Senate debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2021


Consideration Of Legislation

12:04 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2021, as circulated.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Patrick moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to consideration of the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2021 may be moved immediately, have precedence over all other business until determined and be determined without amendment or debate.

It has been 1,077 days since the coalition announced that they were going to bring ICAC legislation to the parliament. We've waited and waited and waited, and nothing has come. Whilst it's not normal to want to interrupt the normal running of Senate business, you reach a point where you say: 'Enough is enough. The wait has been too long.'

There are a number of allegations in relation to the coalition. I stress that they're allegations—I'm not going to impugn anyone—but I will just put on the record that the Australian public have had a number of concerns in respect of coalition members and ministers. There has been Mr Taylor in relation to the $80 million sale of strategic water purchases, Senator McKenzie in relation to sports rorts and Mr Dutton in relation to au pairs. We've seen Mr Joyce also involved in controversy over water purchases. We've seen Mr Frydenberg in relation to 'grassgate', Mr Fletcher in relation to a $10 million grant, Mr Sukkar in relation to issues of expenditure of public money and Mr Tudge in relation to the car park rorts. There is a whole range of affairs. We have seen the situation where Mr Porter has received money through a blind trust. That's almost unfathomable in a situation where we have openness and transparency.

From an integrity perspective and a confidence perspective, it's really important to make sure that the public are able to see our transactions and how we might be influenced in terms of our votes. All of that has to be on the table for people to see. Until such time as we get some form of independent commission against corruption, an Australian federal integrity commission, these concerns will linger.

I know there are people on the other side of the chamber who object to the various different models. They don't want public hearings. They don't want particular people included in the scope of a federal ICAC, or, indeed, certain matters relating to corruption excluded from the definition. These are all things we can debate. These are all things we can talk about and debate, but we haven't had the opportunity. It has been 1,077 days and we've not had the opportunity to do that. The Australian public have been waiting for this, so there is now urgency. There is urgency, in that we basically have to force the government to comply with their own promise.

To satisfy the demands of the Australian public, they said that they would introduce ICAC legislation. They made that a promise as they went into the last election. You get to a point where you say, 'Sorry, you can't have us wait any longer.' We know the difficulties and the complexities associated with these sorts of bills. Indeed, we know that these sorts of bills need to be fleshed out in committees. We've already had one, through the Greens, fleshed out in a committee. The government is basically absent without leave on this.

The test that an integrity commission is strong enough is that you have no referrals because no-one would dare do anything that looked like misfeasance or malfeasance or corruption or misuse of funds and those sorts of things. That's what happens when you have a really strong ICAC. If you have a weak ICAC, people still try to play at the fringes. It still allows and permits corruption, political corruption, to occur. That's why it's important that we deal with this bill today, to get the whole thing kicking along—a comprehensive bill that is endorsed by judicial officers and eminent professionals in the integrity field. I ask that the Senate support my motion to suspend standing and sessional orders.

12:10 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

The government does not support Senator Patrick's attempt to interrupt and vary the order of government business and business in the Senate. The government has a schedule of legislation, and the Senate has a program before it that would ordinarily have seen us and otherwise see us proceeding to debate the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Amendment Bill and then the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill and other legislation scheduled for today, as outlined. We do not support this move to interrupt that consideration of other government legislation.

It often seems that, when those opposite and those on the crossbench speak about matters in relation to the proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission, or other names that others seek to give such entities, they do so with some belief that there is a void that exists in relation to accountability, to process, to oversight, when in fact that is quite clearly not the case. Indeed, in Australia we have already a robust, multifaceted approach to combating corruption. We have a range of existing entities in place, from the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to the Australian Federal Police, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority. Each of these entities exists in a manner where we are all held accountable equally to the law of the land, subject to investigation under the operations of these different entities and bodies.

Our government has been working to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission that looks to build upon this existing framework that others seem to pretend does not actually exist. That existing framework already does provide very important protections for Australians in relation to the operations and conduct of all public officials, of all law enforcement officials, of all those who are subject, as I say, to the laws of the land and to investigation by the range of entities that currently exists. Those opposite can attempt some sort of smear process out of these things. What we have said is that we want to go through the proper process.

The Attorney-General has released draft legislation and has received feedback on that draft legislation and is working through that feedback to ensure that any future construct in Australia builds upon the effective existing arrangements that we have in place and does so in ways that guarantee due process, proper process, for any individuals and that don't create the type of kangaroo court regimes that have been seen to operate elsewhere that destroy reputations before proper process has occurred.

We want to make sure, given we have such sound and robust and so many existing Commonwealth entities in place, that we build upon that legacy and that framework, we do so in a way that preserves the best elements of how they operate in terms of the thoroughness and the diligence they apply to accountability across all aspects of Commonwealth activity and we do so in a manner that ensures due and proper process is followed in relation to any matters that are considered.

