This opinion article was published in The Border Mail on September 8, 2021.
Rumours are swirling about when the Prime Minister will call the next federalelection – one day the word is May next year, the next it is October this year,maybe March, or even December.What is now certain is that whenever we head to the election, there will be nofederal integrity commission in place.
Today is the 1000 th day since Prime MinisterScott Morrison promised to establish an integrity commission, but we haven’teven seen a bill presented to Parliament.As the Liberal-National Coalition sets its sights on the election, putting a strongwatchdog on the case will be pushed even further to the bottom of the to-do list.
Instead the to-do lists of the major parties will be election-focused: asking their donors for funds, designing promotional material and, fine-tuning messages. What else is happening as the major parties prepare to face up to voters? Arethey developing spreadsheets for funding programs? Is there a column withcolours coded by party and margins, while the column that sets out the actualneed and merit of a program is ignored? Will we ever find out?
It is entirely possible that the rorts and scandals that plagued the last election arebeing repeated right now, with absolutely no consequences, oversight oraccountability. In the last budget billions of dollars were set aside for unnamedprojects ‘yet to be announced’, but no money for an integrity commission. We are running headlong into election season with no mechanism to protect theAustralian public from more rorting and pork-barrelling.
It shouldn’t be this way.
Breaking a promise on integrity says a lot about this Government. Right now, Australians are putting their faith in government in ways we’ve never seen before. From lockdown orders to the vaccine rollout, Australians are living up to their side of the bargain, and, in exchange, when it comes to integrity this government is taking us for fools. It’s not a fair deal.
While the Government has been delaying, making excuses, and putting the integrity commission to the bottom of the to-do list, I’ve been working. I’ve consulted, drafted and introduced to Parliament a bill for the Australian Federal Integrity Commission. It’s been recognised as the most robust model in the country and has endorsements from everyone from former High Court Justice Mary Gaudron to Tony Fitzgerald, who investigated corruption in the Queensland police in the1980s.
My proposal is ready to go now and could be established before Christmas if the Government would only let it be debated. Unlike the Government, I won’t stop trying to find ways for my bill to progress. We know the bill would pass the Senate. The margin in the House is razor thin. In normal circumstances only oneGovernment MP would need to cross the floor to make it happen.
When it comes to the election campaign, the Government can’t use the pandemic as an excuse for an inaction on an integrity commission, while at the same time announcing new infrastructure projects around the country. The Australian people won’t buy it.
As we race towards the next election, the Government is hoping voters have forgotten about integrity. That among the stress of life in a pandemic, remote learning and restrictions, the idea that Governments should be honest, transparent and accountable on their promises will fall by the wayside. The voters have not.
In fact the call for integrity in politics only grows louder. The next election is set to be extremely tight and if the Government thinks it can count on crossbench support in a hung parliament then they will need to demonstrate they are serious about legislating a strong integrity commission. That goes for the Opposition too. How they act now on this issue will have consequences in the 47th Parliament.
Some voters may forgive the Coalition its broken promises. But I am watching such decisions closely, and so are my crossbench colleagues. The growing number of independent candidates are watching such decisions closely. When the polls close, the seats are tallied and the major parties come to independents looking for support, we will not forget the broken promise on integrity so lightly.