Senate debates

Monday, 9 September 2019


National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2); Second Reading

10:02 am

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

I rise with great pleasure to speak on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2). This is the sixth time, over 10 years, that the Greens have introduced a bill for a federal anticorruption body. We are hopeful that today this bill will pass the Senate. Clearly it's long overdue. There have been a litany of examples of dodgy conduct that I personally consider to be corrupt conduct and that there is no body to independently investigate federally. Looking around the country, every state or territory now has an anticorruption body except us here in Canberra. You'd have to be living under a rock to think that there's nothing to see and there's no need for this body. For 10 years we've been pushing for this. It's clearly needed. You just have to look at the recent scandals and the influence of big money on politics more generally to know that an anticorruption body is desperately needed and is going to be very busy indeed.

As I said, for 10 years we've been pushing for this. Initially we were laughed at and ridiculed. It was said: 'There's no corruption. There's nothing to see.' Well, LOL. I think no-one in the community shares that view. They all know. In fact, 85 per cent of people think that politicians are corrupt. So, folks, we've got a problem here. We've got a problem with the actual level of corruption and we've got a problem with the perceptions of the level of corruption. We need to address both of those issues. Having a federal independent anticorruption body—or a national integrity commission, as I've titled it—could help not only address the underlying issues but restore people's confidence in our democracy and turn around those 85 per cent of people who think we're all corrupt. It could demonstrate that we are not acting in our private interest and we're not on the take from donors, vested interests and lobbyists but actually we're here to make decisions for the public interest, for the community's good and for the sake of the planet. I think that's what our Australian community deserves. This is a plan for a national integrity commission. My colleague in the House, the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, will be similarly introducing this once more to the House today.

I want to pay tribute to former senator Bob Brown, former senator Lee Rhiannon and former member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, who've all had a strong role to play over those 10 years in trying to put legislation before this parliament for an anticorruption body. As I was saying, initially everybody laughed at us but, as seems to be the pace of history, eventually everyone's come on board.

I am really pleased that about 2½ years ago the Labor Party changed their mind and said, 'Yes, we agree. We need to do something about this. We need a federal anticorruption body.' We welcome that. And even this government last November finally agreed that rather than this being a fringe issue, as the Prime Minister had then described it, the Australian people deserved a federal anticorruption body. This is wonderful news.

The key parties here, and many on the crossbench—and I will come to them and I welcome their support as well—all agree something needs to happen, but how long are the Australian people going to have to wait? It has been 10 years now. They shouldn't have to wait another 10 years for us to actually see some action.

The government put out a discussion paper last November. It's been widely criticised as too weak, not having a broad enough scope of powers, not having the ability to conduct hearings in public and not being properly resourced. So, yes, it's been criticised as being very weak. We have concerns about that. But what's happened since then? Absolutely nothing. We have seen no movement on it at all. It is not even on the list of legislation that this government wants to pass through the House, or even introduce to the House, this year. The government is signalling that this is not a priority for them.

If you say you want something done, you can't just then do nothing. You should act on it. We are giving the parliament the chance today to deliver on the principles, that you all say you're committed to, for an anticorruption body. Here is a model that has been widely scrutinised. It's gone to inquiry. It has the support of a cohort of former judges who have been lobbying and advocating in this space for a strong anticorruption body.

Some of the key features of this model are that it could conduct hearings in public. That would be at the discretion of the commissioner. One of the strong principles, and one of the success stories of the various state ICACs around the country, or corruption commissions—call them what you may—has been the deterrent effect. If people know that they might get caught out there is a strong disincentive away from corrupt conduct. So the ability for these hearings to be held in public is a very important strength of this model. The government's model, of course, wants to do it all in secret. That's not going to make a difference to anyone at all. Having public hearings is absolutely crucial. Having the body well-resourced and independent is also crucial.

There are various other moves afoot today, that we will come to in motions, for the Senate to look at this conduct itself—well and good, but actually we need an independent body to investigate the litany of dodgy transactions and dodgy dealings that I will go through shortly. So the key features include public hearings and an independent body that is properly resourced. We want this body do have the powers of a royal commission. It needs to be able to compel evidence. It would then make findings of fact that could go to the criminal courts for proper prosecution. This is a model that is watertight. The experts agree that this is what's needed. It's a strong model. It's independent. It would be properly resourced. This could get the job done.

I am yet to come up against any specific concerns with this bill except maybe, 'We don't want to vote for a Greens' bill or gee the timing is poor.' Well, sorry folks, that's not going to fly. The Australian people deserve a democracy that works for them and they deserve to have confidence that politicians are not acting corruptly, acting with conflicts of interest or receiving donations that are then influencing the decisions they take. The public deserve a democracy that actually works for them and this body can help deliver that.

I want to go through some of the quite sobering examples in recent times of why this body is needed—and I may well run out of time because there are so many of them! We've got the revolving door of lobbyists and politicians. In fact, within that cooling off period even former ministers, in breach of the ministerial standards, go off to work for the very bodies that they are meant to have been regulating. It's pretty clear that the ministerial standards are not being upheld and that there is no mechanism to enforce them being upheld. That's the revolving lobbying door that we have been banging on about for an awfully long time.

We have examples like 'nanny-gate' with our dear old Minister Dutton, the member for Dickson, which is in my home state of Queensland, who's prepared to do favours for mates and let their au pairs come in but won't do any justice for a Tamil family in Biloela who are desperate to return to their adopted community—to a community who love and want them—where they were working, contributing and raising their children who were born here. Minister Dutton won't do them any favours. He won't use his discretion to help those meritorious folk, but he's happy to do a favour for a mate who wants an au pair to come in and help out with childcare work. Again, there are double standards and it's something that could potentially keep a federal anticorruption body very busy.

You then have the Paladin scandal where massive contracts were awarded to a two-bit company that has barely any track record and a shack on Kangaroo Island to run the security procedures in our offshore detention hell holes. Again, how on earth could that happen? It harks back to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation—another very small organisation, meritorious though it may be, that suddenly got a huge whack of dough. It didn't ask for it. There was no tender process and no scrutiny, and suddenly it's doing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's job. The government has effectively privatised the management and protection of the reef through giving a huge amount of money—almost half a billion dollars—to a private organisation to do, in my view, what is the government's work. The board of that organisation is stacked with pro fossil fuel operatives.

There are so many examples. Just look at Ministers Frydenberg and Taylor. We have indeed been looking at them through various other means. There is not only the dodgy sale of water in the Murray-Darling Basin but also the interference in threatened species protection—the listing for the grasslands near the member for Hume's personal residence and his interference to see if that listing could be removed so that a company, which he has some shareholding in, won't be investigated further or prosecuted and he can then clear with impunity, and perhaps some others can do the same too. Favours for mates, whether they be fellow politicians or whether they be donors—it's got to stop; it's not right. And, if 85 per cent of people think that politicians are corrupt, you have to ask why on earth we don't have a body to oversight this sort of conduct and send a clear message that politicians need to stop looking out for their private interests; they've got to start acting in the public interest. We get well paid enough. We shouldn't need further kickbacks from donors or promises of future jobs. We should be here doing what's best for the community, for the public interest and for the planet. This body is so desperately needed. I've outlined how the features could really not only clean up politics but send a strong deterrent message against corruption.

