth recently announced Task Force Pharos—I think it was the previous government—which will target corruption in the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. This government has also established the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, which is currently underway, so all of these matters are being dealt with at the federal level.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, there does not seem to be evidence at the federal level of a problem. We need that evidence before we would have a response—or that should at least be the logical way we make policy the evidence based way.

I did note that Senator Rhiannon said that we needed more teeth in our law enforcement agencies to tackle corruption. Of course, more teeth in this case does mean that we would be weakening certain liberties and rights that people have when they are faced with a charge or when they appear before a law enforcement body. The way it works with ICAC and the Crime and Corruption Commission in Queensland, where I am from, is that those bodies have additional powers granted to them from their state parliaments to enforce the law and to try to expose corruption. I do note, though, that we as a parliament should be very careful before we would seek to weaken those protections for people from investigation from state officials. It is very serious to do such things. Right now this parliament is considering, in the various national security bills that are before this parliament, strengthening the arm of the law to investigate very serious offences relating to terrorism. That is a matter that we should consider very carefully, and we are doing that. These reforms have come out of various inquiries conducted by parliamentary committees. I note the Labor Party's bipartisan support for these processes, and we are also sending the bills to joint committees to make sure that those extra teeth, so to speak, for the law enforcement bodies relating to terrorism are justified.

I would like to note that the one party here that are not supporting those particular changes are the Greens. They have the major concerns about the changed. It is fair and reasonable for them to have those concerns and they should be considered. But they seem to be haphazardly wanting to increase the teeth, increase the power of the state over the individual and make it so that they have coercive powers. But on the other front, they reject out of hand the approach to deal with terrorism. I think that is quite ironic. If their approach to terrorism were applied in the same manner as their approach to corruption, they may not have such concern about these police powers as they currently have. I never thought I would see the day when the Greens would be the ones pushing for stronger powers for police, because that is effectively what this proposal advocates.

I am concerned about that because the powers that exist in those state bodies do a number of things. The most important power that ICAC and the CCC in Queensland, which was formerly the Crimes and Misconduct Commission—I know less about the Victorian body that has recently been established—have is to compel a witness to appear before their tribunal and to make them answer questions. A witness cannot, in the American vernacular or in our popular cultural vernacular, take the fifth. They cannot refuse to answer questions under oath. They are put under oath as a witness and they must answer questions truthfully. They do not have the right to not answer the questions. That is a particularly severe power. If you are in a position to incriminate yourself and you instead mislead such bodies, you will then be guilty of the offence of perjury. So people are put in a corner. They are not given the normal rights that we provide to witnesses, which have been an established fact of our common law since the Middle Ages in England.

These powers are akin to the star chambers that were set up by various kings of England at different times—at times to expose the great crime of being a Catholic, of being a papist and supporting the Pope in Rome. Those powers were enforced there to make sure that people had to answer questions on their various religious beliefs. Fortunately, over time, as parliamentary democracy emerged in England, those powers were removed and it became enshrined as part of our common law that you would not be compelled to incriminate yourself in a court of law under oath. But these state government bodies do away with those principles. As I say, sometimes that can be justified, but we must be very careful before we would so such a thing.

I would note that both those state government bodies, ICAC and the Crime and Corruption Commission in Queensland, emerged from specific and very serious examples of corruption in New South Wales and Queensland. In Queensland, the CMC—the precursor to the CCC—was created in response to the Fitzgerald inquiry in the 1980s. There were serious issues of corruption involved there regarding a political party that I am now a member of. That particular party, the National Party, or the coalition government at the time, established the CMC in response to the Fitzgerald inquiry. It sort of gets lost in history, but it should be noted that the Fitzgerald inquiry did not actually recommend the establishment of the CMC. While it was of course a hard-hitting inquiry into allegations of corruption in the then Queensland government, the inquiry itself did not recommend the establishment of a standing body to look into corruption. It did look at that matter but it concluded that it would be an abuse of the state's power to establish an ongoing body and that instead the state should set up bodies in response to specific issues—which is always the right of parliaments—through various royal commissions or other corruption inquiries. But, notwithstanding that recommendation, that body was created and it has lasted the test of time. The Queensland government has made various reforms to it recently in response to, in the first case, some very serious lapses of protocol on behalf of the CMC where certain evidence was released publicly inadvertently and also in response to, in my view, the vexatious and frivolous use of that body to air politically inspired charges.

Likewise, ICAC was created by a coalition government in the late 1980s, around the same time—I am not sure which was first. It was an election promise by then Liberal Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, Nick Greiner. When he became Premier and established this body he said:

In recent years, in New South Wales we have seen: a Minister of the Crown gaoled for bribery; an inquiry into a second, and indeed a third, former Minister for alleged corruption; the former Chief Stipendiary Magistrate gaoled for perverting the course of justice; a former Commissioner of Police in the courts on a criminal charge; the former Deputy Commissioner of Police charged with bribery; a series of investigations and court cases involving judicial figures including a High Court Judge; and a disturbing number of dismissals, retirements and convictions of senior police officers …

I read that out to remind everyone that what we have seen in the last couple of years in New South Wales is not necessarily unprecedented. It has happened before; it is regrettable; and it must be dealt with appropriately. But these things do happen from time, even in a relatively clean country—with respect to corruption—like Australia, and there are various bodies at state level to deal with these issues.

Of course, the former Premier of New South Wales, Nick Greiner, eventually fell foul of an ICAC investigation, and there are various opinions on whether that was right or wrong. I was a little bit young to comment on it and do not know enough, but I think there is a lot of opinion out there that he was a very good Premier of New South Wales. He was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing. Notwithstanding that fact, the political damage caused by the ICAC inquiry caused him to stand down for New South Wales to lose a very good Premier.

That brings me back to the point that I made at the start of this contribution—that is, that there are always risks in establishing new investigative bodies like this. We should not pretend that such bodies themselves cannot ever make mistakes or be subject to their own errors or particular biases and lapse into practices which perhaps are not maintaining the best standards. So I would be concerned if we were to jump to the establishment of such a body, particularly in an environment such as we are in at the moment, which is a charged environment—following the particular instances in New South Wales—and also in an environment where there has not been any detailed allegations of serious wrongdoing at a federal level.

I do note that in 2011—before I was here—we looked at this as a parliament. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity looked at whether or not such a body should be established federally. They recommended that the government should look at it. The then Labor government responded to that inquiry's recommendation and said:

The Government's approach to preventing corruption is based on the premise that no single body should be responsible. Instead, a strong constitutional foundation (the separation of powers and the rule of law) is enhanced by a range of bodies and government initiatives that promote accountability and transparency.

…   …   …

This distribution of responsibility creates a strong system of checks and balances.

I support that statement from the former Labor government. I believe that we do have a strong system of checks and balances federally. Part of those checks and balances, of course, is this place here which I stand in right now.

This chamber is a check and a balance on the executive government. This chamber is not run or dominated by government members. We have a record number of crossbenchers. This chamber is its own ruler and it always has the power to investigate any issue that relates to government—and, of course, any of those that may relate to serious offences of corruption. I believe that this chamber over time has done a good job at playing its role with respect to checks and balances. I do not see any major limitation on the powers of this body, the Senate, to carry out that role. I do not see the need at this time for an additional bureaucracy at the federal government level. But we should of course seek to improve and maintain the anti-corruption bodies and agencies that we have here in Canberra.

