That this bill be now read a second time.
I am pleased to reintroduce the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2021 to the House.
The purpose of this bill is as vital as it is simple: to establish a robust integrity commission to restore public trust, confidence and pride in the parliament and their democracy.
Now more than ever, we need to pass this bill.
The Australian Federal Integrity Commission model I’ve proposed in this bill would enable clear and practical responses to allegations of serious and systemic corruption issues at the federal level in the public interest.
In its most recent comprehensive review, the Centre for Public Integrity ranked this bill the best model of an integrity commission in the nation.
AFIC would have appropriate powers to receive referrals, assess allegations, conduct investigations and issue findings.
The bill specifically allows for public referrals.
It is vital that any Australian and all public servants have a reputable body that they can trust with corruption concerns and that will protect them as whistleblowers.
This bill provides just that.
As a safeguard, this bill also includes protections against frivolous, vexatious or otherwise baseless claims. These provisions would allow the commission to vet referrals and protect the reputations of all involved.
AFIC would be retrospective.
I want to be clear: this bill would not apply new laws to past facts. If conduct was criminal at the time, it was criminal at the time. All integrity commissions in this nation are retrospective, and this bill is no different in that regard.
We must be able to examine serious past conduct so we can learn from our mistakes and improve as a democracy.
AFIC also uses a clear, broad and sensible definition of corruption that is fit for purpose, and does not duplicate the work of our criminal justice system.
When it comes to investigations, AFIC must focus on conduct that is serious or systemic in nature.
AFIC will also be empowered to hold public hearings when in the public interest.
Over the past two years, I’ve spoken with many about their views on public hearings and I’ve incorporated concerns from both sides of this House into a balanced public interest test in part 5 of the bill to ease those concerns. For example, all persons called to give evidence will have a rolling right to request a private hearing and can present their reasons for this in private with the commissioner.
The public interest test balances the overarching need for transparency with other factors, such as how serious or systemic the corruption issue is, any unfair exposure of a person’s private life and unfair prejudice to personal reputation, even if by simple association with the commission by name during a hearing.
This bill is more refined than any other on the table.
This bill is the culmination of over a decade of prior consultation, over a decade of committee inquiries and over a decade of evaluations of the strengths and weaknesses of the ICAC laws that exist in every jurisdiction in this country except this one.
This bill has the endorsement of some of the finest legal minds who have served on the High Court, Federal Court and supreme courts across this nation.
Tomorrow, it will be one year to the day since I first introduced this bill to the House.
It is clear we need a robust federal integrity commission now more than ever, and that the government will not introduce a bill capable of passing this parliament before the election.
It’s now been over 1,000 days since the Prime Minister promised this nation a robust federal integrity commission.
It’s a proposal which, unlike this bill, will put integrity scandals involving politicians and their staff in a black box, never to be heard of again.
The Centre for Public Integrity has described it as ‘the weakest watchdog’ in the country, and it’s been roundly rejected by every expert in the nation.
I’ve watched on with dismay over the past year as scandals have poured out from both sides of politics.
From branch stacking, to fund rorting and blind trusts, the longer we go without a robust integrity commission, the more the Australian people will lose faith in each and every one of us.
We can do so much better.
With respect to colleagues on all sides, a bill for a federal integrity commission from a major party would almost certainly descend into partisan games and mudslinging.
An important reform like this is much better coming from the crossbench where we can foster bipartisanship.
Australians do not want to head into the next election without a robust federal integrity commission.
This is the way we can deliver it.
If the government, including members of the backbench, want to deliver for their constituents and the Australian people, then it’s incumbent upon them to support this bill.
We can debate it. We can amend it. But this is the bill.
I commend this bill to the House.