The flipside to this is that we desperately need donations reform. The influence of big money on our politics is hideous. This isn't America and yet we have $100 million in donations from large corporates that have been made to both sides of politics since 2012. Is it any wonder that the community think that they don't matter anymore and that politicians just feather their own nest or do favours for their donors? It's because that's what happens. We saw our mining tax law change because of the influence of the mining industry. We saw them topple a Prime Minister. That's going back six or seven years ago now. We've seen other pay-for-access, pay-for-policy outcomes, and that is just heartbreaking. We are so blessed in Australia to have a democracy. Let's make it work properly. Let's get the influence of big money out of the decision-making process and actually start doing our jobs properly. This ICAC would be a strong part of that, and we will continue to work for donations reform like we've been similarly doing for 10 years.

We've had fruitful discussions with folk. I really am optimistic and hopeful that today we will see this bill pass the Senate. It would be a really wonderful day for democracy if the Senate could send a message to the House that, actually, politics should be above private interests. Politics should be about acting in the public interest—in the public interest of the planet and the community. That's our opportunity today. We will see how the votes fall. I don't expect we'll get support from the government on this one, because they've proposed a very weak body. Clearly, they were dragged to the table pre-election, trying to get this off the agenda. They put out a discussion paper—not even a draft bill; just a mere discussion paper—that has been so roundly condemned by anyone who knows anything about this as an absolute toothless tiger. In fact, it's been said that a weak anticorruption commission would be worse than no anticorruption commission at all.

The government want to have two new criminal offences created of criminal corruption. They are pretty cool with standard, run-of-the-mill corruption; they want this new 'worst of the worst' offence of criminal corruption to be created. And that's all their body can investigate—not all the dodginess, the conflicts of interest and the misuse of personal influence that are happening at the minute, which our body can look at; not any breaches of ministerial standards or codes of conduct, which this body could look at; just this 'worst of the worst' criminal corruption.

Of course, they would only have hearings in secret—the public wouldn't know about this; I can't see there being much of a disincentive there—and the body isn't even resourced as fully as their own department recommended that it should be. And where is it? We've seen no progress whatsoever. We've had the election. You won. Where is the body? You promised that this was happening; in February you said it was imminent. Well, it is September now, and we've seen absolutely nothing.

So part of the reason for today's bill is that we have been patient for 10 years and we're out of it; we actually want this done now. We've got a model that stands up to scrutiny, that could do the job, and that I hope the government will actually vote for. If you're not going to vote for it, then at least fix your own bill up and adopt some of these features which I hope the Senate will endorse today—and certainly the experts have endorsed—to make this body a useful one that will start to restore the confidence the Australian people deserve to have in our democracy.

So it's been a long time coming. I hope this bill passes today. If it doesn't, well, we'll just reintroduce it again. We are not going to give up on this. The Australian people deserve a democracy that works for them. They deserve to have people in this building making decisions in the interests of the public and the planet, not in the interests of their own future employment or the re-election coffers of their party. I mentioned the $100 million of donations from big corporates to both sides of politics already. When you look at the breakdown of that figure, there was $5 million from fossil fuel companies over the last four years. Is it any wonder that we have pathetically weak climate policy and no climate laws. You get what you pay for in this building, and that is an absolute travesty. It's no wonder that 85 per cent of people think politicians are corrupt.

Queensland is on fire at the moment—a week out of winter. This is why we need strong climate laws. This is why we need the influence of fossil fuel money off these decision-makers. This is why we need a federal anticorruption body to make sure that people in here are acting in the best interests of the planet and the community, not in the best interests of their donors or the lobbyists that they have met with.

I'm looking forward to the vote on this. I've talked about some of the scandals. Sadly, they are not limited to the government benches; there has been unsatisfactory conduct from both sides of politics. In fact, just last week at the New South Wales ICAC we saw a scandal where donations were made in an Aldi shopping bag in an attempt to avoid the ban on property developer donations. Again, the New South Wales ICAC has been a very busy organisation—as has the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission and many of the anticorruption bodies around the states. It is foolish to think that we don't need a body like this at the federal level. I am pleased that everyone now agrees that we need one, but we need to see some action. It's past time for talk and it's past time for a weak, toothless model that won't fix any of this conduct.

The Australian people really do deserve better; this is not just a line. We are meant to be taking decisions in their best interests. If we don't have a body like this, how do you expect to turn around the perception that politicians are in it for themselves? I hope that people in here are driven by the public interest. Let's actually put some proof to that. Let's demonstrate that by supporting this bill today. We have a strong model. We have hope that this bill will pass today. The pressure is then on the government. Are they going to keep turning a blind eye to all of these scandals that keep mounting—in recent times, mostly on their side?

If you vote against this the Australian public will ask: 'What are you trying to hide?' And they would be right to ask that. There have been so many breaches lately; you can't swing a cat without coming across another scandal. Scandals that previously would have toppled ministers—of their own volition, they would have said, 'I'll stand down. This is too embarrassing for the edifice of parliament, too embarrassing for the government'—are now just swept under the carpet and they try and carry on as if it doesn't really matter. Well, government standards might have dropped but public standards haven't. If we want to engage people in this precious democracy of theirs and if we want to deliver decisions that are good for them and advance their interests, then we need to restore that confidence that decisions are made in their interests and we need an anticorruption body to do that.

So it's with great pleasure that I speak on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2), the sixth in a long line of bills to establish an important body. I am very much looking forward to the vote today. I urge the parties that I've had fruitful discussions with over the winter break to support this bill. If they do, it will pass this place, and what a wonderful outcome that will be and what pressure that will then create on the government to do a decent job. They could even vote for this version—I would welcome that—or they could at least strengthen their own very, very weak version, which we've seen neither hide nor hair of for almost the last year. There have been 10 years of their saying this wasn't needed, a brief moment of their saying, 'Sure, we'll do something,' and then something widely condemned as just massively weak and toothless and worse than doing nothing at all. Here's your chance to get some suggestions. Vote for this or at least lift some of the good ideas in it and adopt them in your bill. I commend this bill to the Senate.

10:20 am

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the private senator's bill put forward by Senator Waters today, the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2). We've reached an important moment in this place. There is at the very least bipartisan support for a national integrity commission. Now that we've reached that bipartisan point, the Greens don't quite know what to do with themselves. They could choose to support the government's model, which was announced almost a year ago and addresses the heart of people's concerns, but that would be to acknowledge the work of the Morrison government in creating a model for advancing this issue. Importantly, this model has the prospect of standing the test of time. It's got the potential to get the kind of across-the-aisle support that means it could stand the test of time rather than becoming the kind of political football that the Australian Greens like so much. But with them it's always 'My way or the highway', without engaging with the merits of the CIC, the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, or accepting the drawbacks of their proposed bill.