4:18 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

In addressing this motion, I have been listening to Senator Canavan's comments and I do concur that there are risks in addressing this issue—and I will come to covering some aspects of those during my contribution. In my contribution today I intend to look at some of the more recent history since this matter was last addressed and indicate that Labor is open to considering a federal ICAC. That said, we think that addressing it here today in this way is a tad premature and that there are potentially problems with the Greens' preferred position—if I read the motion correctly—in terms of what is alluded to in it.

Firstly, let me reflect on one point. As we address this issue, I think it is important to go to the bones of the matter. In our system of government, particularly here in Australia, there are checks and balances between the executive, the parliament and the courts, and those checks and balances are indeed critical. They exist to guard against one overwhelming the other. But when one is found to be influenced by outside interests it can be labelled as corruption and, in a parliamentary democracy of Australia's calibre, it is an important issue to address.

Labor feels that there is new cause for concern about corruption in Australian politics and that that concern goes to the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party. Coincidentally, our Treasurer and Prime Minister call the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party home. Another individual also calls the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party home, and that person is former Assistant Treasurer Senator Sinodinos—who, since I first addressed some issues in the Senate back in March last year, has had cause to answer many questions that are relevant to this discussion.

I say 'former', as Senator Sinodinos accepted standing aside while the ICAC inquiry investigation occurred. But that was 10 months ago and his frontbench position remains vacant. I think that is a statement about our parliamentary democracy in itself. I have listened to debates in this chamber about Assistant Treasurer matters and FoFA matters, where concerns have been raised about how competently government is addressing issues in this critical portfolio and, indeed, the support that is needed for the Treasurer—and this position still remains vacant. From my most recent reading of press reports on this matter, it seems as though it is likely to remain vacant until after January next year, which in itself is quite an incredible situation. The Australian federal government continues to operate one short for more than 12 months whilst ICAC investigators very serious issues.

Senator Sinodinos has appeared at the New South Wales ICAC on two occasions and has heard allegations of illegal political donations being funnelled through various slush funds to the New South Wales Liberal Party. Senator Sinodinos said he was not aware of more than $70,000 in donations to the Liberal Party while he chaired Australian Water Holdings and was Liberal Party Treasurer at the same time. Ten million dollars to $20 million was the figure put to Senator Sinodinos that he stood to make from the dealings between Australian Water Holdings and Sydney Water. I think 'dealings' is a very generous way of describing what occurred with respect to Sydney Water. The treatment that occurred to what is an Australian public utility was incredible and very difficult to justify. I look forward to the New South Wales ICAC report on how that public utility—I am tempted to use a word which I will not—was dealt with.

Senator Sinodinos also said that he was not aware Australian Water Holdings paid $183,000 to the alleged slush fund Eight by Five while he chaired Australian Water Holdings. Senator Sinodinos, we know from press reports assessing this point, gave in total 68 'don't recall', 'don't recollect' and 'do not remember' answers—an extraordinary achievement, even for the good senator. Senator Sinodinos made an extraordinary comment in an opinion piece in The Australian on 18 October 2012 which I will repeat now. It said:

Labor's defence of Peter Slipper did not pass the pub test. The true test of leadership is to uphold a standard even if it is at a cost to your own side. Anything else is rank hypocrisy.

Such strong opinions back in October 2012.

Given the recent history of Senator Sinodinos, I would have thought he would feel that what has happened subsequently is a bit hypocritical. We heard about a Liberal staffer confessing to ICAC that enormous sums of money, including from property developers banned from making political donations under New South Wales law, were laundered through the organisations Eight by Five and the Free Enterprise Foundation before being passed on to the New South Wales Liberal Party. 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.

We have in just the past few months seen resignations from former New South Wales Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell, two New South Wales Liberal cabinet ministers and several others. But New South Wales Liberal police minister, Mike Gallagher, the man tasked with fighting corruption and crime, was forced to resign due to revelations made to ICAC.

As I said previously, January is when ICAC reports. It will be interesting to see at that stage how the government deals with Senator Sinodinos's position. But it has caused me to reflect on the time when I first addressed, as a matter of public interest, the statement that Senator Sinodinos made in relation to his statement of private interests. I remember on that occasion attempting, before any of these issues had been addressed and canvassed at ICAC, to ask further questions about the statement that Senator Sinodinos had made and the information that was lacking in that statement. Time and time again, Senator Brandis interrupted, called empty points of order and became quite agitated to the extent that it was impossible for me to proceed with asking some of the very valid questions at that point in time. I would remind senators of that contribution. It was on 13 March last year. In reflecting on this issue, I would encourage you to go back, look at that and think: 'Today, our Attorney is the person who took these issues in the way that he did on that occasion.' To me, it was quite incredible, but I encourage senators to reach their own conclusions on reviewing his behaviour on that occasion. I commend Senator Fierravanti-Wells, who is in the chamber on this occasion, as she has not conducted herself in anywhere near a similar fashion.

We believe that the current scandal calls into question the integrity of federal Liberal politicians and political finance laws. This is why we say that recent history indicates that it is time to revisit some of these issues. Labor is open to considering a federal ICAC. During our time in government, there was not such clear evidence of the nature, extent and sources of corruption at a Commonwealth level which would justify the establishment of a federal ICAC. The opposition has never objected in principle to a federal independent commission against corruption. The concern for Labor was whether there was a clear case for such an organisation to be set up. The Labor government supported improving Commonwealth anticorruption efforts which would make it easier to prevent, detect and respond to corruption. Labor strongly supported existing anticorruption agencies, such as the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, and took a national anticorruption plan to the last election. It is now clear that stronger steps may need to be taken and therefore Labor is open to considering a federal ICAC body as one aspect of a federal anticorruption policy. But let's remember: it is one aspect and we need to consider a broader plan and an appropriate plan to our federal circumstances.

A very clear case needs to be made that corruption at a Commonwealth level is of a type and of an extent which justifies a serious change of policy. Even if such a case were made out, we need to think carefully about whether simply adopting the ICAC model, now familiar in various states, is the appropriate way to proceed at a Commonwealth level. As I said before, Labor took a national anticorruption plan to the last election, a plan which the Abbott government has taken no action on. Indeed, from their end, there is no plan.

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. That is what is clearly required in the Australian political environment. It affects all of us, regardless of party political perspective. I must say, if I reflect on my time in federal parliament, which spans around 18 years, it is the one issue in which I can observe a serious decline in public trust. The public standing of our members of parliament is a very critical element to our parliamentary democracy, and it is something that we need to guard fiercely, to protect and, indeed, to uphold. This is why I have said previously that this debate is now critical because upholding that public standing has become something that is very much at the fore today. A federal anticorruption body deserves consideration as one of the broader measures to uphold the public standing of members of parliament.

As I said at the outset, the Greens' motion is premature. It is appropriate to consider this motion by the Greens in the context of their previous attempts to introduce similar legislation. The current motion by the Australian Greens alludes to the National Integrity Commission Bill, the NIC Bill, that the Australian Greens previously introduced into the parliament. Other attempts by the Greens to move such legislation include the National Integrity Commissioner Bill 2010 introduced by Senator Bob Brown in June that year and reintroduced when parliament reconvened after the August 2010 election. In 2012 Adam Bandt MP introduced the National Integrity Commissioner Bill 2012 into the other place. These bills lapsed without having been debated when the 43rd Parliament was prorogued.