We have boosted funding for the different agencies and indeed budgeted funding for the additional structures that are proposed to be developed and put in place. But we are not going to suggest that we should simply adopt, as Senator Patrick's motion seeks to do, in the space of an hour and a half, a model that has not been subject to the same type of rigour and thoroughness of analysis that the Attorney-General has been working through. We are going to stand very clearly by a process that ensures that something as significant as this—something which will have long-lasting implications and consequences for the way in which public officials work—has all of the appropriate safeguards and thoroughness to make sure it works as effectively as it should. (Time expired)

12:15 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor will support the suspension of standing orders motion that Senator Patrick has moved today, and indeed we would welcome a debate around establishing a national anticorruption commission. Labor is supporting this motion for the simple reason that the Senate needs to take charge of this issue—because the government isn't going to. We have had over 1,000 days since the Prime Minister made the promise that a national anticorruption commission would be put in place. The Senate and the people of Australia have waited 1,000 days, and we haven't had a response from the government other than an explanation that they're going through their processes and that they're putting some focus on the detail. Well, plenty of people have done the work, and it's in the shape of the bill that Senator Patrick is seeking to bring on today.

There are plenty of reasons that this eight-year-old, tired government don't want to get to a debate around a national anticorruption body today or any day leading up to the next election. It's because of the litany of scandals, rorts, waste and mismanagement that this government has presided over and because it would make them vulnerable. That's why we don't have one. We can list them. There's the Western Sydney airport land rip-off. There's the 'pork and ride' scheme. Remember that? Money appropriated by this parliament through a budget was funnelled into seats that the Treasurer held. The Treasurer of Australia gave himself four car parks after telling the people of Australia that this program was for all of them. What a load of rubbish! That's the Treasurer. We know the Prime Minister had his hands all over sports rorts, car park rorts, the Urban Congestion Fund and the Building Better Regions Fund. He's crafted the way that this money gets used for political purposes—money appropriated for public purposes and then used for political purposes.

When a government has its Prime Minister leading the charge, where ministers are rewarded for the misuse of money like this, is it any wonder there is no desire to bring forward a debate about a national anticorruption body? What a surprise! When ministers sacked amid scandal get recycled back into the cabinet, is it any wonder they don't want a debate about a national anticorruption body? The Leader of the Government in the Senate said, 'We've got a set program and we've got all these bills to get to.' The government's filibustering its own bills! Everyone in this place knows that. We dealt with two bills yesterday—and the government added government members to the speakers list long into the night last night—so don't come in here and say you've got all these urgent bills. You don't have a program. You're trying to cut deals left, right and centre because you're losing your own people. You lost five of your own yesterday. They left you because they don't like what's going on in the government. So don't sit here and pretend that you have a long program that we are now interfering with. What an absolute load of rubbish! If that were the case, we would be moving through the bills with the time that has been allocated for them.

This tired, eight-year-old government are going to an election where they are going to be asking for their second decade in power. They have no plans to govern in the national interest. They are now only governing in their own political interest, in their narrow political interest. They exist only for their own political interest, and so the Senate should allow this debate. We have to stand up for ourselves. This government doesn't comply with orders for the production of documents, doesn't answer questions on notice, refuses to be accountable, refuses to be transparent. They treat this Senate with disrespect, and at some time the Senate has to stand up for itself and go, 'You know what, if the government's not going to do its job then we will.' The people of Australia want a national anti-corruption body. They don't trust us. We have to put in place something that responds to the concerns the Australian public have. A thousand and seventy-seven days ago this Prime Minister promised—and we know he's not very good at telling the truth—to put one in place, and we are still waiting. We have the opportunity today for the Senate to take charge and to have that debate, because these guys aren't going to do it. (Time expired)

12:20 pm

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

The Greens will be supporting this suspension motion because we have waited far too long to see any semblance of integrity out of this government. It was an election promise at the last election that the government would introduce a corruption watchdog. Where's the bill? Nowhere to be seen. Consultation after consultation keeps getting ignored, and they still have a weak, pathetic body that has been criticised by experts as acting like a protection racket for their own MPs rather than a watchdog to clean up politics and to genuinely dissuade corruption. It's no surprise—and I looked at the figures—because half of the cabinet have been embroiled in an integrity scandal over recent years. It is no wonder the government doesn't want to bring on a bill for a corruption watchdog. They would lose half their cabinet.