To more cynical minds it might seem like the Greens are using this bill as nothing more than yet another cheap shot at the government. In their dissenting report attached to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's report into the national integrity package of bills, the Greens resort to nitpicking about the $104.5 million over the forward estimates and the approximately 93 staff allocated to it. While that was within the range of appropriate resources recommended by the department, it wasn't at the very top of the range. That's not good enough for them. When it comes to the Greens party, more is always more when it comes to money. With the $150 million that they propose should be allocated to their National Integrity Commission, they don't bother even for a moment saying what the source of that funding will be. As usual, the money just comes from the ether with the Australian Greens. But the taxpayers can't be treated like their pockets are bottomless pits, and, to his credit, Treasurer Frydenberg respects that. The Commonwealth Integrity Commission will receive a total of $145.2 million in funding over its first three years, with $2.2 million worth of funding in the 2019-20 year to reconstitute the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity as the CIC's law enforcement integrity division, and a rolling-in of ACLEI's existing budget of $40.7 million.

What's great about the government's model for the CIC—and this is really important, Madam Deputy President—is that it learns the lessons of the flaws of the state anticorruption and integrity bodies, because they are deeply flawed in a way that has caused substantial harm in recent years. The new law enforcement integrity division will have a significantly expanded jurisdiction to that which ACLEI currently has. It will cover several additional agencies—those that exercise the most significant coercive powers and therefore present the most significant potential corruption risk. These agencies include the ACCC, APRA, ASIC, the ATO and the Department of Agriculture. All of these are in addition to the bodies that ACLEI and the Integrity Commissioner already cover, including the AFP, AUSTRAC and the Department of Home Affairs, including Border Force.

The law enforcement integrity division will have the same functions and powers as ACLEI, meaning it will have the discretion to hold public hearings where it thinks it's appropriate to do so. Labor and the Greens have made much of the CIC public sector integrity division's inability to hold public hearings. A survey conducted by the Australia Institute earlier this year found that the two statutory powers with the lowest public support that could be given to an anticorruption commission were (1) the power to compel people to provide evidence and (2) the power to hold public hearings.

A significant number of people in our community recognise the shortcomings of existing state based integrity bodies in relation to public hearings. Most significantly, New South Wales ICAC removes the right to silence and the privilege against self-incrimination. Witnesses there are forced to testify against their will under the threat of criminal sanction, and the risk of irreparable reputational damage, irrespective of whether or not there is a finding of wrongdoing, is alarmingly high. A political opponent or the media can, and do, use a witness's mere testimony before a public corruption hearing as a tool to discredit them, even if the evidence against that person was that they had done nothing wrong or, indeed, they had done things that would never ever reach the standards required to convict them in a criminal court.

There is no consideration in this bill given to providing due process to innocent witnesses who are brought before a commission to contribute their accounts. The protections afforded by the traditional justice system, like the right to silence, are valued because of their rigour, not because of the ease with which they allow convictions to be secured. They serve as a check on the inherent imbalance of power between the individual and the state, ensuring that the freedom of an individual accused of a crime can be compromised only if a case is actually proven against them.

Although anticorruption commissions can't put people in jail, the distinction between an adverse finding by a corruption agency and a court conviction is likely to be lost on many people in our community. In terms of reputational damage, a finding of corrupt conduct by a watchdog like the ICAC may well be career ending in circumstances where it simply isn't justified. Those who are brought before the New South Wales ICAC and other state integrity commissions are protected by fewer safeguards than a person who is undergoing a routine police interview. That can't be something that meets the pub test.

The government will not allow the CIC to devolve into a kangaroo court, subject to the whims of opportunistic individuals or organisations, as we have seen time and time again when it comes to state integrity commissions. Importantly, members of the public will still be able to make complaints relating to the public sector to existing integrity agencies, such as the Ombudsman, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, IPEA, and the AFP. These agencies will be able to refer any appropriate matters to the CIC. This is important because it enables the CIC to focus on legitimate complaints of corrupt conduct. Allowing direct public referrals, as is proposed in the Greens bill, risks an influx of vexatious or frivolous complaints, and that reflects ACLEI's current experience in 98 per cent of cases. So there is good justification for having that early filter process.

We will also not repeat another of the key flaws of state agencies by enabling the public sector integrity division to make public findings of corruption without having to follow fundamental justice processes. Instead, matters of potential criminal conduct will be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for proper assessment for prosecution by the courts. That's the right thing to do in terms of process, and it's also the right thing to do in making sure that those who have done the wrong thing face the full force of the law.

I've made no secret of my thoughts on the need for the proposed National Integrity Commission but, in doing so, we've got to remember that, while there's always room for improvement, Transparency International ranks Australia's government as among the least corrupt of any country in the world and it has been that way for many years. We're currently ranked 13th in the world in Transparency International's global rankings out of 180 countries. Would I like to see us higher in the rankings? Absolutely. But let's not forget that 13th is a significant achievement. It has remained consistent since 2015.

The first words of my maiden speech last year were:

Australians don't trust politicians.

And I still think that's true. Australians do have a healthy scepticism of politicians and of democracy generally. The Greens cite this lack of trust in their push for their version of the National Integrity Commission and I commend them for at least having an interest in restoring faith. But to do as Senator Water's bill proposes—to drag the people before the court of public opinion without many of the protections that we regard as basic to the protection of the individual from the state—would cause more harm than good when it comes to restoring Australian's trust and confidence in the political system.

To acknowledge that there might be a trust problem doesn't mean that the bill which has been proposed by the Greens is the answer to that problem. Indeed, it could very well intensify the problem. We need to be alive to that risk and consider it in light of both the potential for it to do good or the potential for it to do harm. There are many other ways by which we can work to address the trust deficit, not least through the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. This government has undertaken extensive public consultation on the proposed model. We received 78 submissions during the consultation process. We should also note that there are many existing government processes that give Australians a direct avenue to air their concerns and their grievances with the way public administration is operated to ensure its integrity. There are no less than 12 agencies at the Commonwealth level that currently have responsibility for ensuring integrity in the processes of government. In addition to that, we have a range of parliamentary committees whose job it is to scrutinise proposed laws, to hold government activities to account and to canvass public opinion on matters that are important to the Australian people. To establish yet another body with the power to be itself a tyrant, just as the ICAC in New South Wales has right to the point where the High Court of this country has reprimanded it for its abuse of power and its reckless tarnishing of reputations with nowhere near sufficient evidence, would not be the answer. Open and honest dialogue: that's how we rebuild our relationship with the Australian people. It's not by dragging out the debate on what a national integrity commission should look like—a debate that the longer we carry on about, the less faith, ironically, we can expect Australians to have in the final product.

I ask my colleagues in the Senate to reject this bill and to support the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. It is well-resourced, it is subject to proper processes and it will be effective in such a way as to ensure that all Australians can be confident in their elected representatives and in the public officials who are charged with the duty of giving effect to the work of this place.

10:34 am

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't think that it could be doubted by anyone who participates in politics at the moment that trust in politics in Australia, and across the world, is at an all-time low. Everywhere we look we see evidence of that, whether it be disengagement from the political process, the kind of abuse that is regularly meted out on all sides of politics over social media or the rise of fringe third parties at elections. All of those things are indications that trust in politics is at a serious low. So, for that reason, the time for a national integrity commission in Australia has never been greater. I don't believe, as some advocates of an integrity commission believe, that simply creating a national integrity commission will be a magic wand and will immediately fix the lack of trust in Australian politics, but I certainly believe, and Labor believes, that establishing a national integrity commission is a fundamental plank in what is needed to restore trust in Australian politics.

