Thursday, 9 February 2017
National Integrity Commission Bill 2013; Second Reading
Senator Fifield, in consultation with the Clerk, I am thinking about what you have just interjected to Senator McKim. The appropriate time would have been before we called upon business. I am in the hands of the Senate. If the Senate does not wish for you to be heard in the manner that you have been heard, then we will proceed with business. If the Senate wishes for you to be availed of the opportunity to seek leave, I am in the hands of the Senate.
As the Manager of Government Business has pointed out, we have now embarked upon the consideration of the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. This is not really a question of seeking to suspend standing orders, because we are embarked upon the consideration of a particular listed item of business. If Senator McKim wanted to seek leave to make a statement, he should have sought leave before we had embarked upon the business. We have now embarked upon the business. When that business is concluded in the orderly conduct of the Senate, that is the time for Senator McKim to seek leave to make a statement.
Could I seek your guidance, please, Mr President. I accept your ruling, obviously, on this matter. Could you advise me whether I can now move to suspend standing orders, or do I have an option to ask that the consideration of private members business be put aside in order that I can either seek leave or move to suspend standing orders?
I understand what you are asking, Senator McKim. No, you cannot. You can do things between items of business, but we have embarked upon an item of business and clearly you did not rise in your seat until after I had called upon the Clerk to call on business. There was opportunity prior to that for you to do that. But at other times during the day there will be junctures where you could take that course of action and seek leave to make a comment or statements. What course of action you take, whether that leave is granted or not, is a matter for you. I have called the Clerk, we have moved on to business and I call the first speaker.
I thank Senator Rhiannon for bringing this bill forward. It is entirely appropriate given what happened over the summer recess and the incredible series of indignities that the public has been exposed to. This is an incredibly important issue. We are all aware, no matter what side of politics we are on—but we are keenly aware of it up here, on the crossbench—that public confidence in parliament and parliamentarians is at an all time low. Certainly, I have been working in this building for a little over 10 years and I have never known a time when contempt for the conduct of MPs at a state and federal level has been higher. That is something that everybody who works in this building needs to bear a measure of responsibility for. We in the Australian Greens are aware that there are things that we can do to lead by example that can help restore a measure of confidence. One of those things that the Greens have been pursuing essentially for as long as we have been a political party is a national anti-corruption commission.
I want to talk a little bit about the Western Australian context in a moment, but firstly I want to go through a little bit of the history and remind senators of how long this issue has been running for. In 2010, Greens Senator Bob Brown introduced the National Integrity Commissioner Bill. In 2012 our member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, introduced a similar bill into the House of Representatives. In 2013 Senator Christine Milne introduced a National Integrity Commission Bill. In 2015 Senator Rhiannon introduced a motion calling for a national anti-corruption body and political donations reform. I can remember sitting here on the crossbench and having that motion voted down by the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. If my memory serves me, a substantial number of crossbenchers supported the Greens and of course the major parties did not. In 2016 Senator Rhiannon reintroduced the National Integrity Commission Bill. How long is this debate going to need to run for? We have been prosecuting this case in here for more than a decade. The public support for a measure of this sort has never been higher. We are elected in here to represent the public interest, not to line our own pockets and not to set up future career paths in the mining industry, the banking sector or the gambling industry. We are here to serve the public interest. There would probably be a substantial number of people listening to this broadcast or checking in online who are choking over their coffee at the idea that that is what politicians come in here to do. What better way to begin to restore confidence in the work that is done in here than a national anticorruption commission?
I will take an interjection from Senator Rhiannon if she is able to remind me how many New South Wales politicians were eventually prosecuted or went to jail.
I do not actually believe any Greens MP at any level of parliament or local government, state or federal, has ever suffered the kind of indignity and accusations of corruption that your side of politics, Senator Macdonald, and the Labor side of politics have been subjected to.
Order! Senator Macdonald and Senator Siewert, order!
Senator Siewert interjecting—
Order, Senator Siewert! Senators, if you wish to have a discussion about this across the chamber, leave the chamber and do it outside. Senator Ludlam has the call. Senator Ludlam, you may continue.
Thanks, President. Going to Western Australia, a little bit before my time in politics, WA Inc is a name that probably lives on in infamy, when the stench of corruption in the state Labor government, going back into the 1980s and 1990s, became impossible to ignore. The government was eventually rolled out of office on that basis.
I acknowledge that the practice of anticorruption commissions at a state level is extremely uneven and there is not really consistency in the way that these commissions operate, but we know that a major missing piece of the architecture is that no such thing exists at a federal level. The Australian Greens' proposal has been on the Hansard for more than 10 years, if senators would care to go back and analyse what it is that we have been proposing, but I will just remind senators—
Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
I am sorry, Senator Collins? People are so rowdy this morning, President. I do not know if I am being unusually provocative.
I am doing my best here. The proposal that the Greens have put forward and that Senator Rhiannon has put on the Notice Paper today is effectively a threefold body: a law enforcement integrity commissioner—so effectively taking the existing Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and rolling it into a body that will then incorporate a national integrity commissioner and an independent parliamentary adviser. The independent parliamentary adviser, you would imagine, would be the sort of person who would advise—before the fact rather than after—on helicopter charters, for example, or trips to polo matches, or taxpayer funded trips to weddings in India, or the various other disgraceful activities through which MPs in this building have eventually had their careers terminated—not through any kind of due process but effectively by public outrage. We saw it happen with the health minister over the summer break: pad out your investment portfolio with spontaneous purchases of investment properties on the Gold Coast—a brilliant idea!—and then have the taxpayer pick up the tab for the flights, the Comcars and whatever else.
