National Integrity Commission Bill 2013

November 10, 2016








I rise to speak on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. My understanding is that this is not the first time this bill has sought to establish a national integrity commission, or an organisation somewhat similar in style to various state bodies. The one I am most familiar with is the work of the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission. I stand here today talking about this issue on the second anniversary of the death of Wayne Goss, the former Premier of Queensland. No politician has done more in Queensland to stamp out corruption than Wayne Goss, and I pay tribute to him today.

The forerunner to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission was the Criminal Justice Commission, which was formed following the revelations of the Fitzgerald inquiry into corruption of the police force and the Bjelke-Petersen National Party government in the seventies and eighties. These were the days of brown paper bags, illegal casinos and when politicians in the highest offices of Queensland were prepared to look away. These were dark days for Queensland, and reflect some of my earliest political memories. 'The joke', as it was known amongst those who were coordinating this corruption in the highest offices of the police and government in my state, damaged Queensland's reputation on the national stage and amongst other Australians.

The large-scale corruption uncovered in Queensland was done by the great work of journalists; media organisations; politicians, including the Labor opposition; and numerous community groups and concerned individuals. They really put a spotlight on what was going on. As we know it now, the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission has become an institution in Queensland that people have great faith in. Those dark days of the seventies and eighties seem so long ago, but for many Queenslanders they remain etched in our minds. So much so that, for the most part, the Crime and Corruption Commission has been an untouchable element of Queensland democracy.

It has been very rare for governments to attempt to weaken or interfere with the CCC, but on any occasion when a government has tried this they have certainly suffered the consequences. The most recent example occurred under the Newman government between 2012 and 2015. This arrogant government made many errors—attacking the judiciary, sacking public servants, cutting health and education funding—but few hurt Queenslanders more than undermining the Crime and Corruption Commission.

I think back to the by-election in Stafford, which was caused by the resignation of Dr Chris Davis. In 2012, he was elected as the LNP member for Stafford. Frustrated by the lack of accountability and integrity in the Newman government, Dr Davis quit, causing a by-election. The undermining of the Crime and Corruption Commission was a key element of his frustration; it formed a key part of discussions and debates within that by-election. What we saw in that by-election was a record swing to Labor and the election of Dr Anthony Lynham, who has since gone on to be a cabinet minister in the Queensland government. This history lesson is important because despite only having one house of parliament in Queensland, the status that the Crime and Corruption Commission has in Queensland has meant that if any government tries to undermine it, or nobble it, they suffer the consequences. The election of the Annastacia Palaszczuk government is the most recent example of that in Queensland. It was only after the widespread revelations of corruption that there was a public mood and understanding of the importance of an anticorruption body in Queensland.

Another important asset in the fight against corruption is openness. For me, it is vitally important that that openness starts with our political parties. I believe that includes openness with regard to preselections, with public scrutiny; open party conferences, again with public and media scrutiny; openness about ballots for party leadership. These are real, important tenements that our political parties say they operate on, but too often, particularly with the Greens, we see them fail this test of public accountability. Greens preselections are all done behind closed doors. Their party conferences are not open to scrutiny from the public or the media. And too often we have seen that with any ballots for the leadership we find out what has gone on sometimes days later. This is clearly not good enough. On our side, the Labor side, we are actually moving the other way, towards more openness, and there has been none more important than allowing branch members to have a say in electing our leaders at state and federal levels. That shows you what we have done.

Another important and transparent accountability mechanism that needs urgent attention is around donation reform. We cannot ignore the public cynicism in this regard. The LNP have an appalling track record at the state and federal level. At a time when the public want greater accountability and transparency, all we see from the LNP is they have gone the other way. They increased declaration thresholds and they have done nothing to change the long lag time before donations are declared.

I think it is pretty easy when you ask yourself, 'Why are the LNP opposed to such basic reform, particularly given what the technology allows us to do in terms of real time donations?' We have to look no further than who the Prime Minister is at the moment and what he did to fund his own election campaign. It is outrageous that four months after the federal election we still do not know whether it was $1 million, $2 million or $3 million that the Prime Minister put into his own campaign. This is something that should have been known before election day, not something we still are waiting to find out some four months later. This is completely unacceptable, and donation and declaration reform is a task that needs urgent attention.

There are serious problems with the current bill. It has three components: a federal ICAC body based on the New South Wales model, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity in its present form, and an independent parliamentary adviser to advise MPs on ethics and entitlements and to develop a parliamentary code of conduct. The creation of an independent parliamentary advisor is not necessarily good policy in general and, in any case, is open to question about whether such an office should be housed within a watchdog body. There are other open questions about how a number of federal integrity bodies ought to be integrated or where they sit alongside each other in some form of federal body.

Labor have a broad approach to anticorruption consistent with our longstanding Labor policy. Given the present scandal infecting the federal branch of the Liberal Party, there clearly needs to be a focus on campaign finance. I thought Senator Paterson did an admirable job of trying to whitewash ICAC's finding in regard to the New South Wales Liberal Party. I am sure the Liberal executive will be very happy with him, but the work that ICAC did in exposing the New South Wales Liberal Party is absolutely vital.

This bill is a rehashed proposal from the Greens, but sadly in its six-odd years of different iterations they still have not ironed out the details, which goes to show you the political stunt that this is. There are valid reasons why this keeps getting knocked back, as I have indicated. But perhaps the Greens wanted this to fail in parliament so they can continue to campaign against it. Similar to their grandstanding in question time today on the US alliance, the Greens do not actually want to provide a workable policy here; they just want to be appealing to their base.

Why are we opposed? The National Integrity Commission Bill is similar to others the Greens party have introduced again and again in the past. The National Integrity Commission Bill was first introduced by Senator Bob Brown in June 2010 and reintroduced when parliament reconvened after the 2010 election. The National Integrity Commissioner Bill 2012 was introduced by Adam Bandt. These bills lapsed without having been debated when the 43rd Parliament was prorogued and were not considered in substance by a committee.

The Senate Select Committee on the Establishment of a National Integrity Commission was established in February 2016 to consider this very issue. The committee considered the various arguments in favour and against the establishment of such a commission, and received 29 submissions from key advocacy organisations, academics, industry and unions.

The committee found, in its interim report, that there was a significant difference of opinion across these bodies about whether such a body should be established; there was no established need given the interlocking oversight given by a multitude of agencies was present; there were no answers given as to how the number of federal integrity bodies ought to be integrated or situated alongside any federal ICAC body; that there was potential for gaps to arise when starting from scratch with a new system; and that potential for a federal ICAC needs more consultation in an integrated manner.

Labor remains open-minded about a national corruption body. But I believe the circumstances I spoke about—how this came to be in Queensland and how this body is best formed—are really important. The effort by the Greens is high on politics but lacks the substance that is needed for such an important reform. Again, I go back to how these bodies were formed in Queensland. It really is important to understand the historical context and the public mood at the time. These are some of my first political memories. My family had a background in Tasmania. In coming to Queensland, they were really astonished by the lack of transparency and accountability in our political system. Yes, in Queensland, as I mentioned before, there is a unicameral system—a one chamber parliament—so the importance around integrity and accountability measures is heightened. The mood, and the thought that was established in 1989 on the election of the Goss government, is something that has prevailed until today. I reiterate that any government that tries to attack or undermine that accountability gets found out.

In terms of how this body would be looked at and established in our system, the Greens bill before us lacks the detail that is required. Labor remains open-minded on this but cannot support the bill as it stands.