Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021


Consideration of Legislation

12:06 pm

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

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

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice of motion in my name, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to the consideration of the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2021.

Federal ICAC now. Federal ICAC now. There are just so many things that are going on that are undermining public confidence in our system of government—in the way in which this building operates and in the way in which the federal government operates—and we have to address that as a matter of urgency.

We've had sports rorts. We've had car park rorts. We've had jobs for mates. We've had water purchases. We've had blind trusts. All of this goes to an erosion of confidence in our system of government. We note that in the states this doesn't happen. It doesn't happen or it rarely happens because there is a strong watchdog that makes people very, very cautious about doing anything that would give rise to a referral. The problem we've got and the reason I'm seeking to suspend standing orders to deal with this bill is that we have waited patiently, after a promise from the Prime Minister that he would bring legislation to this chamber, to the parliament, to deal with an ICAC—a promise prior to the last election. And the election is closing in. We've seen the sitting calendar for next year. Before the election, we have 10 sitting days; that's it. We can't wait any longer.

Last week, for my pushing for this to be dealt with immediately, Senator Ruston called me 'a procedure wonk', and actually I take some pride in being called a procedure wonk. I do follow procedure. I do understand the standing orders. I do read Odgers, however sad people may feel that is. The fact is that I'm proud of this institution and I'm proud of the way in which it operates. And it doesn't give me pleasure to come in here and ask to interrupt government business time, which was the complaint that was made by Senator Ruston, but I'm doing so in circumstances when the government promised to do this and haven't. They promised to do this in their time in office and haven't, and that ultimately forces people like me, people like Senator Griff and Senator Lambie, and Labor and the Greens, who supported me last week, to try to force a change in thinking and get the Liberal Party to understand how important this is.

Again, they set the agenda; they said that they would bring an integrity commission bill into this parliament, as a promise in the election campaign, and we are running out of time. That's the reason why we need to suspend. That's the reason why we need to get onto the Dr Helen Haines bill—the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill—that I've introduced into the Senate. This bill has the endorsement of a number of external and independent experts in integrity. Again, I don't like interrupting government business time, but they promised to give time to this and they haven't.

12:10 pm

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

Senator Patrick, in your contribution last week you acknowledged that you had sought to bring this bill on for debate last week—through you, Mr President. The will of the chamber at that time was that the chamber didn't want to bring this bill on. So now you come in here and try to hide behind the fact that you can somehow amend what you previously stood for, just to bring on something because you've decided that you want to come in here and seriously disrupt the chamber. I've always had a great deal of respect for your policy wonkiness, Senator Patrick, and your procedural wonkiness—probably more so than anything—because you have always been a great stickler in this place for procedure. To come in here this week, after the will of the chamber last week was that it wasn't to be brought on for debate, and seek to do it again probably undermines the purity of your position when it comes to procedural matters. I would draw to your attention the flaw in your argument that you just put forward.

As you know, Senator Patrick, it is the prerogative of the government to set the agenda. We've got a very serious agenda of legislation that we would like to put before this chamber—and I thank the chamber for the nine bills we were able to get through this place last week. Despite the number of times that suspensions were sought to waste time, particularly by those at the other end of the chamber, we still managed to get nine bills through, and some of them were really, really important. Something like the funder-of-last-resort amendments to the redress bill that we put through this place last week were super important, and I was really proud that we were table to do that. I thank the chamber for that, but we could do more if you would stop with these stunts of wasting time on these sorts of processes. I don't particularly want to be standing here having to defend this situation when we could be talking about substantive legislation that's part of the program that we have put forward. We were completely transparent last Friday about the agenda that we wanted to put through, but here we are again talking about a procedural motion.

On the substantive matter that you're seeking to bring on today, Senator Patrick, the government have been particularly clear around the fact that we issued an exposure draft of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill, along with explanatory memorandum. It was provided to the other side as this is a really important issue that we hope we might be able to get consensus on. I'm sure all members of this government would be more than happy to sit down and get agreement about bringing something forward, but what we will not be bringing forward, Senator Patrick, is a bill that deals with what is a very serious issue—that is, dealing with corruption in public places—and seeks to turn around the basic premise of Australia's legal system, and that is that somebody should be presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty.