These are the sorts of activities that MPs can avoid finding themselves enmeshed in if you have an independent parliamentary adviser. I do not believe the helicopter charters from Mrs Bishop or the taxpayer funded investment property splurge are grey areas at all, but anybody who has spent any time in here would be aware that there are grey areas around the use of entitlements, or the fact that they are even called entitlements at all. All of us from time to time could use somebody—an independent umpire on the end of the phone line—to ring up and say, 'I don't know about this; is this within the rules or not?' So an independent parliamentary adviser is a really important part of this.
The third body, obviously, is a national integrity commissioner. That is where the rubber hits the road. That is where you discover the kind of activities that destroyed a Labor government in WA and that have so disfigured politics in New South Wales. I think probably all of us representing the states and territories around the country would be very well aware that there is no level of government that has not from time to time been tainted with a hint—or a lot more than a hint—of corruption. Why would we imagine, as a government senator—I forget exactly who it was—tried to put to us yesterday, that at the Commonwealth tier of government, dealing with enormous sums of money and with very close contacts between ministers and industry and diaries that are not released into the public domain, we would be somehow magically immune? I think it is absolutely essential that we have this final—or not final but important—piece of institutional architecture, a corruption oversight body looking after what goes on in this chamber and in the other place just across the building.
I want to come to a couple of examples that are much closer to home. It was rather extraordinary again to hear a government spokesperson yesterday tell us we do not need a national anticorruption watchdog and it is better if this sort of thing is diffused throughout the Public Service. The minister is effectively saying, 'We'd rather nobody was in charge; we'd rather there was nobody where the buck stopped to keep an eye on this, unearth corruption, be able to take evidence and be able to be the person where the buck stops.' They would rather that that be diffused and that it not really be anybody's responsibility. I do not know if it is the first time that that form of argument has been run, but I found it peculiar and entirely unconvincing.
An example of where I think we could use this kind of body is in the Western Australian context. You will be aware, because Senator Siewert and I have been raising this matter for many years—as have Senator Lines and Senator Sterle—of the matter of the Perth Freight Link, the so-called Roe 8 extension back in Western Australia. It was announced very suddenly by the Liberal government right before the 2013 federal election. It is one of these dead dogs of a policy from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott that is still stinking up the place. There is WestConnex, there is the East West Link and there is Roe Highway. It is one of those kinds of zombie policies, a tremendously expensive one, that refuses to fall over. That was $1.2 billion of Australian taxpayers' money committed on a whim, effectively signed off on the back of an envelope by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with no business case and no public cost-benefit analysis.
And, what do you know, the contract has been awarded—by the state government, I should say, not the Commonwealth—to a consortium of companies led by Leighton Holdings. I do not know if this was anything to do with brand damage, but they renamed themselves CIMIC a little while ago. They are a massive donor to the Liberal Party. Leighton have donated nearly $700,000 to the WA Liberal and National parties. That buys a lot of TV time, doesn't it? That buys a lot of access. That buys a lot of quiet conversations. These old private-school networks, old boys clubs, are greased by a $700,000 political donation—all above board, nothing illegal. That is $700,000 to the Liberal and National parties.
This is a corporation that is bidding for a massive government contract. So, for your $700,000—entirely above board—you can go in to bid for a $1.2 billion engineering and construction contracts. That is a clear conflict of interest. No wonder trust in the institutions, with that queasy interface between commerce and politics, is at an all-time low.
We think that it is time to ban political donations from for-profit corporations. I know that is going to cause a degree of hyperventilation from the other end of the chamber because it is that money that helped put you here, but we think that these things should be banned. Leighton is a $6.3 billion company; it runs mining, construction and engineering projects all around the globe; and it has been described as company where corrupt practices were absolutely endemic. Highly paid senior executives used a range of bribery techniques, including kickbacks to subcontractors, special payments to procure contracts, and facilitation payments. So, while these bribery incidents occurred overseas, Leighton's involvement with Australian government funded projects has been questioned. Who would you put these kinds of questions to? At the moment, there is nobody. There is nobody that you can put these kinds of questions to.
As I said, Leighton now operate under the name of CIMIC, after corruption allegations came to light in 2013. So that's fine—just change the name! We do not know whether those practices have changed, whether the corporate culture has changed or whether these kinds of under-the-table activities are occurring here in Australia, because there is nobody tasked to find out.
In 2013, The Sydney Morning Herald reported 'Building giant Leighton rife with corruption', and they disclosed evidence of massive bribery and corruption in the way that contracts were being won around the world—most notoriously, the multimillion-dollar kickbacks paid to win contracts in Iraq, which were later investigated by the Australian Federal Police. As recently as 31 January of this year, the Herald reported 'Building giant Leighton rife with corruption', and I want to quote from that article:
In revelations that will cause international embarrassment for Australia and raise questions about the role of the nation's corporate watchdog, the files expose plans to pay alleged multimillion-dollar kickbacks in Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere, along with other serious corporate misconduct.
Hundreds of confidential company documents, obtained during a six-month Fairfax Media investigation, also reveal a culture of rewarding corruption or incompetence, and abysmal corporate governance in what looms as the worst recent case of corporate corruption involving a major Australian firm.
So they can throw down $700,000 here in Australia and, as if by magic, through some black-box tendering process that is shrouded in commercial-in-confidence—this parliament has not been able to assess exactly why that contract was won or whether the contract represents value for money—they nailed down a $1.2 billion construction contract for a completely pointless road, a freight highway through an important wetland area, an area of enormous significance to Aboriginal people, an area of very high neighbourhood amenity, an area that has being dubbed the Kings Park of the south. Anybody from Western Australia will know that this is an area of extraordinary biodiversity and of extraordinary value to the community, and it is being torn in half, effectively, by this project.
