Wednesday, 23 June 2021
Questions without Notice
Commonwealth Integrity Commission
My question is to the Attorney-General and concerns the government's failure to deliver on its 2019 election promise to legislate the national integrity commission. What is the Attorney's response to the open letter to the government from 59 eminent Australian jurists, including Mary Gaudron QC, former Justice of the High Court; Tony Fitzgerald QC, former Federal Court judge and head of the Fitzgerald inquiry; no fewer than 13 former state Supreme Court and appeal court justices; and others, including Nicholas Cowdery QC, former New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions, and Geoffrey Watson SC, former counsel assisting in the New South Wales ICAC, saying:
Enough is enough. The establishment of a National Integrity Commission with teeth is long overdue.
… … …
… the Government has kept the Australian public waiting for 922 days, and has found time to tackle a great number of the Government's self-described priorities outside of the coronavirus response—but has yet to find time for this one.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I thank Senator Patrick for his question. In the first instance, what I would say to Senator Patrick is that I disagree with the premise of the question. The Morrison government is delivering on our commitment to establish a Commonwealth integrity commission.
The government has already put in place the funding required for when the Commonwealth Integrity Commission legislation is passed. Senator Patrick, you would be aware that in the 2019-20 budget the government committed $106.7 million of new money to the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. This was in addition to the $40.7 million in funding for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which will transfer to the commission. That is a total of $147.4 million.
The government has already implemented phase 1 of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission by expanding the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to cover four additional agencies, those agencies being the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Senator Patrick, you may also be aware that in the interim the government has also allocated $54.4 million to support the expanded jurisdiction, which means that the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity staffing levels will increase from 64 to 110 ASL in the 2021-22 financial year to support its expanded work. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, including resources and staffing, will be subsumed by the Commonwealth Integrity Commission once it commences.
Madam Attorney, there are just seven sitting weeks of the Senate remaining this year. That's 28 sitting days. That's probably only nine gag motions from Senator Birmingham. Will the Attorney-General commit to introducing the government's integrity commission bill on the first day of the next sitting, on 3 August, for this important matter so that it can be subject to debate?
Senator Patrick, a nationwide consultation process on the legislation to establish the commission has recently been completed. There were approximately 333 written submissions received and 46 consultations, meetings and roundtables that occurred during the consultation period. The government will carefully consider the feedback received through this extensive consultation process to inform further refinement of the draft legislation before it is introduced into the parliament.
I would note that it is important not only due to the scale of the reform but so that Australians can have confidence that the commission will operate effectively. The purpose of the body is extremely serious and, as such, the government does need to consider the feedback that has been provided to it through the consultation— (Time expired)
Madam Attorney, isn't it the case that the government has delayed a federal ICAC for so long to ensure that the commission will not be operational before the next federal election? Hasn't that been the government's plan all along?
No, Senator Patrick. I completely reject what you have stated in your question. I have already taken you through how the Morrison government is already delivering on its commitment to establish a Commonwealth integrity commission. I have advised you that a nationwide consultation process has just finished. It received over 333 written submissions. There were 46 consultations, meetings and roundtables during the consultation period. I think you would agree that this significant legislation is a piece of legislation that we have to get right. It is important not only due to the scale of the reform but so that Australians can have confidence that the commission will operate effectively. And, as I have said to you, the government will consider carefully the feedback received through this extensive consultation process to inform further refinement of the draft legislation before it's introduced into the parliament.