As we could have expected, Senator Waters in her speech took the opportunity to throw her usual insults about Labor when it comes to integrity matters, so I'd like to remind Senator Waters and anyone who's watching this debate that Labor has had a proud record in driving integrity in government for many decades, well before the Greens party even existed. In my own home state of Queensland, of course, politics over the last 20 or 30 years has been defined by the response to the Fitzgerald inquiry, established by the then National Party government but which trawled over the obscene corruption that we saw in the Liberal and National Party governments in Queensland over a 20- or 30-year period. As a result of that inquiry, Labor, under the leadership of Wayne Goss, put forward incredible integrity moves, incredible anticorruption moves, that survive in Queensland to this day. It's hard to believe that until the early 1990s, when Labor, under Wayne Goss, was elected, Queensland didn't have any sort of corruption body, didn't have freedom of information processes for people to access information about what government was doing and didn't even have estimates committees of its parliament with which to hold government ministers and the government generally to account. All of those things—a corruption commission, FOI laws, estimates hearings and many, many other integrity measures—were introduced by the Goss Labor government and remain in Queensland to this day.

At a federal level, Labor has championed donations reform and is still waiting for the government to come around to our position that donation thresholds should be reduced drastically so that people do know who is donating to politics, whether it be to the Liberals, to the Nationals, to Labor, to the Greens or to any other party, but still we are waiting for the government to come around on that. In government, federal Labor also brought in stronger FOI laws, whistleblower protection and a range of other anticorruption measures. So driving integrity in government is absolutely part of Labor's DNA.

In contrast, unfortunately we have seen and continue to see the Liberals and the Nationals in government oppose various integrity measures, such as the donations reform that I was talking about, stronger whistleblower protections and, of course, the establishment of the very integrity body that we are debating today. I do recognise that, under public pressure, late last year the government finally accepted that we did need to have some kind of integrity commission at a federal level, but, of course, what the government is putting forward falls well short of what this parliament should deem acceptable and what the Australian people deem acceptable. Only last week, Geoffrey Watson, the former counsel assisting the New South Wales ICAC, who was a director of the Centre for Public Integrity, wrote an opinion piece about an integrity commission. He described the coalition's proposal, the government's proposal, as 'a joke'. He described it as:

Toothless, spineless, and secretive—it would have no power to examine the activities of politicians or those close to them. ... It also—laughably—prevents the investigation of corruption in the past, with the consequence of protecting crooked politicians from any examination of their misdeeds.

He concluded by saying:

The Coalition’s proposal is not a real anti-corruption agency; it is a sham. It would be worse than having no commission at all.

Over the course of this debate we have heard government senators like Senator Stoker, who just spoke, get up and talk about how committed the federal government is to an anticorruption commission and how their model is superior. Don't listen to what I've got to say about this by any means, if you don't want to, but just listen to someone like Geoffrey Watson, who's been at the coalface of fighting corruption for a very long time. He describes the government's model as a joke and a sham, and that is not where we should be heading. In the end, the reason that the Morrison government is taking this position is that it fundamentally hates the idea of being held accountable for its actions. That's why the Morrison government has been slithering around on this important issue, trying to avoid making any real commitments.

Labor has been talking about the need for a national integrity commission since January 2018—well before the last election—when we announced our commitment to establish such a body. We in Labor made it clear that while we were not proposing to draft, from opposition, the legislation that would establish that body, we had been consulting extensively with legal and integrity experts and examining the pros and cons of the various state models. From that work we arrived at seven basic design principles for the proposed body, which we were committed to establishing.

When we made that announcement in June 2018, we invited the Turnbull government to work with us on this initiative. After Prime Minister Turnbull was overthrown and removed from office by his ambitious friends—the member for Dickson and the current Prime Minister—we then made the same offer to the Morrison government to work with us on establishing a national integrity body that actually had real teeth, because we in Labor know that corruption is something that harms us all, and it harms our nation.

As I've already said: the public's trust in politics and our institutions is at an all-time low. While there are many factors that have led to this erosion of public confidence, there is no doubt that corruption in government will only further entrench that mistrust.

Every single state in Australia now has anticorruption bodies, and Labor went to the May election promising to establish such a body at the federal level. Finally, in December last year, the Morrison government announced that it would backflip on its previous claims that a national integrity commission was not necessary or that a national integrity commission was, as the Prime Minister described it, a 'fringe issue'. Suddenly, having sniffed the public mood and becoming aware of their ongoing embarrassment about having rejected a need for a banking royal commission, until it was forced upon them, they were suddenly in favour of a national integrity commission. But we haven't heard anything from the government about it since—that was 10 months ago, and we still haven't seen an exposure draft of legislation from the Morrison government. As I've already said, experts in these matters describe the government's proposal as a sham and a joke. So much for the Morrison government's promise of action.

Having unexpectedly won office again, it seems the last thing this government wants is a national integrity commission to look at what they and their mates are doing behind closed doors. We acknowledge this bill, which was prepared by the former independent member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, and is being presented to this parliament by the Greens party, is not perfect, but the integrity commission that would be established by this bill is incomparably better than the sham version of an integrity commission that the Morrison government proposed when it was finally dragged kicking and screaming, in December last year, to support one. It is because the need for a national integrity commission is now so urgent, and because the Morrison government has made clear that it only wants a sham of a national integrity commission so that it can pretend it is doing something about corruption in government, that Labor is willing to support the passage of the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2) through the Senate.

The Morrison government has to wake up to reality. The Australian people want a national integrity commission and our country would benefit from having one. The Morrison government also has to understand that the Australian people want a real national integrity commission—not the kind of sham and not the kind of joke that Geoffrey Watson describes the government's proposal as—a commission with independence and with the powers and the resources needed to stamp out corruption in government and the federal public sector. The Australian people want a watchdog with real teeth rather than some kind of obedient lapdog of the government, which seems to be what Mr Morrison and his cronies want.

As I've said: trust in politics and politicians is at historic lows in this country, and it's made worse every day by the chaos and cover-ups that have become the hallmark of this government. Labor is supporting this bill because it is time to do something about corruption in government at the federal level. As on so many issues of vital importance to this nation—from the economy to climate change to the need for an energy policy to the ever-rising cost of living—the Morrison government continues to pretend that there's no problem to deal with in relation to integrity and that a slogan will do in place of a policy. Labor supports this bill and calls on the Morrison government to do the same.

10:45 am

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant of the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to support the intent behind an ICAC. But I want to go into the matter of accountability, because the people of Australia do not hold federal parliament in high regard when it comes to the matter of accountability. It's something I realised before entering parliament, having had to deal with people from both sides of parliament in the upper house and the lower house—accountability is low or nonexistent in many places, and the people of Australia laugh at the people in this building. In my first speech, I mentioned that accountability was one of the areas I wanted to improve in this parliament. It's something that Senator Pauline Hanson has repeatedly stated—accountability, accountability, accountability. We see Labor in Queensland, Labor in New South Wales, Labor in Ipswich, Labor in many shire councils in Queensland and the Liberal Party in some councils in Queensland. We see Chinese donations. We don't get answers.