I want to acknowledge Senator Rhiannon's work, particularly on the Democracy for Sale site. In many ways, our New South Wales colleagues are a bit ahead of the curve, presumably because—knowing a little bit about the way politics have worked in New South Wales in the past—it has been essential that the New South Wales Greens have held the major parties to account, partly because the institutions have not really been there to do so. The Greens have been a really important part, in New South Wales and elsewhere around the country, of holding the major parties to account and trying to throw some sunlight on that interface between corporations, commerce and the political tier.
This weekend, the launch of the Greens WA state election campaign is underway, and I am very proud to foreshadow an announcement that my colleagues will be making on integrity in government—
because in WA we know that vested interest groups and wealthy powerbrokers have been able to undermine and influence our democratic system. It is one of the reasons people are fleeing the major parties in droves, including your party, Senator Macdonald. I do not know whether you snoozed through that part of the memo, but you lot are really on the nose, and confidence in government, confidence in the Liberal and National parties, is at an all-time low.
For example, there is the aggressive attack that the mining lobby has thrown into the field against the proposal to increase royalties in Western Australia. The mining industry wields extraordinary power. We saw that in the way that they damaged and ultimately destroyed the prime ministership of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Meanwhile, the government are abusing freedom-of-information requests; they hide behind commercial-in-confidence excuses to keep out of the public eye these slimy deals that they make.
The Greens believe that a resilient democracy depends on all levels of government being transparent about how these decisions are made. That includes this tier of government. I am looking forward to coalition spokespeople standing up to tell us why there is nothing to see here and why they do not feel the need for an anticorruption watchdog at a Commonwealth level. I am really looking forward to that. Please go ahead, those on the coalition side—because I understand that, after 20 years of campaigning by the Australian Greens, the Labor Party ship, like that oil tanker at sea, may be slowly turning.
I remember being told by the coalition side when we were debating mandatory data retention that, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Do you remember that? Anybody complaining about overwhelmingly intrusive government surveillance was told, 'If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.' I think at a personal level, as far as personal privacy is concerned, that argument is completely hollow but, in terms of powerful institutions and in terms of governments writing cheques for billions of dollars at a time to their mates in the construction industry, to oil and gas companies, to engineering companies and to developers, what is it that you have to fear?
I am reasonably sure that when you stand up and try to run counterarguments to this incredibly sensible and longstanding proposal by Senator Rhiannon you are going to tell us that you have nothing to hide. Well then let us see. Let us get these cards on the table. Let us have a national anticorruption watchdog to do the kind of job that is being done in New South Wales and has done so much good, not necessarily to restore confidence in politics and the rule of law but at least to raise the bar to corruption and to increase transparency so that people doing these slimy deals behind closed doors are aware that there may be some consequences. It is about time that those consequences fell due at a Commonwealth level.
My contempt knows no end for parliamentarians who use this cowards' castle to play the populous game to further their own careers by innuendo, making claims against individual Australians, corporations and colleagues in this place. We have just heard such a speech. It would be very easy for me to join the populist bandwagon and refer, as some of the lazy media did, to Senator Siewert's travel expenses. I was the first to defend Senator Siewert because she, after me, is one of the hardest-working parliamentarians in this place. She is the chair or the deputy chair of several committees. Her travel expenses are large, but, hang on, she happens to live in Perth and represent Western Australia. Of course, to get to Canberra she has to fly a lot. I know I rarely agree with Senator Siewert, but I do acknowledge she is one of the most committed and hardworking politicians here.
One of the others who were attacked by the populist press—and supported by people like Senator Ludlam, no doubt—was the member for Lingiari. His travel expenses are high. Well, what a surprise. He lives in Darwin. He represents the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. He comes to Canberra half of the year to do what he is paid to do. Of course his travel expenses are high.
It is easy for politicians and lazy journalists to make these complaints by innuendo. I challenge Senator Ludlam. He spent 20 minutes denigrating Australian citizens, Australian corporations and politicians. If he has one skerrick, one iota, one little bit, of evidence, please refer it to the existing watchdog. Jason Clare, a Labor member of parliament, said in 2012:
ACLEI has the powers of a standing Royal Commission. It has the power to coerce people to give evidence, to hold public hearings, to execute search warrants, to tap phones and to conduct digital and physical surveillance and it has used these powers in this case—
in the case he was talking about. If Senator Ludlam has just one skerrick of evidence to back up the disgraceful, dishonest speech that he has just made, he should go and see ACLEI. If he is too stupid to find their phone number, I will give it to him. I will text it to him.
I withdraw 'stupid'. If he is so base that he cannot find the phone number of ACLEI, I will text it to him. Australia already has zero tolerance to corruption in all of its forms and so does particularly this government. We do not support the Craig Thomsons of this world. We are determined to have zero tolerance to corruption.
We have strong laws and a robust, multiagency approach to combating corruption. A range of agencies play a role in preventing, detecting and responding to corruption. We have ACLEI, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which I have already mentioned. The AFP-hosted fraud and anticorruption centre brings together a range of Commonwealth agencies to respond to serious fraud and corruption matters, including government services, programs and employees. The Commonwealth provided an additional $15 million to that centre in April last year under the coalition government. This framework provides significant coverage of fraud and corruption across Australian government agencies, with particular focus on areas of high corruption risk.
I do not cast aspersions or innuendos on anyone, but in the exchange I had with Senator Siewert earlier I raised the issue of the missing bundle of votes in Western Australia from the last Senate election. What happened to them? I know you do not know, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, neither, unfortunately, do the Australian Federal Police, although in their evidence to the electoral matters committee—
Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Macdonald is going into I think very dangerous territory. He is about to make certain accusations. It is unparliamentary and I ask you to ask him not to go there.
Senator Siewert, I have just walked in and sat in the chair. I have heard about two sentences from Senator Macdonald. I can consult with the clerks, but at this stage I am not going to. I am going to give Senator Macdonald the call and I will take it from there.