The House Selection Committee concluded that the 2012 bill moved by Adam Bandt MP 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 cost of a national integrity commission to consider, among other things, the threshold issue of whether such a body was needed. Despite all of this history, the implications of a national integrity commission has yet to have the careful consideration it requires. This is why I say it is premature to have the Senate endorse today's motion today.

There are potentially other problems with the Greens' preferred policy, if I take the motion correctly. The National Integrity Commission Bill, to which this motion refers, provides for an integrity commission which has three components: a federal ICAC body based on the New South Wales model; the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement and Integrity, ACLEI, in its present form; and an independent parliamentary adviser to advise MPs on ethics and entitlements and to develop a parliamentary code of conduct. The creation of an independent parliamentary adviser is not necessarily good policy in general. In any case, it is open to question whether such an office should be housed within a watchdog-type body; there may be better ways to perform that role. There are open questions about how a number of federal integrity bodies, such as the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement and Integrity, ought to be integrated with or situated alongside any federal ICAC body.

Labor have a longstanding commitment to a full suite of anticorruption measures at a federal level. When we think of integrity measures we need to think about how we can manage the investigation of questionable practices, and it is in this context that we believe we need to think very seriously about a federal ICAC. So, as I indicated at the outset, recent history has indicated that this is a matter that we should look at afresh. Labor are open to considering a federal ICAC, but we believe it should be considered within a broader suite of anticorruption matters. In doing so we think this motion as it stands is premature and that a better way would be to work further through a joint select committee-type process to reach an agreed understanding of what such a full suite of measures should be.

Despite me indicating that there are some potential problems, I think the intention behind the suggestion that we have an independent parliamentary adviser to advise MPs on ethics and entitlements and to develop a parliamentary code of conduct is a good intention. It is one issue where the standing of federal members of parliament and, indeed, state members as well, has continued to be challenged by story, after story, after story around these types of issues. But whether such an adviser—and I must say that, in the current political environment, I would not envy that role—is the best way to tackle the provision to members and senators of competent advice on such things as entitlements or, more critically I suspect, broader ethical issues is a good question. It has obviously been a significant challenge for the parliamentary process in the current political environment and one which MaPS staff within Finance find a daily challenge. Again, I think we do need a process to look more carefully at all of those issues.

I commend the Greens for moving this motion and raising this issue—as indeed we did in the lead-up to the last election. I have indicated that Labor is open to considering a federal ICAC among a broader suite of anti-corruption measures. I have highlighted that the standing of, in particular, federal members of parliament is a critical issue for parliamentary democracy and, given recent history, one we should look at carefully and address. In doing so, I think we should move on from the discussion today to look at a process where addressing those issues might occur in a fuller or broader fashion to ensure that the issues that we are all concerned about from the discussion I have heard today can be considered more carefully. (Time expired)

4:39 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Collins, thank you for making my speech easier. You have spent the last seven or eight minutes outlining the history of the Greens' very important engagement on this issue here in this chamber. Actually, we have raised this issue prior to 2010. Senator Bob Brown, my predecessor, has raised this previously. It has been a long crusade for us to try and get a federal ICAC and better scrutiny of parliamentary processes—and I will get to those processes in a minute. I am encouraged to hear Senator Collins say that this is potentially a fork in the road for this chamber and we may get some support from the Labor Party to put in place a process now. It is really about priorities. As Senator Collins has highlighted, this matter has been brought to this chamber twice in the form of legislation and it has been referred to a committee. And yet, nearly five years later, there has not been any significant movement at all on the establishment of a federal body. Of course, it has to be done in the right way. All of the concerns raised by Senator Collins are justified and valid. But we have been debating this for a long time and it is time that we actually did set up this body, along with a suite of other measures which I also agree with—and I will touch on those in a minute.

One of my favourite Australian authors, David Gregory Roberts, said: 'The only thing more ruthless and cynical than the business of big politics is the politics of big business, and when the two come together you have the perfect storm.' What he means by the business of big politics is quite simple: it is about getting political parties elected; it is about putting your interests and those of your party first and making sure that, at polling day, you hold onto power or seize power. The politics of big businesses is also pretty simple: it is about getting what they want and getting deliverables and outcomes for their shareholders. Nobody would dispute that. We are visited by lobbyists in this building all day every day. They are unashamedly here to look after the interests of their shareholders, their stakeholders. And it is not just business lobbyists. There are also unions and environment groups. In pretty well established theory these groups are often referred to as special interests—and sometimes they are also called vested interests.

I have spoken on this at least four or five times in speeches since I have been in the Senate, which has only been two years. I was quite chuffed when I got an email from an American couple who had been travelling in Australia. They were driving their RV and they must have had parliament on the radio—probably for want of knowing what a better station might be! Nevertheless, they heard the speech I was giving on this matter and they contacted me when they got back to Florida. This gentleman said that their local church had been talking about this issue recently. He pointed me to a couple of reports which I have since read with great interest.

One of those reports talked about the illusion of participatory democracy. It said individual voters who turn up to vote in elections—which of course they should do in this country, unlike in the USA—are assumed to be the best informed they can possibly be on critical issues. Of course, most voters go to elections with a huge array of issues in their minds—some of which may stick out more than others. Sadly, many also go to polling booths with very little understanding of or real interest in what is going on around them and how they are going vote. However, within that same democracy we have special interest groups that are highly organised, highly resourced and highly motivated, and they have a whole set of tools in their tool kit that they can employ to get the outcomes that they want. The illusion of participatory democracy is that we think we run this country when we vote governments in. But what goes on behind the scenes in terms of lobbying—whether it be the lobbying of ministers, senators or individual MPs—is actually what determines parliamentary outcomes, legislation and government decisions.

This gentleman—I will not name him because I have not asked for his permission—referred me to a report published just last year by Harvard University. The report—and it is now a book—was written by Professor William English. The title is Institutional Corruption and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy. The author has two key recommendations. He basically says democracy is the best system we have got but, unfortunately, it is subject to corrupting influences, the key one being that is easily corrupted by rent-seeking interests. Rent-seeking interests, just for the record, are the same thing as special interests and vested interests, but in the case specifically of rent seeking we are dealing with businesses who are looking to protect their profits or grow their businesses. He comes to two conclusions: in a liberal democracy like ours, there are only two ways that we can prevent this corruption of our democracy, and the first and foremost is to put in place substantial investigative efforts that uncover and communicate abuses of democracy. Of course, he goes on to talk a lot more about these special interests and the fact that really our democracies are easily hijacked by rent-seeking interests.

When you look at corporate donations—I am talking specifically here of rent-seeking interests and businesses—it raises a question. It would be questionable for any corporation to act against the interests of shareholders and put out money in political donations if it did not think it was going to get a good return on that investment. So it is a simple question: why do corporations give money to political parties? Sometimes they give money to both the major parties; it is not just the current government, the Liberal Party, here. Why do they give money to governments and to political parties? You have to draw the fairly obvious conclusion that they want something in return: they want influence in return.

This issue has been very near and dear to my heart, because in Tasmania my path to standing here in the Senate today has come through a very large decade-long campaign against a polluting pulp mill in my backyard in the Tamar Valley, near the ocean where I surf and recreate. It is way too much to fit into 20 minutes, and I talked a lot about it in my opening speech to the Senate, but the issue of political donations to the federal government during this campaign was a very hot topic in Tasmania. It was covered extensively by the media. There has been a lot of literature written on it. There have been entire books written about the corruption, or perceived corruption, around the Gunns pulp mill, which took years to assess; went through all sorts of processes, including a corrupted process; was pulled out of the state government assessment; was rammed through parliament, with parliament becoming the planning body; and then, of course, went to federal parliament for approval.