Last week and the week before, I was involved with a committee of inquiry looking at the post-retirement incomes of former ministers Bishop and Pyne. I interviewed, or questioned, the most senior bureaucrat in this country, who retired just a few hours later—Dr Martin Parkinson. After talking to us about the investigation he had done on behalf of the Prime Minister, repeatedly mentioning the word 'investigation', he admitted under my line of questioning that he had no investigation powers. The undertaking that ministers give to the Prime Minister on being appointed is simply an undertaking—unenforceable and uninvestigable. Accountability is low. I have seen it firsthand. That's why this building, in my opinion, is often the most damaging building in the country. It's because it has so much power over the people of Australia and doesn't work for the people of Australia.

I mention energy, immigration, taxation, multinationals not being taxed, the theft of property rights—these are fundamental, basic things that are being ignored, blown away, by the people in this parliament. We must get rid of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. I'll say it again: we must get rid of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. We see something is needed. Should it be internal? Should it be a matter of, as Ms Bishop stated last week, holding ministers accountable under legislation so they can be held accountable after they retire? Well, that's one way of doing it, and I would prefer to see something like that. But, having had introductory talks on that matter, I know it is difficult to do that. So that leaves us, then, with an external body that would be free of politics, would be legal and would be tight. That's what the people of Australia want—free of politics, legal and tight. My concern there, though, is that parliament could be used as a shield. But we have seen some instances of success with this in the state bodies, so it's worth exploring.

I want to compliment the Greens for raising this. There you are, people of Australia; I've actually complimented the Greens! It's not the first time. We will always compliment the Greens and work with the Greens when they come up with a sensible idea. Clearly, the people have lost faith in parliament and they tell us that. They tell One Nation that a lot, and they want us to do something about it. In fact, we see that parliament itself has lost faith in itself, because we see motion after motion requesting inquiries. Parliament has lost faith in itself. So I want to compliment the Greens because they're doing more here than just fabricating victims, which they normally do. The real victims of this corruption and this abuse of power in this building are the people of Australia.

But there is a very big 'but'. In fact, there are 17 'buts', and we put these fundamental questions to the Greens. We have received answers on some, but these questions came out of review by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. These are serious questions that people have asked about this bill, and they have largely gone unanswered, or else problems have been confirmed. So I want to go through those.

As I said, the intent behind this, to drive more accountability in parliament, is sound, but let's have a look at the execution. The person under investigation is not required to be informed that they are being investigated. That's fundamental. That's a deficiency. The Integrity Commission is being given the powers of a royal commission, but it is not a judicial investigation. It does not have the requisite legal staff to support the powers of a royal commission—another flaw. The commission will have no powers for telecommunications intercepts, surveillance devices and so on—another flaw.

Referrals of matters can be made by any person. No framework for specious or political referrals exists. There are no checks or balances on the referrals. This could be used politically outside the parliament as well as inside the parliament. Heads of Commonwealth agencies are required to make referrals to the commission where they believe corrupt conduct has occurred. That's fine. However, the definition of 'corrupt conduct' is so broad this whole section becomes unworkable. It may result in a known incident being buried in hundreds of specious incidents and claims. Remember, this is not me talking. This is from the reviews by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. Those are real and serious questions.

No. 9—we like this one—is that the commission has the power to hold public meetings. That seems unpopular, but we think it's probably appropriate. No. 11 is that the commissioner appears to have the power to refuse a person's right to be represented before them. The Greens actually replied to this one, and they said, 'That's not always the case, but it is in some cases.'

The next matter is that the commissioner may order a person arrested and brought before the commission. That arrest does not need to be carried out by law enforcement—merely authorised persons. Sure, the Australian Federal Police could do that, but in the instances where it's not done by the Australian Federal Police it could undo the process. So that's questionable, and we need clarification there.

The next matter is that the bill allows persons other than police officers to execute search warrants, including powers to force entry and search in the absence of the suspect. There is no requirement on experience or qualifications of the commission's operators. Unless they are experienced, they could be prone to mistakes, and that could throw out the validity of the whole inquiry—the whole action.

The next matter I want to discuss is No. 15, the reversal of evidentiary burden of proof. The person under investigation has to raise evidence to disprove their guilt. There is no longer presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Greens say that people don't need that protection.

The next matter is that failing to appear after receiving a summons or failing to produce a document or thing is a strict liability offence carrying six months in jail. This takes out the ability to get sick or be geographically or financially unable to respond and also to appeal the order to hand over a document or item. The commissioner may give an extension, but they're pretty broad powers. That is item 16 raised by the two committees.

No. 17—the last one I'll talk about—is that members, including staff of the commission, are exempted from civil action from defamation and a group of civil remedies. They can literally do anything. They can lie or say anything about a person they wish, and they are good to go.

So we are caught here with something that is of sound intent but complicated and flawed in its execution. As I said, it has been reviewed by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. It fundamentally goes against basic tenets of the law in our country. Our conclusion would be that we are caught in between the Greens bill that goes too far and undermines some fundamental principles of law in this country and creates a body that would embarrass the Stasi and, on the other hand, the government's proposal that investigates and reports in secret and only investigates matters referred to it by the government. Both are not acceptable: poor to the Left; poor to the Right.

What we see in this bill is sound intent destroyed, submerged and squashed by virtue signalling. The Greens are the squealing pigs of the Australian parliament. They talk about integrity but don't have integrity of using the science on climate change, which is now emasculating millions of people's economic welfare and future. It's based on a lie. They have never provided the evidence and yet they talk to us about the integrity of their climate claims. All they use is emotion and stories.

This is a political stunt. It is embarrassing that they try to foist this upon the people of this country. The Greens give more rights to illegals entering this country than they are giving in this bill to the people of our country. We won't stand for it. We will not support this bill until it is cleaned up and the intent is supported by the specific provisions. I want to repeat: One Nation are in favour of an ICAC or an external body to hold this parliament to account, but we are not in favour of this stunt.

We as a parliament must do things properly because time after time the government stuffs it up and the people pay. On energy the people pay. On the theft of property rights the people pay. On excessive immigration not only do the people pay financially but they are inconvenienced and our standards and values are destroyed. We ask the questions that people want asked in this parliament. We have the guts to say what people are really thinking. The people want accountability, not a sham. We want a proper ICAC, a proper external body, to hold the parliament and individual parliamentarians accountable. This bill does not do that adequately.

10:57 am

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this morning to talk on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2), a private senator's bill of the Australian Greens for establishing the National Integrity Commission. A private senator's bill moved by the Australian Greens to set up the National Integrity Commission should ring alarm bells everywhere, so I am very surprised that it sounds like Labor might be deciding this morning to support what is a very flawed proposition. The proposition of a national integrity commission is not flawed. The Morrison government supports it. Senator Roberts supports it. The Labor Party is on the record as supporting it.