That was the most curious point of order I have ever heard. Senator Siewert was interpreting what I am going to say next.
Senator Siewert interjecting—
You are making a point of order on something that you think, in your funny mind, I might be about to say. I had finished my comments on the 2013 election. All I will say is that the Federal Police indicated to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that there was certainly something wrong but they were unable to find out why. I might say, Senator Siewert, after defending you—and I will continue to defend you because I know you are honest and I know you work incredibly hard—that you will never find me taking a cheap shot at you over that. I will take a shot at some of your hypocritical policies, yes, but not—
You always know when you are making a point that the Greens are embarrassed about, because they will make those ridiculous points of order simply to curtail me. I will not go into the matter of the largest single donation to any political party in the history of Australia.
Hang on—Malcolm Turnbull puts his own money in his own re-election. I did not want to mention Mr Wood's name, but the biggest single donation to a political party ever in Australian history went to the Greens political party. I happen to be on a committee where the then Greens leader sought to get an exemption from some form of Commonwealth tax for those who might want to set up an online newspaper. I am not going to join the dots together on which person it was that was trying to do that. I will just say that I wish ACLEI had been around at the time.
So we have these holier-than-thou people come here, casting aspersions by innuendo, but can I tell them I have good news for them. The government has announced a bill coming forward shortly to set up an authority to oversee parliamentary allowances. I am sure the Greens will support the amendment that I will be moving to that bill. I, not the government, will be moving the amendment to that bill to include public servants in the same authority.
I very rarely read The Canberra Times, but I saw an editorial in The Canberra Times. It was published just the other day, but it was referring to editorial from last month. It is called 'Time to expose bureaucrats' wayward spending, too?' and it has the subheading 'Transparency'. I make the point that I have found every Commonwealth bureaucrat that I have ever had dealings with—and I had some very close dealings when I was a minister, and in estimates since—to be incredibly dedicated, incredibly honest, very transparent and great servants of the Australian people. But the bureaucracy is enormous, and you only have to read this article in The Canberra Times to realise that there should be, perhaps, the same accountability and openness for the hundreds of thousands, certainly tens of thousands, of Commonwealth bureaucrats who help govern Australia. There are infinitely more than there are politicians in this chamber, most of whom have infinitely more power and spending capability than anyone in Parliament House. So I would think that it is time to widen the net—perhaps to the judiciary as well, perhaps to some of these tribunals and perhaps to institutions and statutory authorities like the Human Rights Commission. Maybe we should have the same transparency from them, but we never hear from the Greens. We never hear that too often from the Labor Party either, I might say, but what a good idea.
I am quite certain, after hearing Senator Ludlam, that he will be seconding my amendment when I bring it to this chamber. I suspect there are not going to be too many on my side to second it, but I am sure after that rousing speech by Senator Ludlam that he and his party will be supporting the extension of this parliamentarians oversight committee to the Public Service. I notice Senator Ludlam and the Greens are all of a sudden finding something very important to talk about and will not listen to this, but let me have your assurance that I will have your support in moving this amendment.
Australia has consistently been ranked by Transparency International as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. That is because we have these institutions. We have accountability and openness among parliamentarians that, quite frankly, is beyond understanding. There is even this great battle, which the shadow Attorney-General seems to be fixated on, about wanting parliamentarians to indicate to the world who they see, what they see, when they see them, where they are going to be and where they have been. It is great news for a would-be criminal or someone who is intent on criminal activity against parliamentarians, under the guise of accountability. This parliament is where you call ministers to account. This parliament is where you ask them what they have been doing or where they have been doing it. The shadow Attorney-General seems fixated—dare I use that terminology—on exposing the activities of the Attorney-General. Mind you, the Attorney-General is the minister in charge of security in this nation, and the shadow Attorney-General wants his diary to be made public. I guess it will not be long before mine is asked for too—although you do not have to worry about mine; I put on Facebook where I am going to be all the time. That is no secret.
This Greens bill is again an action by a party that is falling in the polls. Those of us who have been around a long time have seen the Democrats come and go; we have seen One Nation come and go and come back, and it will go again; and we have seen the Greens come and I predicted sometime ago that they would go in Europe, and they are going, and I predicted sometime ago that they would go in Australia, and they are on the downward climb now. They used to attract a bit of a protest vote from those who did not like the government, who did not like the Labor Party, but I am sorry, guys in the Greens—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—that protest vote is now going to One Nation and we will, fortunately, see the end of the hypocrisy in a policy sense of the Greens political party. Australia will be a better place for that.
The Greens are trying to maintain what little support they hold around Australia—around eight per cent at last call, and going southwards—by jumping on the populist bandwagon: every politician, and particularly the Liberal politicians in the Western Australian government, are all bad. Senator Ludlam, who is really the far left extension of the Labor Party—I pity the Labor Party for that; I am sorry you have to bow to their wishes—forgot to mention all the Labor politicians in jail for very serious offences. But that is the Greens way. You will never hear Senator Rhiannon attack Labor Party politicians, even though in her state there are enormous numbers she could be attacking. Your own political leaning, and your own populist approach to matters, prevents you from doing that, and it shows the dishonesty of the argument of the Greens political party.
Good heavens, I would not have guessed that without hearing Senator Ludlam's first speech—always there for broadcast day, always there when he thinks he might be able to resurrect or retain some of the few people who vote for the Greens political party. I think Australians are waking up to the absolute hypocrisy of the Greens, and they now see the Greens under pressure. The Labor Party I think are at last understanding that they really have to separate themselves from the Greens, otherwise the Greens will take over their dwindling support on the left—it still will not save the Greens; it will just take the Greens and the Labor Party down at the same time. These populist parties, who do extract people who say 'a pox on all your houses', have left the Greens and gone elsewhere.