I just want to go through some information here on an example of what a federal ICAC could look at. It is a very real example. Senator Canavan talked earlier about how there is no evidence that he can see that we need a federal ICAC. I would ask him to have a look at the history and the background in the last decade surrounding the Gunns Limited pulp mill and the processes around that. This is an article from The Australian dated 10 October 2007 by Matthew Denholm, who is a very good journalist:

Gunns's donations to the major parties have long been contentious in Tasmania. The company gave $70,000 to the state division of the Liberal Party and the Liberal-linked Free Enterprise Foundation between November 2004 and April 2005.

I just note that I have read today that the Free Enterprise Foundation—and Senator Brandis, one of the greatest legal minds in the country, would be able to point out to me if this is incorrect—is currently the subject of an investigation by the New South Wales ICAC over payments to the New South Wales Liberal Party relating to property developments. It is the same foundation that received funds from Gunns federally in 2004-05. This followed the 2004 federal election, in which Mr Howard announced the continuation of old-growth logging and a far more modest forest protection policy than was put forward by the then Labor leader, Mark Latham. It was a fascinating time in history; once again, there is no time to cover it today, but for anyone who is interested I would thoroughly recommend reading about Mr Latham's lightning trip down to Tasmania, his visit with Bob Brown to the old-growth forests and what followed afterwards.

Former state Liberal leader Bob Cheek outlines this accusation in his book Cheeky: Confessions of a Ferret Salesman, which Senator Bushby has very possibly read. In the lead-up to the 2002 state election, he was the leader of the Liberal Party in Tasmania. Do not ask me about the ferrets, but he actually was a ferret salesman before he went into politics.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

You're making this up.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That is the truth. He claims, Senator Brandis, that Gunns executive John Gay showed him two cheques, one a guaranteed donation of $10,000 and another for $20,000, 'to come if I locked in the right answer to the question'. The question was, 'Will you continue to support the existing forestry policy?' which of course was about access to old-growth forests.

It has gone down in infamy that Mark Latham wanted to shut down old-growth logging and in the end John Howard was quite happy to keep open the idea that potentially—and certainly at the time—a world-class pulp mill would be built in the Tamar Valley and four million to five million tonnes of native forest per annum would be fed into that pulp mill. Over the life of the project, 20 to 30 years, we are talking about most of the old-growth forests left in the state being fed into this monster if it had gone ahead.

Further down the track, where we had the federal approval of this project—the Liberal Party were in government at that time as well—The Australian reported:

TIMBER company Gunns donated $56,000 to the Liberal Party in the weeks after the Howard government gave conditional approval for the company's $2.2billion Tasmanian pulp mill.

Annual political donation returns released by the Australian Electoral Commission yesterday reveal Gunns donated $64,750 to the national and Tasmanian divisions of the Liberal Party in the 2007-08 financial year.

Of this, $56,700 was donated to the Liberals in the time between then-environment minister Malcolm Turnbull's conditional approval for the mill on October 4, 2007, and the federal election on November 24 of that year.

This is the interesting part:

The donations were made in six payments ranging, from $900 on October 12—

prior to the approval—

to $25,000 on November 13.

So these payments were staged, they trickled in and they increased in value after the approval going into the election. My predecessor Senator Brown raised this in the chamber. The Australian reported:

Bob Brown said the funds raised serious concerns and questions about "the influence of political donations". "You have to wonder why Gunns gave not just one lump-sum donation to the federal Liberal Party between the announcement of the go-ahead for the pulp mill and the election, but a series of donations … Couldn't Gunns make up their minds? Or was there some flow of information between the party and the company?"

Anyway, that year—you may also be interested to know, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle—Labor received only $1,986 from Gunns, and that was donated on 8 August 2007.

So this issue is an example of the type of transparency that people would like to see. They would like to see these types of things investigated. It may be that there are no findings of corruption made in instances like this—

Senator Brandis interjecting

But my point is an important one, Senator Brandis, through you, Chair: this is what the public expect from us. They want to see increased transparency, and they do not understand why a chamber full of politicians, who could potentially all be investigated in the future, are dragging their heels on trying to institute a body like a federal ICAC. They see that as a conflict of interest. It is quite an irony that we are not happy to be put under further scrutiny ourselves and to have the actions of our parties scrutinised. And that is not acceptable. Remember this illusion of participatory democracy? A lot of people in this country and around the world are talking about the problems with our democracy, in the sense that it is so easily hijacked.

I do want to talk a little about Tasmania. All states have a version of an ICAC. In Tasmania, unfortunately, we have an integrity commission which has very limited powers. One of the first things our new Integrity Commission did—and it was only established in 2010—was to investigate corruption around the Gunns pulp mill. In a 2012 leaked report, the commission reported—and this is about the construction of the Tamar Valley pulp mill—that: 'The Commission presently lacks the legislative capacity to adequately investigate whether the government's support for the proposed pulp mill was improper.' It received confidential submissions—hundreds of confidential submissions, and I do not know the detail of those submissions—but it lacked the ability to actually do this investigation. There is a whole series of recommendations that the Tasmanian Greens, currently led by Kim Booth, have made, to try to get much stronger teeth for this Tasmanian Integrity Commission. But it really raises these questions about whether we have a role for a federal body that could also look at instances like the ones I have just discussed.

Such a body has been mentioned in the chamber already today by Senator Collins, around FoFA. And there is a difference between personal corruption and institutional corruption. Sometimes the line is blurred. The ICAC in New South Wales is looking at examples of personal corruption where individual politicians or public servants may have received inducements for favours. Institutional corruption is a lot harder to define. It is about these things like special interest theory. How beholden are governments and politicians to the big end of town or to special interests? But I am convinced from the FoFA inquiry—which I was on with Senator Bushby, who is here in the chamber—that the Australian Bankers' Association made a very clear statement that they had expected the government to deliver a watering down—and 'watering down' are my words; that is not what they said, but they had expected it to deliver changes to the FoFA regulations. It is all in Hansard. Ms Tate gave that evidence at the Senate inquiry. I asked why they had not changed their compliance systems in time for 30 June, and she said:

We do have an expectation, because we had bipartisan support prior to the last election that these things would happen.

They are the exact words she used. What sort of deal was done between the government and the Australian Bankers' Association—the big banks—I do not know. But when I look at—

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator Bushby, through you, Chair: this is all about perception. This is about what the public think when they look at this. Following that, you rammed through, tried to get through, legislation. When that failed, you changed, and you brought in regulations before 30 June. You rushed them through on a Sunday afternoon so that they could not be scrutinised. You did a dirty deal with the Palmer party to get your regulations up. Now you are trying to get your legislation through the parliament, prior to the release of the financial services inquiry report, and prior to the release of a sensitive report by ASIC very shortly on the same issues that FoFA was trying to address. It is clear to me that there is a rush on to get these changes to FoFA done, and I understand, from my time on the inquiry, that it is because not only does it impact the sales-driven business models of the big financial services companies but also it is going to cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance to meet the FoFA regulations by 30 June. To me, that is a very clear example of where your government has chosen to side with big business, with the big end of town, over Seniors Australia, over Choice, and over other groups, because—let us call it a deal—that is a deal that you did with the banks, to get that done. And, coincidentally, you were the beneficiaries of large donations from the banks, going into the federal election, which occurred after these discussions with the Australian Bankers' Association about delivering these outcomes on FoFA. You could say that was a coincidence, but most average Australians, who expect higher levels of transparency from their government, would look at it and go: 'You delivered for the banks.' That is a choice you have made. That is rent-seeking, by anyone's books, if it is true, and I think it is. And it could also be viewed as institutional corruption.