What is very important in this debate and what has been demonstrated by the conduct of independent corruption commissions across this country already is that design is critical. Senator Waters in her opening remarks this morning said that you get what you pay for. I disagree. As legislators what the parliament gets is what it designs for. It is interesting that in the contributions of Senator Waters and Senator Watt this morning we have had not a skerrick about the detail of the design of this National Integrity Commission Bill. That should ring alarm bells for everyone.

Senator Roberts is correct to have gone to the Scrutiny of Bills Committee's work on this matter. For those that aren't aware, the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee is effectively responsible for calling out and protecting the civil liberties of Australians when it comes to the design of our laws. It's a committee that doesn't get much attention outside of this Senate chamber; its work probably deserves to get considerably more attention than it does. But Senator Roberts's contribution was correct insofar as it highlighted a number of those civil liberties issues that the Scrutiny of Bills Committee itself had found, and it detailed for the Senate what the Australian Greens' response was to some of those issues. It's worth reminding the Senate that, on those big issues—every civil liberty issue is, I think, a big issue—on some of the most substantive issues, the Greens either didn't respond or didn't provide a thorough response.

Senator Waters, in her contribution, said that we've had six bills and it's taken 10 years. That's actually a demonstration, and that actually makes my point, that the design of these national integrity commission bills has been so poor—and I would argue that this is just as poor—as to not warrant the support of this Senate. This is a private senator's bill. It is worth drawing to people's attention that, if it should pass today, it does not mean that a national integrity commission will be legislated, because it will be necessary, of course, for the bill to pass the House of Representatives. Australians who are concerned about civil liberties, Australians who are worried that their reputations might be heavily tarnished, can breathe a little easier, because it is unlikely that this poorly designed, flawed bill will become law. I do want to reiterate that the theme of a national integrity commission has been endorsed and agreed to; it is now a debate about the detail.

Senator Watt, in his very own contribution, said that this bill is not perfect. Who pays for an imperfect bill? Who pays for an imperfect legislative remedy? The citizen. I'll come back to how the citizen pays for this, and I don't mean in a financial sense; I mean in a reputational sense.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

I hear Senator O'Neill, who has a very senior position in this parliament as the Chair of the Privileges Committee, interjecting. She should carry a heavier burden than other senators when it comes to the reputational damage that citizens pay for when a bill is poorly designed. I'm not speculating about the reputational damage; I will demonstrate the very real reputational damage, and what bodies of our country, like the Law Council, have to say about that.

These are serious matters. No-one supports corruption in our public system, in our civil society, in our community. But how we repel corruption, how we deal with corruption when it appears, is a very critical issue. I had cause to write about this issue the day that the Morrison government agreed, conceptually, to a national integrity commission. I was privileged to have my comments on this matter reported in TheAustralian Financial Review, in an opinion piece that I had penned, under the heading 'Australia is no place for show trials'. I want to share with the Senate some remarks that I made in that opinion piece on the very issue of a corruption commission, but more particularly on what are the very real consequences of poor design.

In that opinion piece, I remark—this goes to the third point of Senator Waters's contribution. Senator Waters's contribution alluded to only one contestable issue among many, many issues when it comes to the design of a national integrity commission. She didn't even examine the issue; she only alluded to one issue. That is the very real debate about public versus private hearings. I'll be very interested to hear what Labor senators have to say about public versus private hearings, because if they have nothing to say about the merits of public versus private hearings or vice versa then they've come into this chamber ill-prepared. They've developed a position to support this bill that is ill-prepared and ignores—they are being consciously, dangerously ignorant of—what I argued privately is one of the fundamental issues when it comes to the design of a national integrity commission.

The establishment of a national integrity commission was examined in a lot of detail in the last parliament. I think its report was released in the last few sitting weeks of the last parliament. I participated in that Senate select committee inquiry into a national integrity commission, which was very ably chaired by Labor Senator Jacinta Collins. That is a very considered report into some of the very real tensions and contested ideas about the design of an integrity commission. That was the basis of an opinion piece that I had written for the Financial Review.

Let me go to this very important point of public versus private hearings. In the Australian Financial Review, I wrote of public versus private hearings, which Senator Waters only alluded to in the briefest of ways:

This issue is so hotly contested the Senate inquiry couldn't settle on an agreed position and was forced to leave the matter open.

In evidence to the Senate inquiry, lawyers from Gilbert and Tobin argued both sides, but noted the potential costs associated with holding public hearings, particularly on the "privacy and reputation of individuals involved".

And just remember that part—'the privacy and reputation of individuals involved'. It's very possible that an individual is found not guilty of anything, but their privacy and reputation not just get tarnished but are irrevocably damaged. I went on to write:

The Law Council of Australia encouraged great caution around the use of public hearings, suggesting private hearings should be the default position and cited the risk of "irreparable damage" upon those unfairly implicated in corruption hearings.

Even the officer which holds the notorious—

That's my word, 'notorious'—

NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to account conceded public hearings left the community "confused" and could lead people to incorrectly conclude that functions of anti-corruption bodies were judicial proceedings.

This is not a trivial matter.

The danger with some independent corruption commissions in our country, and I put ICAC at No. 1 on the lead table in this regard, is that they have a perception of courts, but they are not a court. They do not uphold those longstanding criminal justice principles that many Australians take for granted and that the Scrutiny of Bills Committee exists to protect. I went on to say:

Most Australians would agree that a person should not have to suffer ongoing reputational harm once an anti-corruption commission finds insufficient or no evidence to support a prosecution.

Whatever the shortcomings of Australia's current multi-agency framework, it doesn't run "show trials" and it avoids the risk of prejudicing future criminal proceedings while at the same time upholding longstanding legal principles such as the presumption of innocence.

Poor design of a national integrity commission will come at a very, very high cost to Australian citizens. The Australian Greens support it, perhaps; we'll know in a few moments. The Australian Labor Party want to trample on people's civil liberties and human rights, want to sanction the creation of a poorly designed anticorruption commission—remembering that no-one in this place disputes anymore the need for one—but there is a very live and contested argument about how it should be constructed and what it should do. These issues are very important.

Let me just briefly demonstrate to you how dangerously broad I regard the private senator's bill that is before us today, brought to us by Senator Waters. Remember that poor definitions mean that people's liberties can get trampled on. That's the ultimate outcome. If things are not carefully and well designed, then the people who pay the cost are ordinary and, most definitely, innocent citizens. Under this proposal, 'corrupt conduct' can include something as minor as a disciplinary offence or any behaviour that gives rise to reasonable grounds for dismissal. Under the Greens bill, even an 'irregularity' that gives rise to disciplinary action could be considered corrupt conduct. You won't be surprised to hear that the government doesn't agree that something as minor as an irregularity should be deemed corrupt conduct. This would mean any such irregularity would be subject to the most extreme and coercive powers of a body like the proposed National Integrity Commission. It's worth noting that many codes of conduct already operate, already exist, across the Public Service to deal with what are effectively matters of misconduct, not corruption.