As I said in our party room the other day—I do not want to indicate what was said in the party room but these are my own thoughts, not the party room's thoughts especially—it is about time our leaders—all of our leaders, and Senator Di Natale would be a good start—started emphasising how much work politicians do, how much commitment most of the people who sit in this parliament—most, I might add—have. They are here because they believe in Australia and they believe that they can make a contribution to Australia. By the standards in the community they do not get particularly well-paid, and there are hundreds of examples of that. Someone has to stand up, rather than just Senator Ludlam joining the populist theme and denigrating by innuendo everybody in this chamber and the other chamber, and start arguing for politicians, arguing for parliamentarians, saying why they are there. Most parliamentarians—or those on this side—would have done infinitely better financially staying in their legal practice, staying in their business, staying in their veterinary practice, staying in the jobs they had before. That is not why they have come into this chamber. I will be talking on this again in another bill coming up, and I will be opposing my government and again moving amendments. If the Greens were true to their cause, they would be supporting me too. They might on the authority one, but they will not on the other one. They are without value, without any semblance of directness and honesty, when it comes to policy matters.
We do in Australia at the moment have all of the elements to ensure that Australia, its government, its institutions and its businesses are as corruption free as possible, and certainly we are as good as anyone else in the world. In December last year the government released its first National Action Plan under the Open Government Partnership. This consisted of a number of commitments to advanced transparency, accountability, public participation and technical innovation in Australia over the next two years. As I have foreshadowed, I have a couple of amendments to government bills that, if adopted by the parliament, would add to the role of that plan. I will be seeking the support of other senators—not with a great deal of confidence, I might say, but I will seek that support—and we will see then the rhetoric of the Greens, their nontransparency, their appeal to the populists—those who are leaving the Greens in droves. We will see how they carry on. Australia is not perfect, but we are as good as any other country in the world. We are as good as you possibly can be in a democracy and in a large business operation like the governance of Australia. I will certainly oppose this bill.
I do not intend to continue the slanging match that has been an unfortunate element of the discussion so far here this morning. But, as Senator Ludlam pointed out, we have dealt with the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013 in several different iterations over some time. I went back to the 2010 Bob Brown version of the bill. I am not sure if there was one earlier than that that I have missed, Senator Ludlam. We have had several discussions around this bill, but, in its last iteration, I did not have the opportunity to contribute. As I understand it, we will be moving on to the next matter fairly soon, but I do appreciate the opportunity to deal with some of the substance around how we might deal with issues around integrity and corruption.
Let me say it from the outset: I want to make it clear that Labor stand for integrity and transparency in government, and we have zero tolerance for corruption. But, as we all know, corruption does occur. We cannot pretend that it does not occur at a federal level. Further to Senator Macdonald's comments a moment ago, I seem to recall a recent indication from Transparency International that Australia had actually slipped in their index, and, if that is the case, that is obviously a concern.
I also want to make it clear at the outset that Labor's position in relation to this Greens party bill is that unfortunately it is stale, out of date and, in some respects, obsolete. Had Senator Ludlam—and, I should say, I welcome back Senator Ludlam, and it is great to see him back here in good health—been with us in the last little while, perhaps he might have addressed some of the issues where matters have moved on. I will outline some of those.
As I said, Labor has always fostered and will continue to foster a culture of integrity within Commonwealth public institutions. That is why Labor supports the Australian National Audit Office, the Australian Public Service Commission, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and other law enforcement and accountability measures which together help to create a culture of integrity in the public sector. Looking at what has moved on with respect to this bill, one further element that Senator Macdonald touched on is, of course, that Labor in 2012 strengthened ACLEI, and that is part of our broader integrity framework.
There have been periodic calls for some form of a federal anticorruption commission over recent years, including in this private senator's bill. While Labor have zero tolerance for corruption, we believe that the best way to proceed is with the re-establishment of the Senate Select Committee on the establishment of a National Integrity Commission to continue its important inquiry and produce a final report. I recommend to the Senate the interim report, which was tabled back in May of last year, which is a good indicator of the further work that the committee that was established yesterday will conduct.
Labor does not rule out that in the future a dedicated federal anticorruption body may be required. However, our final position on the value and merits of establishing a national integrity commission should not be considered until the completion of this inquiry. That is a considered and sensible approach to take, unlike simply, as Senator Macdonald was suggesting, taking the populist path of rehashing an old proposal that is not even up to date in terms of the current frameworks in place, moving formal motions yesterday and giving this bill yet another consideration today. Some of it is, as I have said, out of date, and it is simply a rehash of many past discussions rather than a means of moving matters forward.
Let us take a closer look at what the Greens are proposing and why the bill is stale and obsolete. It is clear the Greens are behind the game and need to catch up on some significant recent developments, including that just yesterday, as I said, the Senate determined to re-establish the Senate Select Committee on the establishment of a National Integrity Commission. In part, this was a response to recent community frustration and controversy around the entitlement matters that other senators have referred to, culminating in the resignation of disgraced former health minister Sussan Ley.
Another recent and significant development is the government's plan to establish an independent parliamentary expenses authority to advise on and regulate parliamentary expenses. In his address to the National Press Club last Tuesday, Labor leader Bill Shorten made it clear that the opposition agreed in principle with the proposal in an attempt to begin to restore public confidence in the political process. Perhaps, rather than just moving forward this proposed threefold body, if we are to address this matter again, we should improve its currency and address the way in which it is proposed to move forward in relation to the parliamentary entitlements element of this current bill.
As I said, at the moment it represents the same bill that Bob Brown first introduced in 2010 and Christine Milne regurgitated in 2013, and now there is this current version. As I said, I do not think I will address the slanging match issues around political donations, but it is an interesting question about how a body such as this may, and whether the model proposed will, address some of the debate and indeed posturing around political donations.
