Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 November 2020


Commonwealth Integrity Commission

8:20 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Watching the US election this past week, we've seen just how important it is to protect our own democracy and to protect integrity in politics. It has made me appreciate more than ever our own institutions—the Australian Electoral Commission, compulsory voting, and the ABC and its independent analysis and reporting. But there is one critical institution we don't have, and we need it more than ever: a national integrity commission that can investigate federal politics.

It has been two years since the government first promised an integrity commission, two years which they've spent demonstrating exactly why we need one, with scandal after scandal—sports rorts, dodgy documents, airport rorts, dodgy deals and jobs for mates. And it doesn't stop there. There's a new scandal every week in Scott Morrison's Liberal government. New South Wales has an integrity commission, its Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is at work right now. Victoria has one, its Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission. It's at work right now, and this work is critical. Victoria's IBAC allows community members to make complaints about the public sector, police and, indeed, Victorian politicians. These state commissions work to investigate and expose corruption in state politics. We need a national integrity commission and we need it now.

This week the government announced their proposal to create one, and the experts have absolutely derided it as a toothless tiger. They've called it the weakest watchdog in the country and an attempt to protect ministers. They say it's designed to cover up corruption, not expose it. This is damning. Why have the experts slammed the government's proposed model? Because this would be a commission that in most cases would be unable to start its own independent investigations. It would be unable to hold public hearings related to federal politicians. It might even be prevented from investigating any of the Morrison government's past scandals. So this would be a cover-up commission, not an anticorruption commission.

Let's consider just how toothless the government's so-called integrity commission would be. Under its model, the government would have to refer itself to the commission for sport rorts, the government would have to refer itself to the commission for the $30 million airport land rort and it would have to refer itself to the commission to look into its dodgy documents saga. If ever there was a case of the fox guarding the henhouse, we have it right here. This is a flawed, weak, secretive and fundamentally fatally compromised model.

Just why does the government want it to be so weak? The answer is pretty clear. It's so the government can pretend it's taking action on corruption while ensuring that it can't be held to account itself. Just what else does this government have to hide? The ever-growing list of scandals surrounding it shows us exactly why we need a national integrity commission that is independent and powerful, that can investigate complaints that come direct from the public, that can hold public hearings and that can instigate its own inquiries. We need an anticorruption commission that has real teeth, with the power to take action and to protect the integrity of our politics and our democracy. Anything less than this will tell us everything we need to know about the Morrison government. So it's time it got on with it and stopped stalling the process.

The government have claimed that this is a complicated process and that's why it's taking too long. They've claimed there's no time to consult. They've claimed they can't multitask during COVID-19. But this is a priority. We need the public to engage in the decisions that are being made in their name right here in Canberra. We need them to see how their taxpayer dollars are being spent. We need to rebuild public faith in our political system, and a national integrity commission with real teeth is a critical step in that journey.