To be proven guilty by the court of public opinion, by the mechanism by which a particular commission is put forward or designed, is not something that this government will support. We will support an Integrity Commission that allows us to root out serious corrupt behaviour, but we will not allow an Integrity Commission to be turned into a political witch-hunt tool. The mechanism of suggesting that politicians can refer other politicians under a model that we've seen put into this place, that politicians can refer other politicians to an Integrity Commission, is a complete outrage. I believe fundamentally in the law of natural justice, and that is that everybody in this country should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

It is completely unfair to have a commission that does not do what it's designed to do. A commission should be designed to root out serious corruption in public places. It shouldn't be designed to duplicate the current processes that are in place in many other integrity-type bodies that sit within the Commonwealth space, not the least of which is one that we in this place all have to adhere to, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority. There are a number of authorities—including the AFP and the Ombudsman—that already undertake a level of integrity. We are more than happy to support an integrity commission that roots out serious corruption but we will not be party to one that turns it into a witch-hunt that means people who are innocent are not afforded that privilege.

12:15 pm

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

What did we just hear: a 'political witch-hunt'? Last week it was the 'Spanish Inquisition'. I think the Prime Minister called it a 'kangaroo court'. This government is running scared from an integrity commission with teeth, because they know that half of their cabinet have been embroiled in integrity scandals of one form or another and that a corruption watchdog with teeth might cause them a spot of bother. That's why we haven't seen the government's version of an integrity commission. I don't think the Prime Minister ever intended to follow through on his pre-election promise last election to deliver an integrity commission, because you can't believe a word he says. Once again this is a failure to follow through on a commitment. I think we're back in the 'non-core promise' days of John Howard.

The Centre for Public Integrity have looked at all of the various models and found that the government's version is the weakest of all existing corruption watchdogs and the weakest of all proposed models. They found that the Greens' version was the strongest. Our bill, I might add, passed the Senate two years ago. It is the most progressed integrity commission this parliament has and, if the Prime Minister had had the guts to bring it on for debate and a vote in the House, we could have had a corruption watchdog two years ago.

There's a reason he's not bringing it on. He knows half his cabinet would be embroiled in it. He would rather have a watchdog that is in fact toothless and asleep, that commentators have described as 'a protection racket' for MPs. Now they're trying to shift the blame, saying that they're too scared to bring in their own bill because it might not get passed. Sorry, but this is a level of ridiculousness I didn't expect. But here we are.

We have a strong bill, which has passed the Senate. We have a number of Independents who have drafted their own strong bills, very similar to our bill. We don't mind whose name is on the bill, as long as it has teeth, is independent, can hold public hearings and has a genuinely dissuasive effect on corruption. So we welcome the interventions by the Independents and smaller parties in this space. The Greens have been pushing for a corruption watchdog since 2009 federally. We remain the final jurisdiction that doesn't have one; every other state and territory has one. We've needed one since long before 2009, but it took the Prime Minister until three years ago to agree this wasn't a niche issue. Yet we've seen no progress since then. In fact, the minister belled the cat over the weekend on ABC's Insidersthere have now been at least three rounds of consultation, but this has not resulted in any change to the government's bill. They are using sham consultation as a delay tactic. They have no intention of strengthening their weak model, because they don't want a corruption watchdog to work; it would embroil half their cabinet.

I don't think we will see this government's bill and I don't think they will bring on my bill for debate in the House. The bravery of Helen Haines and Bridget Archer last week in the House unfortunately failed on a technicality. This government is in the minority in blocking a corruption watchdog. Many other people in this place want one. It's just One Nation and the coalition that are standing in the way of a watchdog with teeth.

Initially, my bill passed because One Nation abstained. Since then, we've seen that One Nation don't want my bill brought on in the House, and they now don't even want Senator Patrick's bill debated nor that of Helen Haines, the member for Indi. I don't know what cosy deal One Nation have done with the coalition. They've certainly done many a deal in years gone by and they are effectively just a rubber stamp for this coalition's awful agenda. But the Australian people deserve better. They deserve a corruption watchdog with teeth and they deserve a system that isn't corrupt. They deserve a parliament that works in their interests, that isn't dominated and influenced by corporate donors and vested interests and that cleans up the reasons for corruption. They deserve a parliament that ends the big money that's been running this show, that stops the revolving door of lobbyists and that acts based on science, based on the public interest and based on the interests of the community. It is not too much to ask. The people deserve a corruption watchdog and, even more than that, a system that isn't corrupt. Let's vote for that. Let's put the Greens in the balance of power to deliver that.