We passed a bill for a strong independent corruption watchdog with teeth that could hold public hearings and that would be able to have genuine coverage of the actions of members of parliament and public servants. We passed that bill in the Senate more than two years ago. The Prime Minister has been running scared in the House and he has refused to bring that bill on for debate because he knows it would work. It would be effective and it might clean up the mess that this government, the cabinet and its backbench keep creating. It's no wonder that the Prime Minister is not delivering.

It's very interesting to see the position of One Nation on this legislation. They abstained from the vote on my bill two years ago, and that's why it passed. Last week we saw them change their position and say, no, actually now they think a corruption watchdog is just a witch-hunt. That's yet another deal that the government has done with One Nation to benefit their own electoral outcomes and to screw the Australian people once again. I expect that today that we'll see One Nation oppose this suspension motion and oppose the bill. The government has got that sewn up—so much for this phoney war that they're having. They are still in cahoots. They vote with the government almost every single time and they are selling out the Australian public. This is why Queensland needs to get rid of Pauline Hanson from the balance of power and replace her with someone that will stand up for the interests of the people and the planet. Our Greens candidate, Penny Allman-Payne, would be absolutely marvellous.

Back to the corruption watchdog, our version got top marks in an independent analysis of the versions, and guess who got the worst marks for the weakest proposed model? The government's model. An independent analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity said that the government's model is so weak that it's essentially a protection racket and it's worse than nothing. Our version got top marks as a strong corruption watchdog that would do the trick, so it's no wonder that the government is running scared and won't bring it on.

We welcome the crossbenchers who are also progressing this issue. It's been 11 years since the Greens started calling for a federal corruption watchdog. We're the only jurisdiction that doesn't have one, and we've been at this for 11 years. It took the Prime Minister until three years ago to finally say this wasn't a 'niche issue', as he had initially described it, and agree that one's needed. But he still hasn't actually delivered on that. It took the Labor Party quite a long time to change their view, and we welcome the fact that they have now done so. We welcome the fact that Helen Haines in the House and Senator Patrick and Senator Lambie have been strong on integrity issues and are now proposing their own bill. There are a whole range of bills for a corruption watchdog on the table. The one that's not on the table is the government's version. We've been waiting for 1,077 days. It's pretty clear we're going to be continuing to wait, because this Prime Minister couldn't lie straight in bed.

This is yet another broken promise. This is yet another falsehood from the Prime Minister. It is clear that he never intended to table a bill for a corruption watchdog. Why on earth are they prioritising bills to allow religious discrimination to be used as a sword, not a shield? They've found the time to do that. They've found the time to prioritise bills to suppress voters; we'll be seeing that in the Senate some time this week. They've found the time to make sure that charities can't speak out once election time is on. They are silencing dissent and they are suppressing voters. They've found the time to do that. They can't find the time to bring on my bill for a strong corruption watchdog, any of the crossbenchers' bills for a strong corruption watchdog or even their own weak version. They are not committed to doing this. They have no integrity. Let's turf them out at the next election and restore some integrity to this parliament.

12:25 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Patrick's motion today flies in the face of everything that Senator Patrick stands for. I'd even accuse Senator Patrick of being a procedural wonk, in the sense that he is always a stickler for the process, yet what we see here today is Senator Patrick coming into the chamber and seeking to rearrange the business of the Senate. Senator Patrick understands, like all of us in this place, that it is the role of the government to set the agenda of the Senate and the government of the day is entitled to that privilege. So Senator Patrick coming in here and seeking to disrupt the order of business for the day really does fly in the face of everything that Senator Patrick has always said he stands for.

There is a time in the agenda of every parliamentary sitting week when crossbenchers and backbenchers are able to bring forward private senators' business, and Senator Patrick knows full well that the time afforded for bringing forward private senators' bills is that time. But, no, today we see him coming in here and trying to disrupt the order of business on the basis of him wanting to be able to grandstand on a particular issue. One of the other things I find really quite extraordinary in relation to this particular action that we're seeing here today is that this is about seeking to suspend standing orders to rearrange the order of business in this place. What we've seen so far is much debate around the particular matter on which Senator Patrick is seeking to suspend standing orders, but we actually haven't seen much debate around the suspension in and of itself.

We're sitting here and we're talking about issues of things like integrity, issues around people and parties not telling the truth, issues of corruption et cetera. It is really quite extraordinary that, while we're sitting here, sitting on the other side of the chamber is a party that's prepared to go to the next election lying to the public. Consider the irony of the fact that a member in the other place, Julian Hill, was prepared to put a post on his Facebook page and his Twitter account that called the Prime Minister a liar whilst at the same time lying to his constituents. If we really want to have a look at some of the things that are going on at the moment, we should probably start calling out some of the absolute lies.