So these are the types of things that I think Australian voters, Australian citizens, expect to be addressed by such a body. I will not go into the details, but Senator Rhiannon has talked about the Canadian model. And I agree with Senator Collins on what was said earlier: these things need to be done properly; they need to be thoroughly investigated. But let us get on with it. We seem to have agreement from the Labor Party that we should now enter into this process to have a federal body. There are other things we can do around lobbyists' registers and a whole suite of other things we could do to tighten this up. Let us not do it for ourselves; let us do it for the Australian people. It is what they expect, and it will certainly increase the confidence that they have in us as decision-makers in this parliament which they voted us into. (Time expired)

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I had Senator Macdonald down to speak next; have you mob changed the batting order?

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wasn't informed! I call Senator McGrath.

4:59 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very proud to be a member of the B team! I am very happy to bat for the B team!

I am very happy to speak here today. I do not think the Australian people are calling out for another bureaucratic institution to be established. I just do not think that the Australian people are going to march down the highways and byways of Australian towns and cities saying, 'Let's set up a federal anticorruption body.' I think that the Australian people are pretty good judges of character and I think they always make the right decisions when it comes to elections, even when they do not vote for my mob and they vote for other people. I think that what the Australian people think about us as federal politicians is that they may not particularly like us. Let's be honest: Australians are very earthy people and they really do not like politicians. They would probably cross the road sometimes to avoid politicians. In fact, especially when it comes around to pay-rise time, Australian people would probably like to give us all a poke in the eye rather than any pay rises!

However, whatever the views of the Australian people are I do not think that they think we are corrupt. I sometimes think the Australian people may think that we could not be trusted to operate a toaster, but they do not think we are corrupt. Sometimes they may think we are incompetent and so forth, and that we should not be trusted with machinery or anything like that. But when it comes to corruption, I do not think Australians think that we are corrupt.

This motion of the Greens, however well meaning it is—and I think it is well meaning—is addressing a problem that does not exist, and it will then, in effect, create a problem by having another level of bureaucracy put upon us as federal politicians. Transparency International, a body that ranks countries in terms of their openness and corruption regards Australia as one of the least-corrupt countries in the world. So if our good friends at Transparency International believe we are not corrupt then I am unsure why we would want to establish a federal anticorruption body.

I might read out for you what Transparency International says about corruption:

Corruption is one of the greatest challenges of the contemporary world. It undermines good government, fundamentally distorts public policy, leads to the misallocation of resources, harms the private sector and private sector development and particularly hurts the poor. Controlling it is only possible with the cooperation of a wide range of stakeholders in the integrity system, including most importantly the state, civil society, and the private sector. There is also a crucial role to be played by international institutions.

That is what Transparency International says about corruption.

But this is the body that says Australia is not corrupt; that we are such an open and transparent country. It is interesting that other open and transparent countries, like the United States of American and like the United Kingdom, do not have federal anticorruption bodies. I do not think that our creating this body and employing extra public servants—as much as some of my best friends are public servants—is going to improve the level of governance in this country or the openness and transparency of governance in this country because we are a pretty open and transparent country as we stand.

The Australian government—and I think this is on both sides, with the opposition and the coalition here—at a federal level have, since Federation, been very open and honest governments. I do not think there has been much corruption. Or, if there has been any corruption it has been on such a minor scale that it is of a parking-ticket level rather than anything that is more of a serious misdemeanour. So I just want to put on the record that this government—the government that I am proud to be a member of—does have a zero tolerance approach to corruption. It is committed to stamping out corruption in all its forms.

I think this is where the Australian people come in again. The Australian people to will talk about a fair go and a fair deal. If the Australian people see something they think is a little bit dodgy then my experience of the Australian people is that they will speak up for the underdog; they will speak up when something is wrong. The Australian people will go to the local police in their state, or to the Australian Federal Police or even go to politicians to raise concerns about other politicians. I think that sometimes having that veneer of sunlight—no, 'veneer' is the wrong word: having that opus of sunlight that shines on what politicians do is better than establishing this institution.

While we should never be complacent about corruption, it is important to consider the issue in a very proportionate and measured way. We do not want to have some Salem witch-hunts, which do happen in some parts of Australia where state bodies have been established. Sometimes people are dragged before these bodies and have their names dragged through the mud. I do not want to talk about anywhere that is happening at the moment, but sometimes these bodies probably actually end up doing more damage to individual reputations than achieving their aim of cleaning out corruption.

At the moment the government here has a multiagency approach that is effective, and it is working. It consists of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity—and this body is responsible for preventing, detecting and investigating serious and systemic corruption issues; the Australian Crime Commission; the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and also the Australian Federal Police.

Last year, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity's jurisdiction was extended to AUSTRAC. It was also extended to CrimTrac and to certain prescribed aspects of the Department of Agriculture. This government is proudly investing a further $1 million in the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity as part of comprehensive measures to stamp out corruption at Australia's borders. We have seen the effective work of this agency with the arrest already of an AFP officer in July following a 15-month joint investigation between the Australian Federal Police professional standards areas and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. This officer was charged with corruption related offences. This investigation and arrest show Australia's ongoing commitment to upholding the integrity of those who serve the Australian community.

I should also mention the Commonwealth Ombudsman. As someone who used to work for the Queensland Ombudsman back at the end of the last century, I strongly believe in the role of the Ombudsman in looking at maladministration within government departments and agencies. I believe that the Commonwealth Ombudsman performs an important function in investigating and auditing various agencies and functions. I know that the Queensland Ombudsman along with the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which have been going for decades, have found many areas where they can see reform and they have made suggestions about reform.

The Australian Federal Police also play a fundamental role, a very important role, in investigating serious corruption issues. On 31 July this year, the Australian government added to the strength of this structure by formally establishing the Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre located in the Australian Federal Police headquarters. This Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre delivers whole-of-government fraud investigation training in partnership with Australian Federal Police learning and development. This Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre brings together the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian Crime Commission, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, not to mention the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. It brings them altogether to assess, to prioritise and to respond to serious fraud and corruption measures. This centre is going to maintain a coordinated specialist cell that will collect, analyse and disseminate data from Commonwealth partners. It is going to engage with existing local intelligence initiatives and work with financial intelligence agencies to assess, prioritise and respond to serious fraud and corruption matters.

These measures show that the federal government is taking the issue of perceived corruption very seriously. But it is better to have these types of bodies established, which are within the system at the moment, rather than setting up an additional body, which I imagine would have anywhere between 50 and 100 staff. It would be one of those bodies that grows and grows and grows. I should mention that in addition the Commonwealth has recently announced Task Force Pharos which will target corruption in the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. The thing we should say is that so many people who work for the federal government, whether they are on the front line when you come through Brisbane or Sydney airport or elsewhere, are very hardworking people who maintain the front line against those who would do harm to Australia. It is a very, very small minority of people who may be up to no good. Often there is no need for the establishment of a further body to investigate allegations. Instead, it is for those good people who are working in these services to dob in a mate. That is a better way for these things to be found out and taken to the appropriate authorities. It is up to all of us to make sure that we keep our eyes and our ears open so that if we think that someone is up to no good we go to our supervisor—we go to our boss. If you are concerned about that, there is whistleblower protection, or you can make anonymous complaints. I think setting up a further bureaucratic body is not the way to go.