The Senate Select Committee on the establishment of a National Integrity Commission was established on 24 February last year with Labor's support to inquire into whether a national integrity commission should be set up to address institutional, organisational, political, electoral and individual corruption and misconduct, and I was the deputy chair of that inquiry. The committee, as I have mentioned, published an interim report in May 2016, prior to the dissolution of the parliament for the July election. The interim report includes a discussion about the existing national anticorruption framework and the potential benefits and drawbacks of creating a national anticorruption commissioner. It is worth briefly examining some of the committee's findings and its one recommendation, but it is also important to remember that the committee was unable to complete its work and issue a final report.
The Senate select committee had, as I said, one recommendation:
… that the Australian Government support current and sound future research into potential anti-corruption systems appropriate for Australia …
Griffith University and other partners were looking at conducting that work, and I look forward to an update on what has occurred since the former committee looked at these issues. That was a wise recommendation. The committee was unable to complete its work and it is clear that there is a lot more work still to do before serious consideration can be given to whether some form of anticorruption commission should be established at a federal level to complement existing anticorruption and integrity bodies and, if so, how such a body should operate.
The committee's interim report is a good document and raises some of the key issues for further examination. It lists arguments in favour of a national anticorruption framework, the top of the list being the discovery and investigation of corruption. But the report says:
… a NAC may also improve policy co-ordination, provide leadership and education services, reduce potential jurisdictional gaps, increase administrative efficiency, send an unambiguous signal that the issue of corruption is being taken seriously, and provide confidence to the public that corruption is minimised at the highest level of government.
All states now have broad based anticorruption agencies. The Senate select committee looked at the effectiveness of such bodies. The most recent report into the New South Wales ICAC, published in 2013, found that:
More than two-thirds indicated that the ICAC had been successful at exposing corruption and more than half indicated that the ICAC had been successful at reducing corruption.
Then in October 2015, the outgoing Tasmanian Integrity Commissioner spoke to the ABC about the early years there with an integrity commission. She said:
"I think it's been a bit of a surprise to people that the Integrity Commission's been so effective …
"Often when I speak to senior people across the public sector I don't think they expected that the Integrity Commission would be as public and as resolute in pursuing its agenda as it has been.
Let's look at the arguments against a national integrity commission, because we should understand that there are groups—sections of the media and academia, the public sector and many elected officials—who, while not in any way arguing that corruption should be ignored or underplayed, do not believe that a national anticorruption body is the best means to deal with problems of corruption that may exist.
The Senate select committee report found that the arguments put forward by those opposed to a national integrity commission could be put into two broad categories. The first was the argument that a lower risk, and a lower level, of corruption at the federal level reduces the need for an overarching anticorruption body. This is an argument that requires further investigation, in my view. The second argument was that there is already a strong anticorruption framework in place that has proved successful at preventing and revealing corruption in the limited cases where it has occurred. This too, I think, warrants more detailed consideration.
In conclusion, the task of the re-established Senate select committee is to examine whether a new national anticorruption commission would strengthen and improve our current integrity framework and, if so, to examine the pros and cons of the various models for such a body, taking into account the lessons learned from the experiences of existing state anticorruption bodies. If a new body is recommended, there are two broad models on which such a national integrity commission could be based—a statutory agency within the Attorney-General's Department or a standalone national integrity commission with the powers of a standing royal commission.
Another key issue to be examined by the re-established Senate Select Committee would be the extent to which the proceedings of a national integrity commission would be public. Other important matters to be discussed could include questions such as: who would be covered by a national integrity commission? That is a point that Senator Macdonald was, in his way, raising. Another question could be: who would oversee a national integrity commission?
As I have already said, the Senate select committee did not complete its work prior to the last election, which is why Labor strongly supports yesterday's Senate determination to re-establish the committee to build on the work already done. Its primary function will be to carefully consider the pros and cons of the establishment of a national integrity commission and the various models that have been proposed. That is work which has not really been part of the discussion that has occurred while this bill has been addressed. Labor is open to the idea that a dedicated federal anticorruption body may be required but, at this stage, a case for one has not been made and it definitely has not been made through the discussions on this bill.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I have to express that I am staggered yet not surprised by the Greens' motion. We oppose this window-dressing that is merely the ghost of Senator Milne. We have all we need to do our jobs in this parliament. Yet clearly, in listening to the people of Queensland, people think parliament is not doing its job. We know that. This is now an admission by the Greens that they are not doing their job. Instead of speaking to sell, why don't the Green start to listen to learn?
Accountability in this parliament, as I have said very often, is almost nonexistent in some areas. So let's consider a key area of concern to the Greens—climate. On that area they contradict empirical scientific evidence and fabricate claims. On their claims, this parliament has been railroaded into wasting tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money. That is not accountability. It is all based on a lie. The renewable policy right now is killing South Australian manufacturing. It is a deindustrialisation policy that the Greens are submitting this country too. It is a deindustrialisation policy that is being ignored by the government of South Australia and by the Xenophon Team and others in this parliament. Now we have the Western Australian Liberals wanting to take up a 50 per cent renewable energy target. Yet there is no evidence anywhere for this—none at all. The only evidence we have is that it is doing enormous damage. The accountability is low, and the Greens are leading this destruction and industrialisation of our country.
We need, and we have been talking about requesting, an inquiry into climate science and fraud, but the Greens run whenever we mention that. The Greens, yet again, want to spend more money, raise more money and raise more taxes to spend on yet another body that is superfluous. That is so typical of the Greens: red tape, green tape and blue tape from the UN. The Greens are tying up this country, deindustrialising this country, when what we need is to reindustrialise and get on the reindustrialisation highway.