Let me provide you with a demonstration of how broad the retrospectivity is in this proposition and, we argue, how at odds it is with fundamental human rights. In this bill, the definitions of 'employee' and 'public official' are also very broad. They may even cover foreign governments if they provide a service to the Commonwealth—for example, for foreign aid purposes. It is a significant overreach that this proposed Integrity Commission could investigate the conduct of foreign governments. That is a demonstration of how poorly designed this bill is—and with poor design, I would argue, comes danger.

In the brief time available to me, I think it is important to be very clear about the government's position. The government's position is that we support an integrity commission. Our Integrity Commission will be the lead body in Australia's successful multi-agency anticorruption framework. This is a very important point: no-one has said that the current framework has failed. No-one has said that the current framework has failed, but they would like to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, in anticipation of this new model that is poorly designed. Not only do we have all of the risk of a new model that is poorly designed; we lose all of the benefit of that multi-agency framework that already has served Australia's national anticorruption efforts well.

The government is committed to ensuring that Australians remain confident about the conduct and representation of their Commonwealth parliamentarians and of the Australian Public Service more generally, and that that Public Service is operating in their best interests. Our proposed new Integrity Commission will have teeth, resources and proper legal processes to underpin the work it does to protect the integrity of Australia's Commonwealth public administration while avoiding the pitfalls, weaknesses and abuses in systems introduced by state jurisdictions and those in the alternative models being proposed. Let's be clear about this. The anticorruption bodies that exist in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia are not perfect. I think ICAC, in the way it has conducted itself, should stand as a beacon to those people who are concerned about how anticorruption bodies can get ahead of themselves, operating as quasi-courts when in fact they are nothing of the sort.

Let me finish with this observation, and it goes to the heart of a matter which is which is very recent, very powerful and very much alive at this moment in my home state of Western Australia—and I note that Senator Cash is also in the chamber. In Western Australia, the Western Australia based corruption commission has—my words—overstepped the mark. It has absolutely overstepped the mark and failed to properly understand and observe that very, very important principle of parliamentary privilege—so much so, I'd argue, that the work of parliamentarians in Western Australia has been severely compromised. Let's not forget that many of the people that lead these ICAC bodies are very notable and very 'experienced'. But that does not mean that independent anticorruption bodies are free from overstepping their mark and undermining such a cherished and important principle as that of parliamentary privilege, which goes to the core of our successful parliamentary democracy.

If I had more time this morning I'd be happy to amplify and illuminate for the Senate that very real, potently dangerous issue that has emerged in Western Australia—this contest between the parliament and the independent crime commission. But time doesn't allow me to do that. I suspect that you, Senator Sterle, might even agree with my sentiment.

Senator Sterle interjecting

You might agree with the sentiment of my comments—

Senator Sterle interjecting

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Please direct your remarks to the chair and ignore the interjections.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry. I took the interjection because Senator Sterle is also a Western Australian senator but a member of the Australian Labor Party. There is a very live contest in Western Australia. I note that Labor Party members of the state upper house, the Legislative Council, have voted in support of the privileges committee's recommendations, against the wishes of the Premier, and quite rightly so. The first task of a parliamentarian is to stand up and protect the parliament and the rights and privileges of that parliament. So I applaud them for doing that. I might also sing the praises, in this particular moment and on this particular issue, of the Legislative Council member for the South Metropolitan province, Kate Doust—who's also President of the upper house and the chair of that privileges committee—for the great work she's done in defending parliamentary sovereignty and the principle of parliamentary privilege.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

Hear, hear!

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Sterle, for that affirmation, just in case it wasn't caught on the Hansard.

11:17 am

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on this debate on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2). Can I say, in the context of inquiries that are underway in New South Wales with regard to the ICAC, that I'm a little surprised to find a Liberal member from Western Australia deriding the same institution that is actually doing work against corruption in New South Wales. I also want to put on the record how important I think it is that this government acknowledge its failure to lead in the establishment of a national integrity commission for the federal context.

I do acknowledge Senator Smith's genuine hard work in this place and the several major contributions he's made to national debate. I also acknowledge his recognition of the work of Kate Doust in Western Australia and of Senator Sterle's presence here and the issue that's very live at the moment in Western Australia with regard to privilege, in which I have some considerable interest. However, he can't have it both ways, and I think that's what's happening here. For those who are in the chamber and perhaps those who are listening, we have a government telling the Australian people that they're there for the quiet Australians, that they will stand up for integrity. In fact, they claim that they've advanced this front. If I can use Senator Smith's words, he said they have a conceptual support for the concept of a national integrity commission. But when you're the government and you're in the beginning of your third term in government, Australians have a right to expect a bit more than conceptual support for a national integrity bill.

What are we talking about with this word 'integrity'? I commend the Greens political party for at least having the term 'integrity' maintained in this bill. I think there's something very powerful in stating in its title what it is that this bill seeks to achieve: to seek integrity and to preserve integrity. The word 'integrity' actually means all of these things: honesty, uprightness, probity, rectitude, honour, honourableness, good character, ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, nobility, high-mindedness, virtue, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness and trustworthiness. I cannot think of one Australian I know who wouldn't support the establishment of a body that is aligned to those particular revelations of the best of the human spirit and human endeavour.

So why is this government not doing anything about it? Why are we at a point where, in their third term of government, having celebrated six years of being the government of Australia, Labor is here today supporting a bill that's been advanced by the Greens in a form with which we are not entirely comfortable? I would say that, if we were in government, this chamber would already have dealt with the establishment of a national integrity commission.

When you hear the contributions from those opposite saying, 'Oh, we haven't got it right; we can't get it right', that is a failure of government that they put on the record every time they get up and speak against the establishment of a national integrity commission. I know that there is definitely widespread support among Australians for the establishment of a national integrity commission. In fact, according to polling by the Australia Institute, as many as 80 per cent of Australians really support the creation of this integrity body at a federal level. I will concede that all parties who are in this debate here will acknowledge that getting an anti-corruption body firmly established and getting the terms is very difficult to get exactly right. It is a delicate design task. But, when you're the government, that is the task that's before you—to undertake the work, with all the resources of government behind you, to develop a model that is effective and can be implemented.

While the piece of legislation that's before us today may not yet be perfect, it is quite close to what Labor said we would do in government. That is the reason—in the absence of leadership and in the absence of the government acting with integrity with regard to this piece of legislation—that Labor will support the Greens' amendment today. Believe me, there are plenty of things about which we disagree. As I said, this bill isn't perfect, but it's a long way ahead of where this tardy government is in the establishment of a national integrity commission. I will say on the record that I align myself with what Australians believe: that we need action now and we need to get on with the task. It doesn't seem that that's of any import to those who sit opposite.

How do we know that this is of so little value to them? We only have to look at their legislative agenda. For those who don't come to parliament every day, you don't always understand how everything works. But let me tell you that, when you're the government, you control the legislation. You decide what gets listed as the work of the parliament every week. The government make those decisions. This government has chosen, week after week, when those opposite have decided to show up—we did have the part-time parliament, remember?—to not make it a priority to list legislation relating to a national integrity commission. Despite their contributions in this place today, where they are trying to act like they are doing the right thing, it is pretty clear from their legislative agenda—from their failure to have developed legislation before us—that this simply isn't a priority for them, which puts them at odds with 80 per cent of the population.