The government has also delivered on a key election commitment to establish the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, which was announced by the Prime Minister in February and is now underway. The terms of reference for the commission were not restrictive so it is a truly national inquiry. I think we are proud of Australia's position and reputation because we are seen as a very open, free and transparent country. I have done a lot of work in emerging democracies over the years and in those countries people wish they had the reputation of Australia. They wish that their civic institutions were built up and established to have the strength of honesty, openness and transparency that Australia's institutions have. One of the senators for the Australian Greens talked about institutional corruption and made references to donations and banks and things like that. But I think that the existing bodies we have in place and the Australian Electoral Commission making sure that donations can be seen and the way that this place operates with thousands of people in the gallery at the moment listening to me prattle on about corruption, show that this is an open and transparent place. I do think that the Australian Greens are sincere in their views. I do not wish to attack them. I do not think they are saying that we are on the same level as some of the African countries or that we take some of the positions taken in the former Soviet Union in terms of the outrageous corruption there. But they are misguided in that they are approaching a solution to a problem that does not exist. The best way—what we should do—is look at how we can strengthen what we have, rather than throw the whole system out based on a presumption that a national anticorruption commission will be more effective.

The Australian people should be the ultimate arbiters of whether we are a corrupt body—a corrupt government—or not. The Australian people always make sensible decisions in terms of elections even when they make decisions that break my heart, as at a couple of elections recently when they voted the other side into power. The Australian people will be the ones who make the decision about whether we are corrupt and, if they think we are, they can throw one party out and put another party in. The system that has been established in Australia since Federation, when the six colonies came together and formed Australia and this Commonwealth government, is a system that has served this country well.

Just as the Liberal Party is a broad church in that it has a liberal stream and a conservative stream, I am also a very broad church in some of my views—almost a cathedral, in a way—and the conservative side of me does not want to see changes made to our institutional structures unless there is a clear, persistent and strong argument that change should be made. It is up to the Greens, who I do believe are sincere in their views, to put on the table evidence of where there is systemic corruption at a national level. We have had a lot of reading out of press clippings; we have had a lot of inferences to what has happened at a state level and to a particular inquiry taking place at the moment. We have heard very little about what is happening at a federal level. There are always stories about things that may happen in the shadows. My good friend Senator McDonald made reference in a Facebook posting today to a senator from another party and some allegations there; but it is at such a low level and it is about such a small number of people that these allegations float around. I do not think there is a call for this, or marches in the street with people saying: 'The federal government—Labor, the Liberals, the Nationals, the Greens, Palmer, all those people—are all corrupt. Let us have a federal anticorruption commission set up and that will keep them honest.' I do not think that is the answer.

What will always keep us honest are the existing institutions we have, which work very well. We could probably always improve the operation of some of them if that needed to be the case; but ultimately it is up to the Australian people to decide, in the absence of evidence from the Australian Greens. I call upon the Australian Greens: if you have evidence of systemic corruption—that we all have Cayman bank accounts or things like that, or that we are all pilfering money—please put it on the table. Please bring us the evidence of where there is corruption, because I do not think there is any corruption at a federal level. We are a very free and open country and we should be proud of the openness and freedom we have in this country. Establishing another level of bureaucracy will not improve matters. It may actually end up hindering matters in terms of how the current institutions are working at the moment. This proposed anticorruption commission will start meddling with the current institutions which are working so well in terms of delivering their own anticorruption strategies.

5:19 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution in respect of the proposal by the Greens. As a Queensland senator, albeit relatively new to this place, I believe I am in a position to talk about the history of official corruption. The Labor Party has a proud record in this area of addressing issues of longstanding official corruption in Queensland.

It is right that the Greens raise this issue of the general question of integrity in federal politics. There is a new cause for concern about corruption in Australian politics, notwithstanding the contribution of Senator McGrath. We have seen in recent times revelations from the New South Wales ICAC, which has heard allegations that illegal political donations have been funnelled to the New South Wales Liberal Party via various slush funds. In the last few months, as we are all aware, we have seen the resignations of former New South Wales Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell and two New South Wales Liberal cabinet ministers.

I refer to an article by Neil Chenoweth of the Australian Financial Review of 7 May where he says:

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 scandal does call into question the integrity of politicians and, in particular, politicians of the Liberal persuasion. It calls into question the integrity of our political finance laws.

And while I am talking about political finance laws, I also make the point that the Greens have a somewhat inconsistent position on this particular issue. In Senator Whish-Wilson's contribution, he talked about the issue of corporate donations. We know that the Greens had a dissenting report on the funding of political parties and election campaigns. They said that businesses should be banned from making donations to political parties. The dissenting report said:

It is disappointing that the inquiry rejected the opportunity to place caps on election expenditure, to place a total ban on corporate donations …

Under 'A ban on all donations except from individuals and bequests', it said:

The best way to restore trust in the democratic process is to restrict political donations to only those made by individuals and bequests. This would ban businesses and lobby groups from using donations to push an agenda while allowing individuals on the electoral roll to give a limited amount of money.

That is from the dissenting report.

That may have been the Greens position; however, we know that the Greens did accept a $1.6 million donation from Mr Graeme Wood, the founder of online travel company Wotif. As I understand it, this was the largest ever political donation in Australian history. Mr Wood made a comment to the Herald before the release of the Greens campaign figures. The article said:

… Mr Wood said his donation was motivated by disappointment with Labor and Coalition policies on climate change and the environment.

I accept that the Greens party are well-meaning in bringing this matter before the Senate, but we do need to understand that there are some inconsistencies in their approach. I note that Senator Rhiannon did raise this issue and that led to her apologising to the Greens with regard to a particular article that was published in 2012.

I believe that Labor has a proud record in this area, particularly in my home state of Queensland. I need to go back to the dark days of the late eighties to talk about the situation in Queensland at that point in time. The fact was that Queensland was seen as the laughing stock of Australia in terms of transparency and accountability at a government level. We had people referred to as the 'white shoe brigade' and we had people who seemed to have unfettered access to the decision makers in government. There was a great need at that time for reform. To his credit, the then acting Queensland Premier Bill Gunn, in May 1987, ordered a commission of inquiry after the media reported possible police corruption involving illegal gambling and prostitution. We know Tony Fitzgerald QC was appointed to lead the commission of inquiry into possible illegal activities and associated police misconduct. This, as we know, became known as the Fitzgerald inquiry.

During the inquiry, the terms of reference were extended to 'look into any other matter or thing appertaining to the aforesaid matters', which then enabled the inquiry to investigate matters of political corruption. That inquiry was initially expected to last about six weeks, but ended up taking two years, conducting a comprehensive investigation of long-term, systemic political corruption and the abuse of power in Queensland. There were 238 sitting days and 339 witnesses focusing attention in Queensland and throughout Australia on integrity and accountability in public office. That inquiry went on and it was in 1989 that we saw a change of government in the state of Queensland. Wayne Goss became the Premier of Queensland and it was left to Labor to implement the recommendations of the Fitzgerald inquiry.

