(16:46): by leave—at the request of the member for Clark, I move:
That this House:
(1) notes that the:
(a) Government has failed to establish a strong independent federal integrity commission, and on 8 September 2021 it will be 1,000 days since the Prime Minister promised to pass legislation to create one; and
(b) Government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission is half-baked, creating the weakest watchdog in the country with hearings for all politicians and public servants held behind closed doors, no transparency on findings and penalties for whistle-blowers; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) abandon its deeply unpopular Commonwealth Integrity Commission proposal which in its current form is beyond effective amendment and should be scrapped;
(b) establish a strong, well-funded, wide-ranging and independent integrity commission through the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill put forward by the Member for Indi that can launch its own inquiries into criminal, corrupt and unethical behaviour by politicians and their staff, hold public hearings and make public findings; and
(c) commit to passing such legislation as a matter of urgency.
It has now been well over 1,000 days since the Prime Minister promised Australians a federal integrity commission. Parliament has just emerged from a six-week spring recess and we’d be mistaken in assuming that the corruption scandals which have plagued this government and the opposition would have taken a spring break too. But no; in a few short weeks we’ve seen fresh evidence emerge about the involvement of the member for Holt in the Victorian Labor branch-stacking scandal. The IBAC hearings revealed that the member deliberately misused taxpayer dollars to employ political staff to undertake factional work. Astonishingly, those staff didn’t even turn up to the office. This is an insult to democracy and to the taxpayer.
We have also seen new evidence of pork-barrelling emerge across regional Australia through the $1.38 billion Building Better Regions Fund. Analysis shows that 72 per cent of the latest $300 million round went to Liberal and National Party electorates and that another 16 per cent went to marginal electorates. The analysis shows that this is disproportionate to the spread of government seats in regional Australia. The member for Mallee admitted that a colour-coded spreadsheet was circulated to government MPs, allowing them to push for projects that didn’t make the first cut. That’s simply unacceptable for the hardworking community groups and local councils who pored over applications. Without an integrity commission, regional Australians simply won’t know how hijacked the BBRF is.
We’ve also seen fresh revelations about the former Attorney General’s unacceptable blind trust arrangements. A sitting member of the House of Representatives who has acknowledged receipt of $1 million from anonymous donors refuses to admit that it creates a potential conflict of interest. It’s no surprise, then, that the member who operates on such a loose definition of integrity and probity was the same member who drafted the government’s completely inadequate Commonwealth Integrity Commission proposal, which would bury any allegations of corruption in political offices rather than air them in public.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which of the major parties are in government; these scandals still abound. The best way for Australia to achieve a robust federal integrity commission is to come through the middle, through a safe pair of Independent hands on the crossbench.
Earlier today I submitted paperwork to reintroduce my robust Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill to the House next Monday. Once it’s introduced, I’ll seek leave to move to suspend standing orders and bring on a debate and vote on my bill. If leave is granted, it would only need a simple majority. All eyes would then be on government backbenchers. In many of their electorates over 90 per cent of their constituents are calling for a robust federal integrity commission as soon as possible. Only two of them need to cross the floor to break the deadlock, and I know many of them are people of enormous integrity and want to see this happen. It’s time for them to stand with me. If the Leader of the House does not grant leave for a suspension of standing orders it will be clear the government does not want its backbench to have their say on the floor of parliament.
Just last week the member for Curtin expressed her support for a sensible public hearing test and a commitment to make the findings of investigations public. I know the member for Curtin is well versed in the public hearings test in my bill, which is just that: sensible. I also welcome recent comments from the member for Wentworth, who I’ll meet with this week, about the need for one set of rules for law enforcement and the public sector. That’s a core tenet of my bill and one of the Beechworth principles upon which it’s founded. As a former diplomat, I’ll be pleased to discuss with the member for Wentworth how my bill would enhance Australia’s position in the G20, APEC and United Nations working groups on anticorruption and transparency. I’ll also be pleased to meet with member for Higgins, who I know has made her views very clear to the Attorney-General. Earlier today Senator Rex Patrick submitted paperwork to introduce my bill into the Senate this week. The whole Senate crossbench support my bill, which the Centre for Public Integrity has rated the best in the nation.
Before any MPs jump on this motion and start claiming that a robust integrity commission bill like mine would tarnish reputations or lead to reckless public hearings, I want them to admit whether they’ve actually even read the bill I introduced last year, because it’s not the same as New South Wales ICAC, which the Prime Minister was so keen to condemn as a Star Chamber in the wake of the former premier’s resignation. Where were the same criticisms about IBAC from the Prime Minister? Nowhere to be seen.
The next election is set to be extraordinarily close. There’s every chance that the crossbench could soon hold the balance of power in this place, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I am looking very closely at how honest both sides of politics are when they claim to talk about integrity.