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National Integrity Commission Report - Our Response

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 19 Sep 2017

Thursday, 14 September 2017

I rise to speak on the National Integrity Commission report. To remind senators, this was an initiative of Labor. For a while, some thought Labor was moving on the need to address corruption at a federal level. I'm willing to confess that I was one of the people who was feeling very cynical about what Labor was up to. I certainly want Labor to come on board, but I've seen the manoeuvres for so long. It's worth reminding ourselves of what has gone on here. Many senators and many MPs have said really fine things about the need to address corruption at a national level, but the party has not come on board and hasn't come forward with a really strong position. We see that clearly here. I didn't want to be right here and feeling cynical about Labor, but the best we got out of this committee was that the recommendation is, effectively, that the issue should be re-examined in 2019 because we need to wait for further research. We are drowning in research in this place. Later, I will come to so many examples from the government side and the opposition side of issues that should be investigated by a national anti-corruption watchdog or integrity commission, but we don't have one. And that's where there is very clear need shown. But what we saw, as this inquiry unfolded, was that hope crumbled.

I will just outline why I can understand people thought that we were heading in the right direction here. These are comments from Labor senators and MPs with regard to the National Integrity Commission Bill that former Senator Christine Milne brought forward. The highly respected Senator Faulkner said in regard to this bill: 'This bill that we are debating today has merit.' Then Senator Marshall said: 'I support the motives behind this bill.' Senator Claire Moore said, obviously in reference to remarks that I had made in which I was having doubts about where Labor was heading, and I still have those doubts, as you can hear:

Contrary to Senator Rhiannon's statements, Labor is open to considering a federal ICAC. Labor has never objected to a federal anticorruption body in principle.

That was in 2013-14 when we were debating the bill. Labor still haven't taken it onboard—getting ready to really put it out there up-front so it would be part of a platform if they did end up in government. They just can't do it, it seems. Then Stephen Jones—and this was a more recent statement in August this year—said how he clearly supported the case for the establishment of a federal anticorruption body. 'We need a federal anticorruption body here in Canberra.' So there they are—individual statements from MPs; really fine. But when you come to this report from this inquiry that we are considering today, when Labor had the opportunity to give leadership and to really put it out there that the need is now, they couldn't cross that path. To put it on the record, the Greens have long advocated for a national integrity commission. In 2010, Senator Bob Brown brought it forward; Adam Bandt did in 2012; and, as I said, Christine Milne did in 2013.

During these years there has been a wealth of research, and that's why I wanted to emphasise it. This is, effectively, the best argument that this report has for why we haven't got the recommendation that's so clearly needed. As I said in my opening remarks, the research, I would say, is all the incidences of deep wrongdoing that, sadly, senators and MPs in this place have been involved in. It's actually very relevant to run through those, because it's pretty sickening. If you wonder why people are cynical about politics, cynical about politicians and cynical about this place, it's because there are these incidents. When it comes to a federal level, they don't even get investigated. We don't have the means to. You might joke about New South Wales, but at least we have a state ICAC—even though it has been watered down by the Liberals and Nationals now—that does investigate these really bad practices. So let's go through some of them. Both the Liberal Party and Labor Party accepted donations from compromised Chinese nationals after ASIO expressly asked them not to. They were asked by ASIO not to. ASIO asks you to put up a fence and put all the security around Parliament House; you do that at the drop of a hat. When it comes to the own self-interest if you are in the Liberal, Labor or National parties—'No; we won't follow ASIO today.'

Then we have—some people say he is highly respected—Minister for Finance Senator Mathias Cormann. He signed a lease over a building which crossbench Senator Bob Day owned. That was against the Department of Finance's advice. Why? We'll probably never know. Then Barnaby Joyce, the minister for agriculture, relocates an entire department to his electorate with no compelling reason. This is a real beauty. There's more to come on this one. Liberal MP Stuart Robert went to China to seal a deal between the Chinese government and a millionaire donor to the Liberal Party. The Australian Hotels and Hospitality Association regularly figures in things going on with unsavoury aspects of political donations and fundraising. The Australian Hotels and Hospitality Association paid $45,000 to the Menzies 200 Club. That's a fundraising vehicle for the member for Menzies, Kevin Andrews. What was Mr Kevin Andrews doing at the same time? He was personally developing the government's gambling policy. I'm not saying it's money in paper bags, but, gee, it's getting pretty close.

On Labor's side, Senator Sam Dastyari was state secretary when New South Wales Labor accepted donations from a black-market tobacco importer—tobacco! I suppose it was 10 years ago, but there was all that song and dance and the fine statements made when Mark Latham said, 'We won't take any money from tobacco importers and tobacco companies.' Then Senator Pauline Hanson put her face and party logo on a plane that was gifted by a property developer, and One Nation travelled the country in this plane—a plane which was never declared. How do you get away with that? Is it because you're a senator and because we don't have a corruption watchdog? We've got a big problem here and we've got to name it. Then Brickworks to donated hundreds of thousands of dollars, before the election, to the Liberals and were awarded a multi-million-dollar government contract from a clean energy scheme after the program had been closed down. Again, how does that come about? We just don't know the fine details—and we don't know the fine details because we don't have a means to investigate them.

Coming back to this report, the Greens did have hopes that this committee would make a strong recommendation which would go some way to restoring trust and confidence in democratic institutions. I fessed up that I was feeling cynical, but still there was a flicker of hope—but that flicker of hope crumbled. The committee's report notes that

… Commonwealth agencies struggled to explain to the committee how their individual roles and responsibilities inter-connect to form a seamless Commonwealth government-wide approach to integrity and corruption issues.

I give emphasis to that. We've had this debate many times in this place, brought on by the Greens, about the need for a national integrity commission—a national anti-corruption watchdog. One of the arguments given is: 'We have all these government bodies and they're already dealing with it.' And there's the evidence:

… Commonwealth agencies struggled to explain to the committee how their individual roles and responsibilities inter-connect …

They don't. It doesn't work. We don't have what we need at a federal level.

To call our existing measures a framework is grossly misleading. Why? Because there are people in this place who want to keep the status quo, who want to keep it as it is. It's 2017! This can't continue! It is really sick, and we've all got to take responsibility for what is going on. It has gone on for too long. There's been little coordination in strategy in the current approach. Transparency International has argued that:

The Commonwealth’s present arrangements are the result of decades of largely uncoordinated developments in administrative law, criminal law and public sector management, together with political accident.

The Australia Institute said:

… there are gaps in our current integrity system, with no body currently able to investigate systemic corruption at a parliamentary or ministerial level.

That makes me really ashamed. The New South Wales ICAC had come in before I began in the New South Wales parliament, but I can tell you that people are proud of it—they really are. Yes, it's been watered down, and we need to fight to get it back to what it was, but they're proud that we have it. What do we have here? Ongoing scandals—that's what we have—and ongoing scandals will continue. Sadly, it'll be the scandals that will drive us, eventually, to have a national anti-corruption watchdog if the senators and the MPs in this place don't have the courage to come together, take a bipartisan, tripartisan, cross-party approach and set up a national anti-corruption commission. It's overdue. The time is now to set it up. 


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