It's been more than seven months now since those opposite put forward their half-baked version of an integrity commission. This weekend, as I said, marked six years of Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. During these six years, the government have been plagued by very serious allegations of scandals and misconduct. Perhaps there lies some rationale for why they're so reluctant to get on with the job of advancing a national integrity commission. But, despite that, they still somehow lack the heart to tackle corruption. It simply isn't a priority. If this were a priority for the government, they would have picked up Labor's plan for a national integrity commission and they would have already brought this legislation before the parliament.

Unlike those opposite, Labor didn't have to be pressured or dragged kicking and screaming to the table on this matter of the national integrity commission. Labor, in fact, first announced our plan for a national integrity commission back in January of 2018. We saw the need, and we advanced a plan to make that one of the first pieces of business if we were successful in the last election. We went to the election with a commitment for a national integrity commission with all the powers of a royal commission. Our plan for a national integrity commission had seven detailed design principles, including that the commission would have a broad jurisdiction to investigate corruption, that it would have the power to initiate its own investigations and that it would have the power to hold public hearings if the commissioner determined it was in the public interest to do so.

I want to go to the contribution from Senator Dean Smith with regard to public versus private. He makes valid points about reputational damage. But these bodies—these national integrity commissions of various shapes and sizes around the country—have informed the way in which a federal body might act with regard to reputational risk and be able to manage that. The fourth of Labor's seven design principles is that the commission should be granted the investigative powers of a royal commission, including search and surveillance powers, powers to compel witnesses and subpoena documents, and powers to carry out its own investigations with warrant oversight by the Federal Court. Then, with that information, we suggest the fifth principle would be that, while the presumption will be that hearings will be held in private, the commission would have discretion to hold hearings in public where it determines it is in the public interest to do so. So the claims that were put there by Senator Smith about how we can't do this and it's too hard are not true.

If we're going to establish an integrity commission and endow it with such significant powers, we have to create a sense of belief and also empowerment for those who are leading that commission to act with integrity themselves; to be mindful of the risk to reputation; to be able to discern with wisdom, dare I say, where there is a risk that a person might inadvertently be caught up in something; and to have that person's hearing undertaken in public, affording them privacy where that is appropriate but allowing the antiseptic power of the public hearing so that the Australian populace will hear about what's going on where that is appropriate. It is not beyond the capacity of an integrity commission to act with that form of careful and wise justice in mind.

We support the legislation today, but we will keep fighting for our own version of a national integrity commission with teeth, which has proper independence, resources and powers. We believe that corruption has no place in Australia, and governments should be doing everything they can to prevent it. Every Australian should feel comfortable that their government is open, transparent and free from corruption and that it is acting with integrity at every level. Eighty per cent of Australians believe an integrity commission is necessary, but that is still not enough for this government to actually do the governing that's required.

When you're a citizen living your life, running a small business in rural New South Wales, for example, or participating in supporting learning in an early childhood centre in the middle of one of our great cities or caring for somebody or working in any of the professions, you don't always understand or observe what your government is doing. But there have been some whole-of-nation attention-gathering scandals and corruption events that have hit the Commonwealth in recent times. I just want to remind you of a couple of them.

People will be familiar with the Australian Wheat Board—there was a kickback scheme and a scandal. There was the security affair about the currency of Australia with the design of new kinds of currency and its involvement with overseas jurisdictions. There was the deeply concerning survey of federal public servants by the Australian Public Service Commission which revealed that five per cent of respondents in our Public Service declared that they saw misconduct in their workplaces. And there were the equally concerning results of another survey which measured community perception of corruption at the federal level. That survey, which was conducted by Griffith University and Transparency International, showed that an incredible 85 per cent of Australian citizens represented in this study, 85 per cent of respondents, believed that at least some federal members of parliament were corrupt, while 18 per cent considered that most or all members were corrupt.

I hate to actually put that on the record in this place, and I do want to put on the record my esteem for colleagues of all stripes across this parliament for the hard work that they do in representing their constituencies, even those who hold views quite different to mine. But if this is the perception that our citizens have of what happens in this place then the task of establishing a national integrity commission is an urgent one that this government is failing to respond to. It will be a threat to the integrity of our democracy if this government allows this perception to continue to fester.

It's not the only thing that the government are failing on. They'll bring in legislation that they think can divide the parliament. Where's the legislation to unite the nation? Where's the leadership that we've been offered and promised? Day after day with their legislative program they fail to respond to the real and pressing challenges of supporting the democracy of this nation. This bill, from the Greens, is another absolute representation of the work that needs to be done by those who are not in government because the government are failing in their duties.

The social contract revolves around expectations that elected representatives will act in the best interests of their voters. There are very serious ramifications and consequences when voters feel like this contract that they have with the parliament and parliamentarians is broken. You'd think that the examples that I have just given that are on the public record and which are well known to those on the government benches in the green chamber and here should have been enough for them to jump-start into action—but, sadly, this has not been the case. Time and time again this lacklustre government has shown it's not serious about integrity or tackling corruption, like last month when it voted down Labor's motion demanding it keep to its promise to establish this National Integrity Commission.

Can I just advise that, on the last Thursday we sat before we went to the sitting break over the spring period, Labor moved in the green chamber that the government get on with this job to establish the National Integrity Commission. The government voted against it. So they say one thing and get amplification in social media and in the traditional media, but the reality is, when it comes to the crunch, these guys are missing in action. They have failed to deliver a legislative program. They have whined and whinged here about how difficult the task is. They have been here for six years—they're in their third term—and still they're putting on the public record, by their responses today, that they're not up to the job. They're not up to the job of legislating for what Australians want.

The question has to be asked: if Scott Morrison and the Liberals are so keen on what's happening in New South Wales, why are they so scared of a national integrity commission at the federal level? I believe in integrity at every level of government: local government, state government and federal government. And, while this government refuses to act, they have carved out an area that lacks the clean impact of scrutiny that would be delivered by a national integrity commission. The Prime Minister has indicated that ensuring integrity in registered organisations like the CFMEU is a priority. Well, yes, integrity is a priority—but what about at the national parliament level? Given the scandals which continue to rock this shambolic government, it's becoming a little clearer to me—and perhaps to you, Acting Deputy President Brockman—why they've decided not to make it a priority. Every time they ignore or cover up scandalous conduct by their own ministers, they actively obstruct progress on this matter.

For a long time after Labor announced our intention to establish a national integrity commission, we were on our own. We were the only voice calling for it. This change in rhetoric—'Oh, we're thinking about it but it's too hard'—is now a small step in the right direction, but it is dragging this government kicking and screaming. Once again, just like they were with the banking royal commission, they are failing to respond to the reality that's before the eyes of every Australian, who can see quite clearly what needs to happen. It's well past time for the Liberal and Nationals members in this government to listen to the 80 per cent of Australians who agree that we need a national integrity commission. It's time for them to get on with the job. I remind this third-term government of the commitment they took to the federal election this year. It's time to deliver on that commitment.

11:37 am

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

I move:

That the question be put.

Question agreed to.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be read a second time.