12:20 pm

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

GALLAGHER (—) (): The Labor Party, the opposition, will be supporting Senator Patrick's motion for the suspension of standing orders to bring on the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill. We think it's an important debate to be had. We think that the Australian people rate it as a significant priority for this parliament to deal with matters around ensuring integrity of politicians and other senior officials. It was something that came up before the last election. The Prime Minister promised to deal with it. He promised to implement and create a Commonwealth integrity body, and that was 1,080 days ago. It is clearly not going to be managed by this government, and that is why the Senate has a responsibility, I would argue, to support Senator Patrick, as we have supported other attempts to bring on debate over a Commonwealth anticorruption commission. I would say that it is clear.

I take the speech by Senator Ruston as giving the most detail I've heard about why they don't want an anticorruption body to be put in place. We have heard the constant comments from the government that it's all the Labor Party's fault, that they have merely had their hands tied by legislation that the Labor Party doesn't support. It doesn't seem to stop them from introducing other bills in this place. I think there is a reasonable amount of contested legislation that comes before this chamber that doesn't always have the Labor Party support, and that lack of support hasn't stopped the government. It is only this bill that they've decided to apply this test to: if there is no support from the Labor Party then they will not introduce it. The reality is they either don't have a bill ready to go or they've got a bill and they're too scared to introduce it into the chamber because they know it will be amended and they will lose the vote on that. That would mean that what would be passed through this chamber and possibly the other place would be a model that the government doesn't have control over.

I think that's the real story: they can't introduce it because they can't guarantee the numbers in the House and they can't guarantee the numbers in the Senate. They can't guarantee the numbers because this deeply divided government has lost control of the parliament, and we saw that reflected in the sitting pattern that was released yesterday. The Senate will sit for three days in the first half of next year—some may like that. The government are prepared to allow the Senate to sit for three days in the first half of next year in this chamber because they are worried that they will continue to lose votes. They have lost their way, they have no agenda and they have managed to divide this parliament to the point that there is a logjam in the Senate because they're unable to get any of their legislation through. That's the reality.

We know that, if there were an integrity commission in place, this government would be at most risk from having that body in place. We've had sports rorts, the Western Sydney airport land, the 'pork and ride' car park rorts. We've had forged documents from ministers. We've had the 'grassgate' affair. We've had robodebt. We've got breaches of ministerial standards and ministers that get rotated off team A, back on the timeout bench and then back in the cabinet as soon as they think they can get away with it. We've got blind trusts, with millions of dollars being given to ministers with no accountability, and we've got a raft of jobs for mates everywhere you look, the last being the chair of Infrastructure Australia, Barnaby's mate being appointed. That is what these people fear. They fear that the rorting funds, where we have calculated $6.9 billion was spent through various funds—the Urban Congestion Fund, the Commuter Car Park Fund, the Building Better Regions Fund, community development grants, the Safer Communities Fund—and where $5.7 billion was directed to coalition or target seats. Eighty-two per cent of billions of dollars of public funds were funnelled for political purposes—not in the national interest, not fairly shared across the country, but for the narrow political interests of the governing party. That is why we need an anticorruption commission. That's why the people of Australia want an anticorruption commission. It's because this government is trashing the standards that existed before that people could trust. There is no trust. We need it, and that's why the opposition will be supporting the suspension.

12:25 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Patrick says he's motivated in bringing this suspension motion by the frustration that the government is running out of time to deliver its Commonwealth Integrity Commission before the end of the year. So, in order to give effect to that frustration, he has decided to attempt to derail the government's legislative program in a game of competitive one-upmanship about who around this chamber most stands against corruption. Well, the reality is that there's nobody in this room saying that corruption is a good thing. There's nobody here who's saying that corruption is the order of the day. Everyone in this place stands against corruption. It's part of the reason this government has engaged in such a detailed consultation process to make sure that we can deliver an institution that has the teeth it needs while learning the lessons of the integrity commissions in other states that have gone horribly awry.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Which states?

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll happily tell you that, Senator Lines, in just a moment. But, really, he's frustrated about not getting through the government's program, and so, to do that, he's going to derail getting through the government's program. I mean, can you bear it?