To do that, what we are proposing is a transparency portal. This will solve the issue of low accountability. It can all work within the parliament and the government. I made an announcement to this effect in Bundaberg in December. It was very well received. What it means is that in real time expenses are put up for public access on a website of the federal government and each of the state governments, and that reveals everyone's spending, including the Greens' travel. That has led to immediate savings of millions of dollars in the states of the United States that have adopted that. If you do not want to call it a transparency portal, make it the integrity portal.
The last point I wish to make in opposing this bill from Senator Ludlam is that this is yet another example of control versus freedom. In a free environment in this parliament and in the public domain the Greens use lies, smears and labels to suppress debate. In a free environment they go straight to control. What do they want to do? They want to bring in a body that can be corrupted, as it has become in New South Wales, and they want to use that as a masquerade, supposedly to increase accountability. This is just more window-dressing. The Greens are very good at window-dressing. Instead of this excursion, this detour, we need to get back to fundamental accountability and run this parliament in a way that is in accordance with our constitution to restore accountability. I oppose this Greens bill.
I rise to speak on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. The Greens' position on supporting a national anticorruption agency is longstanding and based on the need to be shining a light on the murkiness that lies beneath a lot of what goes on in Australian politics and business. We have Senator Roberts over here off on his flights of fancy, which are so much more based on his narcissism and his focus that everything that he is says is right, ignoring the reality of the science of climate change, which, as we know, is accepted by 97 per cent or more of the world's scientists. We currently have the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society having their conference in Canberra this week. We have just had Canberra having its hottest year on record. We have just had climate records smashed around the world. Scientists have moved on from discussing climate change to recognising the seriousness of it. Yet Senator Roberts and his One Nation crew are off on their flights of fancy that bear no relationship at all to reality and certainly no relationship to science. If we are to have an inquiry into climate change we may as well have an inquiry into gravity. We have the basic laws of physics and chemistry. Climate change is real. Dangerous global warming is happening.
Clearly the issue of corruption and the need for an integrity commission or an anticorruption commission strikes a raw nerve, because people do not want to believe it is happening. The Labor Party for a long time have been very reluctant and resistant to supporting the Greens' call. Since Bob Brown introduced the Greens' National Integrity Commissioner Bill in 2010 there have been seven years in this parliament. But we are pleased that finally, in the last weeks, they have recognised that this is something that the community see as important and that people want to have happening; they want to have that light shone on the murky world of donations and potential corruption. So we are pleased that they have come on board with their support for an inquiry into the need for a anticorruption body. But we believe the evidence is there. We believe that there is strong evidence that an anticorruption body is really needed. We do not think that it is necessary to go off to an inquiry. Of course, if this inquiry happens we will participate, and we believe that the evidence that will come out of that inquiry will be very strong and will show that there is a need for a really thorough, well resourced, expansive anticorruption agency at the national level, just as there is at state level in the states that already have one.
Senator Macdonald's contribution was amusing, basically. He said, 'Don't worry; not a problem.' The issue is that if you are in the dark, you cannot see that there is a problem. I think that is where the current government is at. I heard the government get up yesterday and say, 'No, not a problem; we don't need one; there is no evidence of corruption so therefore it's not happening.' Senator Macdonald based a lot of his speech on the fact that we already have an agency—the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. When he was speaking I thought, let's have a look at what people feel about how comprehensive and suitable and well-resourced, how capable of dealing with these issues ACLEI is. I pulled up an article from The Sydney Morning Herald in May last year. I think the heading of that article tells you a lot. It really summarises the issue with ACLEI. The headline was, 'The mouse versus the dragon: law enforcement struggles against alleged customs drug network.' This article documented the issues of the underresourcing and lack of powers that ACLEI has to deal with the issue of drug smuggling across our borders.
This article notes that ACLEI is far smaller than most of its state anti-corruption counterparts and is also reliant on the resources of the agencies it is meant to oversee to run complex operations. In particular, it is reliant upon the Australian Federal Police. So when this issue of drug smuggling was finally passed to the Federal Police, a senior AFP officer initially deemed the evidence insufficient to begin a probe. So, yet, more drugs passed through the border. Time after time, there is evidence to show that the resources and the extent of the powers available to ACLEI are just insufficient. ACLEI's ability to investigate serious corruption was expressed as 'woeful' during a probe at Sydney airport. One security source quoted in this article said that, basically, to fight this threat to the nation's borders 'ACLEI needs to be ten-dupled in size'. The article said:
Says another anti-corruption fighter who has worked alongside ACLEI on highly sensitive jobs: "They are heavily reliant on the AFP. The trouble is when you are that reliant, it infects the sort of jobs ACLEI will take on."
This source also has concerns about ACLEI's decision to avoid public hearings into corruption, despite having the power to hold them. ACLEI is also reluctant to engage with the media about its operations, meaning the public rarely finds out about the true extent of corruption, cultural problems and management failures in the nation's border security agencies.
Clearly, ACLEI is doing what it can with resources and powers available to it. But it is not sufficient. It is not a substitute for a broad, wide-ranging integrity commission, which is what the Greens have been calling for now for seven years.
Senator Macdonald also said that there was no evidence, and said hat we have good global ratings for having clean politics. He quoted that Transparency International was not concerned about us. In fact, Transparency International twice in the last 10 years has expressed concern. There was a joint study by Griffith University and Transparency International in 2005 that recommended that a new independent statutory authority be tasked as a comprehensive lead agency for investigation and prevention of official corruption, criminal activity and serious misconduct involving Commonwealth officials. Then, as recently as 2013, Transparency International Australia called for a federal anti-corruption body to be established following reports about Centrelink tenancy leases. There is a clear case that has been established over many years for the need for an integrity commission of the type that the Greens have been calling for.
