Senate debates

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Ministerial Statements

Ministerial Standards

3:42 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

As I've previously advised the chamber, the Australian government takes allegations of illegal activity very seriously. Everyone is required to abide by Australian law, that includes casino operators, public officials and visitors to our country. Our law enforcement agencies are working hard to disrupt and deter criminal groups by collecting evidence and intelligence about financially motivated crime.

On 30 July 2019, the Attorney-General referred allegations of corruption involving the Department of Foreign Affairs and Crown Casino to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. The referral related to media reports about allegations of potential corruption with respect to interactions between employees of Crown Casino and officers of the Department of Home Affairs. As these allegations have now been referred to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, it would not be appropriate to comment further. I'm also advised the Prime Minister is not aware of any of his ministers breaching ministerial standards in relation to this matter.

3:43 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

What an outrageous insult to a collective decision of the Senate we have just seen from Senator Cormann. He did not answer a single one of the questions that the majority of this Senate earlier today demanded that he answer. For clarity, those questions were: whether the Prime Minister has investigated claims made against ministers regarding Crown Resorts which could breach ministerial standards. We still don't know. All we got was the absolutely insulting platitude that the Prime Minister is not aware of any such activities. Well, if he's not investigating them, how is he going to become aware of them? I think we can take it from that that in fact the Prime Minister is not investigating these allegations—which, to be clear, were made against two government ministers. And why is he not investigating? Because he doesn't want to know if his ministers are behaving corruptly or not. No wonder the trust deficit is spiking so massively in this country, and no wonder people are losing confidence in the collective decisions we make in this place and the institutions of our democracy.

The second question was, if the Prime Minister has not investigated the allegations, why he has not done so—no response whatsoever. We still don't know whether he's investigated them or is investigating them, because Senator Cormann refused to tell us today. If he is investigating them, the third question the Senate asked today and required a response to was what the terms of reference and time lines for the investigation are and when the findings will be released. Well, who knows the answer to that? There was no response to that at all, not even an attempt to address it, from Senator Cormann. And the fourth was whether the Prime Minister considers that ministerial standards have been breached. I want to make this point: these are the Prime Minister's ministerial standards. They are the ones he should be insisting that ministers abide by and conform with. But he might as well have just screwed them up and thrown them over his shoulder, because he quite literally and obviously does not care whether his ministers are behaving corruptly or not.

We get the platitudes that the Attorney-General has referred allegations to ACLEI, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. Well, tell us something we didn't know already, Senator Cormann. We knew that yesterday. And, for the record, let's be very clear about what ACLEI's role is and what its jurisdiction is. Objects of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006, section 3:

(1) The objects of this Act are:

(a) to facilitate:

(i) the detection of corrupt conduct in law enforcement agencies; and

(ii) the investigation of corruption issues that relate to law enforcement agencies;


(c) to prevent corrupt conduct in law enforcement agencies; and

(d) to maintain and improve the integrity of staff members of law enforcement agencies.

The one thing that Senator Cormann's statement today revealed was that in fact the allegations that have been referred off to ACLEI relate to allegations of corrupt conduct between Crown Resorts and the Australian Border Force.

When you go to ACLEI's website—this was downloaded from their website only 30 minutes ago—it says that ACLEI detects, disrupts and defers corrupt conduct in high-risk Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, including the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission; the Australian Federal Police; the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre; prescribed aspects of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources; the Department of Home Affairs, including the Australian Border Force; and any other government agency prescribed by regulation under the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006. Well, try as I might, I couldn't see politicians included in ACLEI's jurisdiction, and that is of course because we are not. We are not included in ACLEI's jurisdiction. ACLEI cannot, and I'll repeat it, cannot investigate, under the terms of its act, allegations of political corruption—that is, corrupt behaviour by politicians, including senators and including government ministers.

So, we've got a situation where the government's referred very convenient aspects of the allegations that have been raised publicly this week—allegations of serious corrupt behaviour by ministers—off to an agency that actually is proscribed and prevented from investigating allegations of corruption against ministers by the very terms of the act under which it operates. This is a cover-up. This is a stitch-up. This is a protection racket. The government is protecting corrupt ministers. No wonder people are losing confidence in this place.

If you ever needed an argument as to why we need a federal anticorruption authority with real teeth and the powers that it needs to investigate allegations of corruption against politicians and government ministers, here is a living, breathing argument—in fact, the strongest living, breathing argument I have seen for some time. We need an ICAC now, and we need it not only to root out corrupt behaviour by politicians but to try and restore even a small fraction of the loss of trust in the democratic institutions of our society, including this very parliament, that has occurred in our community in recent years.

Well, the protection racket goes on. The stitch-up goes on. It is true that ACLEI may refer certain matters that it uncovers to other law enforcement agencies, but that relies on ACLEI electively stumbling across allegations or evidence of corrupt behaviour by government ministers in the course of an investigation that is actually targeted somewhere else entirely—towards allegations of corrupt behaviour from Crown Resorts and Australian Border Force officers.