Then we moved around the chamber to hear from Senator Gallagher, who was complaining that we have a desire to introduce a bill of this significance with the support of those opposite. Now, every time I go out into the Australian community, they want to see more of the major parties working together to get sensible agreement on matters so fundamental to the institutions of this country that we want them to have an enduring and stable quality. But, no, they want to engage in a game of partisanship, a game of political one-upmanship, instead of just getting the heads around the table and agreeing on what it is possible to do amongst the people in this room.

It leads me to say again: can you bear it? The hypocrisy of those around this chamber makes my eyes water. But it's important that, rather than trying to cast slurs on people who serve in this place, under the coward's castle of parliamentary privilege, we instead step back and look at what works in these institutions. If we look to the example of the New South Wales ICAC, we see a long list of great injustices that have been inflicted by a star chamber which itself needs to be held accountable. For those Australians watching and thinking, 'But we do need something to look at corruption at the federal level'—and, of course, it is important that we are stomping out corruption at every opportunity—few Australians realise that, first, we have 12 agencies at the Commonwealth level that deal with corruption. We don't have one or two. We have 12 agencies that are responsible for tracking down and stomping out corruption every day of the week. So, in the time between now and when the Commonwealth Integrity Commission comes into force, these things are not languishing by the wayside; they are being dealt with and they are being addressed.

The next thing to say is that we've already taken action to expand the role of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. We've expanded it. We have funded it, and it is already delivering those aspects of the federal government's Commonwealth Integrity Commission bill. It's already happened. It's already funded and it's already being delivered every day of the week. So there are an awful lot of political slogans being chucked around by those opposite, but there's not a lot of connection to reality. Let's have a look at the long list of injustices that can occur when we don't get the design of an integrity commission right, because, can I tell you, the design that has been proposed by those in the Greens and the design proposed in the Haines bill would empower many great injustices of the kind that we have seen in New South Wales. Nick Greiner

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Members on my left, you are given the courtesy of silence when you speak. I'd ask that you extend that to others when they're on their feet. That is how this place works to provide everyone an opportunity to express their views.

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me give you an example of the case of Nick Greiner—1992 we're talking about here. This is the man who fought for and established the New South Wales ICAC. This man referred himself to it, such was his belief in it. He was found not to have acted corruptly, not to have acted illegally. They bagged him so much anyway he was forced to resign. (Time expired)

12:31 pm

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

The Jacqui Lambie Network will be supporting this and will continue to support an ICAC that's got some teeth. I want to tell you what the reality is—through the chair—Senator Stoker. The reality is this: the Australian people right now believe that we're politically corrupt up here—we don't have to answer to them, we don't have to show documents and we don't have to hold people responsible for their actions is what they believe. What that is doing is actually putting the rest of us in that shame basket, and I do not want to be a part of that. That is the reality of what is going on on the ground with the Australian people. That is their thought process right now. There is no trust.

I can tell you after two years, or 2½ years or however long we've waited, to them all you're doing is covering up because you do not want this thing to happen. What they're telling me is that we can get away with blue murder in this chamber, in both houses, and we can walk around grander than the rest of the country. That's what they're telling me, that we are untouchable. That is not the Australia I know and that is not good leadership.

I can tell you: I will be supporting this. I look forward very much to you putting your own ICAC up, the one that will leave the puppy dog sitting in the kennel because it's got no teeth and is still in its gummy stage. That's what we're expecting. That's what we will get because you'll be trying to rush it through to say, 'Hey, look at this. We promised it, and everybody else knocked it back.' We already know how the election cycle works, but I don't think people in Australia are actually going to believe you. I think your credibility is about washed in this area. It's gone down the gurgler. That's where we stand in here.

For the sake of transparency, for the sake of trust and honesty and to gain that back from the Australian people, I will support it whether it's a Greens bill or a Helen Haines bill. I don't care whose bill it is, as long as it has teeth. I'm not just talking about teeth of a dog; I'm talking about the teeth of Jaws. That's what I want to see. If politicians end up at these ICACs that have got full powers, then so be it. If you have nothing to hide, you will show up. That's what you will do. You will show up and answer questions, and keep your credibility intact. That's what it gives you the opportunity to do. So no more excuses, because these are just lame excuses, and the Australian people can see this. It's not good enough. Today I will be supporting Senator Patrick's motion.

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

The question is that the suspension of standing orders moved by Senator Patrick be agreed to.