Despite the fact that Mr Albanese and everybody on the other side know that they are lying about the cashless debit card, they're quite happy to continue to lie. If we're going to sit here and talk about integrity, maybe we should get a little bit of integrity in the debate that's going on. With the opportunity that I have as I'm standing here, I would like to put on the record again that the government of which I am a member, the Morrison-Joyce government, has never forced, doesn't force and never will force age pensioners onto the cashless debit card. I wonder how many times between now and the election there will be lies told by those on the other side.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, resume your seat. Senator Patrick, on a point of order?

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The point of order is on relevance to the suspension.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It was getting fairly wideranging. On the point of order, Senator Lambie?

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

No. Has the minister finished?

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, have you concluded?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The clock went to five minutes again. I'm happy to talk for another five minutes.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, you have the call. From memory, there were two minutes left. The clerks have informed me that it was one minute 35 seconds. Senator Wong, on the point of order?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand that the minister was about to finish, so the clerks reset for Senator Lambie. Is the minister not finished? Please talk about lying more often.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, thank you. Minister.

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The reality of what we are seeing here is obviously a stunt by Senator Patrick—a stunt that goes against every single grain of everything that you stand for, Senator Patrick. We are also failing to recognise the framework of protections, measures, organisations and accountability processes that already exist within the government process. For example, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity has specialised skills to address corruption risks that face law enforcement agencies. There's the Australian Federal Police, which obviously has a very strong role to play in dealing with fraud and foreign bribery issues. There's the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which is another mechanism for investigating complaints. Other processes relate particularly to parliamentarians in relation to making sure that we deal with, for example, our expenses in an appropriate way.

We are absolutely committed to the integrity of this parliament. We will not be lying going into the next election, unlike others. We have a process that exists within this chamber that affords the government of the day the control of the order of business of the day. I am tremendously disappointed that Senator Patrick would seek to disrupt that. It goes against everything you stand for.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, please resume your seat. Senator Smith, on a point of order?

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

Again, on the clock; I think the debate is expected to expire at 12.35 pm. The clock just went to five minutes, so I think the clock should be at a lesser time.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Lambie, you have the call.

12:32 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

It has been 1,076 days since the Liberals promised us an integrity commission. It's been 1,076 days since the PM stood up and told the country that he would put in an integrity commission in this term of parliament. He told us that he was committed to getting it done. Another lie! That was on 13 September 2018. A baby born on the day the Prime Minister promised us an integrity commission would now be nearly three years of age. That baby has gone through three Christmases, and she's coming up to her fourth. She's learned to crawl, stand and walk. She's pretty much getting ready for preschool now and is probably learning to count. You know what? That baby's made more progress in a thousand days than the Liberal Party have made on their own bill! That is where we're at—a three-year-old. Shameful! It's not even a bill; it's a ghost. It's another lie!

The Australian people are looking at you. They're sick of your lies. They're sick of you not putting up; they're sick of you not delivering. You do not deliver! You are finished at the next election. You're gone, I can tell you. You might want to get out there with your own boots on and see what your electorates are saying. I'll tell you. You're finished! You're finished in Tasmania. I reckon your two seats there are completely gone. I look forward to running my own candidates in those seats and passing those preferences where they deserve to go—not to political liars. They're not going there. So make sure your people in Bass and Braddon enjoy their last few months, because I'm looking forward to it.

Minister Cash says that she can't put up her own government's bill—the bill her government has been sitting on for a thousand days—because she's scared the crossbench will embarrass her. You're correct! We are going to embarrass her. We know that it's going to be something that looks like a gummy shark—no teeth whatsoever. We know what to expect. Minister Cash wants to get away with a do-nothing bill that won't fix the problems that are so obvious to so many Australians. She's scared we might fix her bill so that it actually does something and holds you people over there accountable for your actions. How about that? You're going to put your big-boy pants on and be held accountable for your actions. My goodness! We're going to act like adults. Yes, that's what we're going to do. You say you won't introduce a toothless ICAC, because you're worried it will have some teeth. If you don't want to be embarrassed, here's an idea: introduce something that's not embarrassing for any of you. Wouldn't that be a lovely Christmas gift for us all this year? That would be just fabulous, absolutely fabulous.

Honestly, I have to say that you guys over there couldn't run a chook raffle, let alone parliament. I don't really need to say much of this, because that's pretty much what they're saying about you on the ground. They're saying how shameful you are. It's actually making the rest of us look shameful, your behaviour over there, your incompetence to get anything done, the promises that you fail to deliver—which you've done the whole time that you've been here. Eight years of Liberal stuff, I've had to put up with, while I've been here. You've gone from one Prime Minister to another. This is the worst one on record. I've said it out there and I will continue to say it. He's incompetent. He's not a leader. And I'm enjoying watching him and you fall apart. It's as simple as that.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the debate has expired. The question is that the motion to suspend standing orders be agreed to.