Monday, 21 November 2016
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (23:43): I move Greens amendment on sheet 7994:
(2) Clause 2, page 2 (table items 2 and 3), omit the table items, substitute:
2. Schedule 1 At the same time as the National Integrity Commission Act 2016.
3. Schedule 2 At the same time as the provisions covered by table item 2.
This amendment is about improving the legislation that we have before us. In the course of the debate we have heard a great deal of talk about the government wanting to clean up corruption, and they have reeled off example after example, but there is a huge shortcoming where they have left out one aspect of it—that is to do with MPs and public servants. It is a very simple amendment here, and it would certainly be appropriate if it were passed, because it would help improve some very damaging legislation and at least move it onto somewhat of a more even playing field. Our amendment would ensure that the bill seeks to place stricter requirements on unions and that it would only take effect once the Senate has voted to establish a national independent corruption watchdog that has the power to investigate politicians and public servants, because, as I said, this is a great shortcoming. There is a huge gap in this debate at the moment. You would think that there were no problems at a federal level with regard to corruption. We have heard story after story reeled out in this debate, even though we know that there are currently criminal laws in place to deal with it. Even within registered organisations, criminal proceedings can be taken. But we have not touched on that key aspect.
If this government were sincere about cleaning up corruption and dealing with the problems that many speakers have put on the table during this debate, we would be bringing both aspects together: the registered organisations and the need for a national anticorruption watchdog. That is what our amendment would do, because this bill that we are dealing with tonight would only kick once a National Integrity Commission Act 2016 takes effect. Many of you would already be acquainted with this legislation. It has been before parliament for many years. We were actually debating it last time this Senate was sitting. So it would be at front of mind for many people, and surely it is time that we brought together these aspects of fighting corruption and improving standards in public life. A national anticorruption watchdog at a federal level would deal with federal MPs and federal public sector workers. Surely this is time to bring this together. So I strongly commend the Greens' amendment and look forward to the discussion.
Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (23:46): The government will not be supporting this amendment. The Senate has already voted on the commencement provisions of this bill.
Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (23:47): The opposition were not made aware of these amendments until very late this afternoon. On the basis that we have not had time to fully consider them, we are not prepared to support them.
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (23:47): It is not surprising to hear the comment from the minister. What we have just heard from the opposition is very disappointing. We are all in a rush. We are all in that same position, Senator Cameron. You are well aware of that. The way this whole debate has been conducted is shocking. But you have had time—so much time—to consider the need for a national ICAC and, every time we get close to having a vote on it and it is about to happen, Labor have an excuse. This is your opportunity to stand up for the need for our anticorruption watchdog.
We are in the most extraordinary situation, which goes on and on because Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals continue to vote together to block consideration of this much-needed national commission. Every state and territory jurisdiction in Australia has an anticorruption commission—in slightly different forms, but they have a body to deal with the problem. We see the worth of them time and time again. It was Senator Cameron who gave the example of 10 Liberal MPs in New South Wales who either resigned or were forced to resign because corrupt proceedings were found against them, because of the work that the New South Wales ICAC undertook.
But here they come, at a federal level: 'No, no, no—we just can't do that,' or, 'We don't have enough time.' Saying there is not enough time is really rubbish. It really does not serve Senator Cameron well. If there were sincerity about cleaning up corruption, there would be support for this measure, but again the Liberals, the Nationals and Labor are in a troika to say no.
It is not healthy. It certainly shows a lack of sincerity for the theme of the registered organisations legislation supposedly being to clean up corruption. It is not about that. It is not about what the minister tries to make out. As I said in my speech in the second reading debate, there is a big lie going on here, because the government cannot go out there and say: 'We're moving this legislation to deliver for our corporate mates. Our corporate mates want unions weakened. That's how we can improve their level of profits: by making it tougher for unions and even ending up weakening them so they do not even exist on many work sites.' That is what the government are out to do. They cannot talk about that, so they make up these excuses. We have seen it in a very clear way when they cannot come at dealing with corruption amongst MPs and public sector workers. I commend the Greens' amendment to the chamber.
The CHAIR: The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Rhiannon be agreed to.
Question negatived on the combined vote of the Labor Party and the Liberal/National coalition.