Some of the things that were found by the Fitzgerald inquiry included that we had a police commissioner who was cultivated by the premier of the day and promoted to assistant commissioner over 122 equal or more senior officers. He was a police commissioner who was corrupt and who fostered a web of deceit; this was so mired in the police service it became part of its culture. The same police commissioner's trial saw him sentenced to 14 years for taking more than $600,000 in protection money. We saw a system of corruption so widespread it extended from brothel owners and hoteliers right through to the police service. It was so widespread it had its own name; it was perversely called 'the Joke'. We heard about a police officer by the name of Jack Herbert, who was known as the bagman. He was collecting payments from smugglers and other unsavoury characters.

The Fitzgerald inquiry did allow sunshine to pour in, and that was a great disinfectant for the state of Queensland. What was then created in the state of Queensland following the inquiry included the institutions that take their genesis from that inquiry: the Crime and Misconduct Commission, freedom of information laws, the Electoral and Administrative Reform Commission, the Whistleblower Protection Act and the all-party parliamentary committees overseeing those systems.

It is testament to the ability and determination of Wayne Goss that he worked and prevailed against the gerrymander that existed in Queensland at that time and which led to his historic victory. It is testament to the integrity of his government that set about cleaning up the place in an anticorruption drive, the likes of which we are unlikely to see. That led to a far more open and transparent system in Queensland. Of course we know that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We must always be focused on what is happening.

Unfortunately, we have seen a bit of a return to type in recent years. There was the election of the Campbell Newman government in 2012 with a substantial majority and we then saw the government last year use its massive majority to sack the cross-party committee that oversees the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee. The original committee had been investigating whether the Acting Chairman of the Crime and Misconduct Commission, Ken Levy, had acted appropriately and whether he gave misleading evidence about his contact with the government before he wrote a newspaper article that was backing the controversial new bikie laws. As I said, the government overnight used its massive majority to sack that cross-party committee. The committee previously had an Independent MP, Liz Cunningham, on it. She was sacked, along with the six other members of the cross-party committee. They were replaced with Liberal National Party members of parliament, who then went on to hold four of the seven sports. Of those four, the member for Capalaba became the chairman at the time.

This goes to illustrate the point that we do need to be ever vigilant in this area. We have seen examples of where governments have essentially taken the law into their own hands in these types of situations. The position I would put tonight in respect of the Greens' proposal is that Labor are open to considering a federal ICAC. In fact, Labor have never objected to a federal ICAC in principle. Our concern is that there has been no clear case for the necessity of such a body. The last Labor government were 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 that would make it easier to prevent, detect and respond to corruption. We strongly supported existing anticorruption agencies—the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. In fact, we took a national anticorruption plan to the last election, a plan which I note the Abbott government has taken no action on.

So Labor are open to considering a federal ICAC. If there is any serious question of significant corruption in the federal sphere, we are open to the full suite of measures that are necessary to restore public trust. A standing anticorruption body at the federal level does deserve some consideration, but we believe there should be full and proper consideration of a range of options.

At this point I would like to refer to the fact that in the Senate we have important checks and balances in this area. I am relatively new to the Senate and I have started participating in a number of Senate committees. I have been very impressed with the level of proficiency of those committees and with both the level of dedication of the senators and members who participate in those committees and the work that is done in the secretariat. People generally are not well aware of one of the principal functions of the Senate—and I am referring to Odgers' Australian Senate Practice, which states:

… perhaps more important than the functions of making laws and debating matters of public interest, is to conduct inquiries into such matters of public interest and into the conduct of government.

So there are very robust systems in place for us to investigate a whole range of issues. As I said, I am very impressed with the robustness of the Senate committee system. In fact, that system does have some teeth. Again Odgers' Australian Senate Practicesays:

If evidence contains allegations of criminal conduct, and those allegations could be investigated, or contains matter relevant to a criminal investigation in progress, the committee may invite the submittor to provide the evidence to the police or other investigating authority. If the evidence contains matter relevant to a criminal trial or a civil action in progress, the submittor may be invited to have the evidence put before the courts.

So the Senate committee process is very robust and is one of the protections that, I think, Australians should be aware of. It forms part of this suite of measures which act to ensure that corruption does not ever gain a foothold. In my time with the committees, we have received information from people who could be referred to as whistleblowers and, of course, those submissions or items of correspondence are appropriately dealt with. I think the people of Australia can have great confidence that there is already in place a mechanism for them to address issues of official corruption, if that is what they want to do.

In summing up, as I indicated before, Labor is open to considering a federal ICAC. It may well be an appropriate measure, but we do believe that there should be proper consideration of all the options. Labor has a longstanding commitment to a full suite of anticorruption measures at the federal level. We must be careful to take a holistic view about that. We must think about the broad suite of integrity measures. We would say there is no one panacea.

5:39 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to say I am quite proud to stand up here today and speak to this important integrity measure. Listening to the debate that has occurred throughout this important motion, I have been encouraged that the debate has been conducted respectfully and that we have heard a range of views expressed. I have to say I would like to welcome the Labor Party's interest in this issue and its openness on any future discussion around the establishment of a federal anticorruption body. It is just so important. I have only been here a very short time, but what has become obvious to me is that politicians are faced with enormous pressures. When you are debating legislation and regulations which have serious financial impacts, when you are involved in those sorts of debates, the pressure that comes to bear from lobbyists, from vested interests and from individuals and organisations with very deep pockets who may have a financial stake in the outcome of that legislation or regulation, is enormous.

I have seen that occur through a number of debates. I have seen that occur, for example, over the mining tax in the previous parliament. I was personally involved in a debate on poker machine reform where we saw enormous pressure come to bear on politicians of all persuasions. I am not for a moment suggesting that there was anything corrupt about any of those activities, but the very nature of those debates does bring enormous pressure to bear on politicians from those people with a financial stake in the decision. We need to recognise that. We need to recognise that sometimes in those circumstances people make bad decisions. We have seen very recently in New South Wales—and, obviously, there has been much discussion about the situation in New South Wales—what can happen when we establish some level of oversight with a body that has the powers to investigate and, if necessary, refer people on to prosecutions. It is a very relevant example as to why we are having this debate right now.

I would just like to refer to the contribution earlier from Senator McGrath, who said he felt that people did not want another level of bureaucracy and that, generally, there was a high level of trust in politics and politicians. I do not live in that world, I have to say. I live in a world where it seems to me that politicians and politics, in general, are held in very low regard. I think the public attitude towards politicians is at a very low ebb at the moment, and I think the recent investigations and subsequent findings in the New South Wales probe have contributed to that. But one thing that has come out of that is that the Australia community is at least aware that, where people have transgressed there is a penalty associated with it. The case in New South Wales just presents a very compelling argument for why we need a federal body with similar powers.

It is true that most of the instances that have been picked up are around planning and zoning issues—approvals for particular developments, and so on. They are state and local government issues. But it is also true that what we have also seen are examples where there have been—or at least it appears there have been—sophisticated mechanisms established to get around those state planning laws, and they have involved federal members of parliament. Again, highlighting just how important it is to ensure that we have oversight, it exists not just at the state level but at the federal level. Ultimately, that corruption is corrosive. It seeps into all levels of administration and governance. The existence of corruption breeds more corruption. It breeds a level of mistrust and it undermines the work that we are all doing here.

Every state in the country has an anticorruption watchdog or some such body in operation and they all have the capacity to investigate misconduct, whether it be politicians, government officers or indeed members of the judiciary. Simply saying that we support an anticorruption body at a federal level is not enough. We know from the examples in different states where we see a body working effectively such as in New South Wales, where it really is exposing behaviours that are not acceptable. In my home state of Victoria, we have an anticorruption body that is essentially toothless and there is now a very live debate in the lead-up to a state election that is discussing what sorts of reforms need to occur to our own state anticorruption watchdog.