Let's be clear here. It's good that there's going to be an investigation into those matters, but that investigation will not, and cannot, investigate the other allegations that were made, which are that ministers pressured senior Australian Border Force officials to grease the wheels for highrolling clients of Crown Casino—to process their visa applications on a fast track and swing them in through immigration with either little or no control by the Australian Border Force. And what happened? These allegations are that highrolling clients of Crown Resorts were whizzed from aeroplanes into limousines, straight out the gates of the Melbourne airport at Tullamarine, down to Crown Casino, picking up the sex workers on the way, getting deliveries of drugs on the way and partying for days, including heading off on wombat hunts, where they buzz down the windows of their luxury limousines and blow away a few wombats.

This is Australia we're talking about here! This is supposedly a land and a people that support egalitarianism, where everyone is treated equally. Well, no, that is not modern Australia. In modern Australia if you've got the cash you get the special treatment; if you're a member of the wealthy elite you get special access and special favours from government, even if it compromises what this government claims is one of its priority policy areas: border security.

We in the Greens will not rest until we have got to the bottom of these allegations. And Minister Cormann's pathetic response to a motion passed by the Senate earlier today just makes us more determined. We will not let this cover-up go. We will not let this protection racket continue. We will get to the bottom of it and we will continue to prosecute our argument for a federal ICAC so that we have the agencies we need to get to the bottom of serious allegations of corruption such as these. (Time expired)

3:54 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to take note of the minister's very feeble and brief response. Earlier today the Senate asked the representative of the Prime Minister to come and give an account of the extremely dodgy allegations, which have been aired throughout the media and in this chamber all week, of special treatment being given to international highrolling gamblers—who in some cases have criminal backgrounds and might not otherwise be let into Australia on the basis of our visa requirements—and of how ministers and senior officials in the Home Affairs department had been pressured, and had then pressured the relevant officials, to bend the rules to let these high-flyers in.

Now, these are allegations about ministers. I would have thought that the Prime Minister would want to find out who on earth those people are and tell them to stop making his entire government look so dodgy. That's why all week we've been asking: what are you doing to investigate this? Name these ministers. Are they still in cabinet or have they moved on? Who are these people and what are you doing about this scandal? It's the latest in a long line of scandals. We just heard from Minister Cormann, who didn't voluntarily come to tell us absolutely nothing but was compelled to come here—and, sadly, he did tell us absolutely nothing. But what he did say was that the Prime Minister was not aware of any breaches of the ministerial standards. How convenient! When you don't even ask and you don't even investigate, of course you're not aware of any.

The Prime Minister is putting his head in the sand because he doesn't want to know. Well, I'm afraid we have ministerial standards, a code of conduct, for a reason. If the Prime Minister is going to continually ignore the breaches—at the very least, alleged breaches—of these ministerial standards, why does he bother to even have them on the books at all? Give up the charade. It is perfectly clear the Prime Minister doesn't give a damn about enforcing his ministerial standards—he clearly has no standards—so why bother with the charade?

That's why we need a federal anticorruption body, as my colleague has just attested to so well. That's why for 10 years the Greens have been pushing for a federal anticorruption body. We are now the only jurisdiction that doesn't have an anticorruption body. Every state and territory has an anticorruption body. They call them different names, but basically they do the same thing. The federal government doesn't have one, but, boy oh boy, we have seen example after example of why one is needed.

In recent weeks, it started with former ministers Pyne and Bishop being in flagrant breach of the ministerial standard for a cooling-off period before going off to earn money in the area that you previously regulated. They don't care about those rules. The Prime Minister is not doing anything about that. Then it came to ministers Taylor and Frydenberg, who look like they've had a very cosy relationship, trying to dodge environmental laws. Now there are allegations about ministers—potentially, sitting ministers, in cabinet—getting pressured, and bought off by the $700,000 in donations from Crown, to fast-track visas, when they won't even let asylum seekers come here lawfully. It's the height of hypocrisy. The donations flow to both sides of politics; we know this. There was $550,000 to Labor from Crown, almost as much as the $700,000 to the coalition from Crown. It's time we got rid of dodgy donations buying access and policy outcomes.

That is exactly why we need an independent, well-resourced, strong federal anticorruption body. I reintroduced a bill to do just that today. It's a model that the experts have proposed. We back it. It needs resourcing, but it's got independence; it's got broad scope; it's got the ability to have public hearings; and it's got the ability to take anonymous tip-offs from the public, which is how most of the scandals at the state level have been discovered and investigated. We can fix this. Instead, today we have the Prime Minister's representative saying, 'There's nothing to see here,' and they've sent this dodgy matter off to a body that can't even look at the source of the problem. How very convenient, when that agency is hobbled and can't actually investigate the corruption at the heart of this scandal.

We will continue to push for an anticorruption watchdog, because the public deserve better and deserve that we here in this place treat our duties with more respect. There's clearly a lot of conduct that I would consider to be unacceptable—I would go so far as saying corrupt. There is a clear need for an anticorruption body. The Prime Minister's representative did absolutely nothing today to reassure this chamber that the Prime Minister is taking any of these allegations seriously. That's why we'll keep pushing for a federal anticorruption body and it's why we'll keep pushing to clean up dodgy donations that buy off the big parties in this place.

Question agreed to.