House of Representatives

Dr HAINES (Indi) (14:19):

My question is to the Attorney General.

Last week the Attorney-General said that legislating an Integrity Commission was “not an immediate priority” as the Government was focused on COVID recovery.

But the Government has introduced and passed dozens of complex bills unrelated to the COVID recovery since January this year.

Can the Attorney-General explain precisely how the government prioritises legislation, and why legislating a robust Integrity Commission bill is not on the government’s agenda when scandals like the Western Sydney Airport demand action on integrity now?


Mr PORTER (Pearce—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Leader of the House) (14:19):

I thank the member for her question. I understand that she is deeply committed to its pursuit and this area, and is doing so in a detailed way.

I’ve been very up-front with the member with respect to the fact that, as a matter of process, we in the government were not inclined to commence and conduct a detailed and extensive national consultation process while most of Australia and, more recently, a large and critical state were still struggling to contain the COVID-19 virus.

That sort of consultation around draft legislation is going to be critical, as I think the member appreciates, because of the incredible importance, whatever view you might take, of issues such as retrospectivity, which is probably one of the more difficult issues that any parliament will ever have to resolve with respect to standards such as criminal standards or indeed declarations of corruption.

We have also, though, been very clear what our model for the integrity commission would look like. We’ve said quite clearly there would be two divisions. There would be a law enforcement division and a public sector integrity division.

Each of those divisions would have powers greater than a royal commission. The law enforcement division would maintain discretionary capacity to conduct public hearings. The public sector division would run compulsory private hearings to investigate matters and build a brief which would form the basis of a public prosecution.

Each division would have its own-motion powers. Both divisions would be able to investigate what are already a very broad existing suite of public sector offences. They could look at past conduct in that regard. The new commission would also be empowered to investigate with respect to newly created offences, as well as the pre-existing offences. But the government’s view—and it is not a view that is shared universally—is that there could not be retrospective application of new criminal laws or of declarations of new standards of corruption.

But I would also note, for the benefit of the member and of members opposite, that that dual structure, which we have been very clear about, also obviously requires the very necessary primary step of expanding the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which would form the first division of our model.

In this budget, $9.9 million was allocated to that first stage of the development of this process. Thirty eight more staff have been allocated to expand the jurisdiction of ACLEI in this budget—to the ATO, to ASIC, to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. That can be achieved by regulation. It will be up and running by 1 January next year. So the first stage, as part of this dual structure, is actually underway in this budget, expanding the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. But these issues are going to require detailed consultation, and that consultation will follow.

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