It is encouraging to hear the position of the Labor Party. I note that back in 2011 we had a Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and that actually proposed a significant review of the Commonwealth's integrity framework, and it did recommend the creation of an anticorruption body. So it is a surprise now that here we are three years later revisiting that issue. I also note that former Prime Minister Gillard promised a National Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner, but again we have not seen much progress on that front.

There is an argument, and I understand that argument, that we have a number of existing checks and balances and that they alone should be sufficient. But the existence of a national anticorruption watchdog does not mean that we should not continue to strengthen those existing checks and balances—the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police. They are important but they are not as robust as having a stand-alone, independent watchdog. They just cannot achieve what an ICAC can.

Of course there is always the option for a royal commission and we have heard from a number of speakers about the impact of royal commissions in Queensland and in Western Australia. What we have to remember is that a royal commission only occurs when there is a referral by a government. So it is self-evident that where a government is determined to ensure that we do not have transparency into the operations of politicians, the public service and the judiciary, it is their decision and their decision alone to make. While there is the option for a royal commission with the powers that exist there, and they have been effective in the past, they are only effective when they are implemented by the government of the day. They exist only at the discretion of the government.

It is not just about detecting corrupt activities and it is not just about the investigative powers and the subsequent referrals; it is also about the very existence of such a body working as a deterrent. Earlier this month, Dr Gabrielle Appleby, Deputy Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit at the University of Adelaide, wrote:

The very act of establishing a dedicated anti-corruption body is a meaningful public acknowledgement by government that the corruption, either systemic or opportunistic, is a problem that must be taken seriously. By fostering greater awareness and education, the introduction of a new body also provides an important moment around which cultural change within government can occur. A dedicated anti-corruption body provides a means of discovering corruption across all facets of government and parliamentary administration. It provides systemic oversight, education and coordination for the existing mechanisms.

So a body such as a federal ICAC can actually work to strengthen the existing integrity measures that we have in place at the moment.

I think there is some irony that we are in the middle of a national debate where we are talking about the issue of individual protections and security, where we are talking about ensuring public safety, and we are here right now debating the question really of protection and security for the Australian community. There is security in knowing that the decisions we make in this place—and it is easy to lose sight of this—affect the lives of ordinary people. There is a huge responsibility on each and every one of us, and people deserve to have the protection of knowing that those decisions have been made free from influences that may mean that individuals stand to gain financially from a particular outcome. That is an important form of protection. That is an important form of security. Individual members of the community absolutely deserve it. We, here, are making the laws of the land and there can be no greater security than knowing that the laws we make in this place are made for reasons of public interest rather than self-interest.

It is also ironic that sometimes one of the arguments used in the national security debate is: if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. It is an argument that applies on this specific issue. Each and every one of us need to know that if we have done nothing wrong, if we have not behaved in a corrupt manner then we should not reject this change and we should embrace it. I say to the government, if you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear from this and you should embrace it.

Ultimately, we are at an important moment in this debate. I believe that there is public momentum from within the community for change. Many of us in this place, and I think this is true of all sides, acknowledge that what has happened recently in New South Wales has had an impact on all of us—that it has damaged the reputation and standing of politicians no matter where they sit and no matter what jurisdiction they are involved in. Where corruption exists it is a cancer on our democracy and it must be stamped out. I do not pretend that this solution alone will fix it, but it makes an important contribution to dealing with what is one of the most precious things that we have as Australian citizens, and that is the strength of our national democracy.

5:53 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the five or six minutes I have left to me I will not have the opportunity of discussing at length the merits or otherwise of the proposal. Suffice it to say that were such a commission in existence, the first investigation might be the investigation into Mr Graham Wood's biggest ever political donation to the Greens political party a few years ago. Senators might remember that Mr Wood gave, I think it was, something like $1.5 million to the Greens political party. The Greens in Tasmania, as I remember the incident—and my memory is not all that good, it was a few years ago now—then did something in the Tasmanian parliament in relation to the Triabunna wood mill and port to assist Mr Wood in taking control of that site to the exclusion of the timber industry. The Greens then set up an inquiry in the federal parliament to try to get tax-free exemption for an online newspaper that Mr Graeme Wood was setting up as a commercial entity. The Greens advocated that Mr Wood should be given a tax-free status.

One would wonder just what the New South Wales ICAC might have said about that little cosy deal in the Tasmanian parliament and in the federal parliament at the time that Mr Wood gave that biggest ever political donation to any political party in Australia, and that was to the Greens political party.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I seek a ruling. Standing orders prevent senators from imputing the motives of other senators. Senator McDonald has been here longer than I have, and I ask for your ruling. If you believe that Senator Macdonald has crossed the line in imputing that a donation was effectively paid as a bribe in exchange for certain kinds of parliamentary behaviours, I ask that this entire monologue be withdrawn.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, on the point of order—and this cuts in, of course, to the few minutes I have to speak—if Senator Ludlam thinks I am imputing bribery, well let that be in the eye of the beholder. I did not say those words.

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you Senator Macdonald. I will have the President review the transcript and, if there is anything in it, I will seek his direction on the matter.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I might point out to those who might be listening on a Thursday afternoon that there is a tactic of the Greens political party. They would tell you they are so keen on free speech, but they will take frivolous points of order just to stop me in the few minutes that I have left to make my contribution on this important motion before the time for the debate elapses. I might just say to Senator Ludlam in passing, I did not mention the word 'bribery', you mentioned that. But I do tell you this, Senator Ludlam, some of my colleagues in this chamber have actually used that word in years gone by. I do not recall you taking the point of order then. That is because a closer investigation into what happened with Mr Graeme Wood and this largest ever political donation to the Greens political party—at the time he was negotiating with the then Labor-Greens government in Tasmania about the Triabunna mill site—was all a little bit interesting. Then, lo and behold, at the same time we had this move by the Greens political party, by former Senator Bob Brown, to try to get a tax-free status for Mr Wood's new creation of an online newspaper.

I only have a few minutes left and my colleagues have gone into the substantive parts of the motion and I will too if I can. I noticed a lot of the Labor Party contributions mentioning alleged corruption against the Liberal Party. I could not help myself laughing. I come from Queensland. In Queensland we have Mr Gordon Nuttall, a minister in the Queensland Labor government actually serving time for bribery and corruption. For the Labor Party to even mention corruption in Queensland is just gobsmacking, I must say. Add to that, Karen Ehrmann, a poor old Labor councillor from the Townsville City Council, who was also jailed for fraud. Then, of course, you have Keith Wright, once upon a time the leader of the Labor Party in Queensland in jail; or he may be out by now, I am not sure. But he was in jail for certain offences. Then there was Mr Bill D'Arcy, a serving minister in the Queensland government serving time for some criminal activities. Of course, we have Mr Mike Kaiser who Senator Conroy appointed to a $500,000 job with the NBN as a government lobbying representative by NBN to lobby the government that set it up—it was just amazing. That was 500,000 Mr Kaiser got. I only mentioned Mr Kaiser because, as my Queensland friends will know, Mr Kaiser had to leave the Queensland parliament where he was a state member because of allegations of corruption, vote rigging and fraud. So for the Labor Party to raise these issues in this chamber is amazing. I do not have time to go into— (Time expired)