In particular, the issue which seems to really strike a raw nerve is the issue of the influence of political donations. Our donation system in Australia operates like the downstream waters of Melbourne's Yarra River. Upstream of Melbourne, the river is pure and clean, and a place that we can be proud of. But the further we go down the river the muddier it gets. No-one would want to drink that water. And this is the problem.
As recently as this morning, there was an article on the ABC website with information about political donations. They begin the article by saying:
Companies, organisations and individuals arguably make political donations for one reason only: to influence Australian politics.
They outline a dataset of where the donations have flowed 'to reveal the industries,' as they say, 'and people using their riches in a bid to buy influence.' The influence of political donations is corrupting Australian politics. Exactly how and where and which companies—we do not know because we do not have the tools to investigate it. All we know is it is extremely murky. We do not have the information to actually be able to pinpoint and do the investigation to find out which of these resource companies have actually been unduly using their influence and which decisions have been unduly influenced by those donations that of been made. But what we do know is that a huge amount of money is being handed over by donors—and, as the ABC said, for one reason only: to influence Australian politics. In 2016, there was: $6½ million from individuals; $3½ million from property and construction businesses; $1.8 million from resources; $1.7 million from unions; $1.2 million from pharmaceutical and health companies. This level of donation really shows that there is a reason why these companies are making donations. We can see exactly the influence it has. It becomes very, very murky. Whether it is gambling or pokies, cigarettes or alcohol, property development, the big roads lobby, or fossil fuels—decisions are being made that are not in the public interest.
I will take that interjection from Senator O'Sullivan. Yes, there was a donation made by Graeme Wood to the Greens. It is no longer the biggest individual donation to a party. That was surpassed during the last election. But, yes, Graeme Wood was very, very concerned about climate change. He wanted to see action; he knew that the future of the world depends upon us taking serious, urgent, dramatic action on climate change, and he saw that the Greens were a vehicle to get more action on climate change. We know the seriousness of climate change. We know that both the Liberal and Labor parties are not taking that action. And he saw that, too. The people of Australia saw that, too.
In fact, the level of resources helped the Greens run a very successful campaign and ended up helping to give us the balance of power in the lower house and the balance of power in the Senate in that 2010 election. Together with the Labor Party, we put in place a framework for tackling climate change that we are very proud of. It has been ripped apart by your government in the years since, doing huge damage to our ability to take serious action on climate change and basically making Australia complicit in actions around the world that are seriously putting the future of our planet at risk. I am very proud of the fact that we have run a very strong campaign and that people want to support us—from Graeme Wood to the hundreds of thousands of people who support the Greens by giving small amounts like $20 in a very transparent, accountable way—to get action that serves the interests of a sustainable future for us all.
But look at the murkiness of other donations where we are not so clear about what the outcomes are. Look at the influence of Transurban on Victorian roads policy at the moment. I have no evidence that there is corruption there, and I am not claiming that there is corruption there, but there is not transparency and there is not accountability. What we know is that Transurban put to the Victorian government a market-led proposal to build the Western Distributor. We know that the Victorian government, at the time of the last election, suddenly changed their direction from having a different road to aiming to build this road that Transurban are proposing. There is huge amount of concern about the benefit that Transurban are going to get out of this and about the influence that they had on the Victorian government. It is not just the Greens who are concerned about this; in fact, there was considerable concern about it in the HeraldSun this morning. Conservative columnist Terry McCrann—somebody who I very rarely agree with—said:
It's also been far too easy for governments — especially Labor ones — to do deals with Transurban. Transurban pays the upfront bill; the government doesn't have to borrow.
We all get a new or bigger road. You just let the meter run a few years more.
That means that it is just a few more years of huge profits being made by Transurban, which, on the face of it, is not in the public interest. People think, 'Well, the government doesn't need to borrow,' but that money is being paid by communities, paid by the people who have to pay those tolls. They have no option but to pay those tolls. There will be a massive increase in the tolls being paid to Transurban and a massive impact on ordinary people because of the influence that Transurban have had upon the Victorian government.
We have the ongoing issue of those private sector interests—the roads lobby and the influence they are having—but there is also the issue of the broader influence of the fossil fuel companies and the millions of dollars in donations that they make. That is happening across the world. We are seeing that in the United States, with President Trump doing the bidding of those who want to pollute the planet, speeding up catastrophic global warming just for their own selfish, short-term greed. They want to keep on polluting, and they have a lot of money to be able influence governments to keep on polluting to serve their interests. They will keep on doing it for as long as they can get away with it.
Meanwhile, the planet is in a desperate state. We know that we need to pull back from fossil fuels being emitted. We know we have to transition to renewable energy. Everyone knows that that is the direction we need to head in—at least anyone who has any sense and any skerrick of a scientific understanding—and yet, because of the influence of the fossil fuel lobby, we are continuing to pollute in massive, unacceptable ways.
And now we have a government that is saying that suddenly coal is the new black again and that we are talking about clean coal. There is no such thing as clean coal. We get told that clean coal is clean because it is 30 per cent less polluting than other coal. I tell you: if we are going to protect the planet from dangerous climate change and if we going to protect ordinary people and our agricultural systems from climate change, 30 per cent cleaner is not good enough. We have to get down to zero carbon pollution as quickly as possible, so clean coal does not cut it.
I understand that Senator Rice is very passionate about climate change, but we are here to discuss the National Integrity Commission Bill. I understand the path that led her to where she is, but I think she is off topic now.
I am happy to respond to Senator Bushby because in fact it is absolutely germane to this debate. We are continuing to pollute the planet in the way we are because of the influence of those fossil fuel companies corrupting the political system.
The Greens want to shine a light. We need to clean up that river because at the moment the waters of where those donations are going and what influence they are having are just too murky. We want to see a national anticorruption commission, an independent statutory agency that we would be able to rely upon to shine a light on what is going on. With that, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.