Federation Chamber

Dr HAINES (Indi) (18:12): I move:

That this House:

(1) agrees that effective politics requires constructive debate and consensus building on policy challenges and roadblocks that, if left unresolved, undermine the national interest;

(2) commends the Menzies-Calwell club for facilitating consensus-driven, cross-parliamentary policy discussions that do not regress into ineffectual, politically polarised rhetoric;

(3) reaffirms that establishing a robust federal integrity commission during this parliament well before the next election is essential to arresting the declining public trust in institutions and restoring Australians’ faith in the democratic system;

(4) notes that, according to the Beechworth Principles and the motion agreed to by the Senate on 9 November 2020, a federal integrity commission must have:

(a) broad jurisdiction to investigate corrupt conduct within the public sector;

(b) common rules for all public officials;

(c) strong investigative powers and procedural fairness safeguards;

(d) an ability to hold public hearings when in the public interest;

(e) direct avenues for public referrals and an ability to commence investigations independently based on those referrals;

(f) strong whistleblower protections;

(g) adequate and secure funding to be able to fulfil its purpose; and

(h) oversight by a multi-party parliamentary committee, including of the appointment of commissioners, and an independent parliamentary inspector to ensure accountability to the people; and

(5) encourages Members of Parliament to debate the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2020 and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Standards Bill 2020 as a robust consensus package that all parliamentarians can engage with, in good faith, as a non-aligned private member’s bill that answers the strong call from the Australian public for a robust federal integrity commission.

Parliamentary debate on integrity always hits a nerve. If you witnessed the matter of public importance debate on integrity this House held some months ago, you would know how swiftly rhetoric-driven debates descend into unconstructive name-calling and insinuation.

The spirit of this motion is different. I want to thank those speaking to this motion from the government side in advance for their resolve to have this debate in a respectful manner—the member for Goldstein, the member for Bass, the member for Bennelong and other members on the government side who also wished to speak but could not secure a spot. I thank the member for Bennelong, in particular, for his leadership of the Menzies-Calwell club, who met to discuss the merits of a robust federal integrity commission and how to carve a path forward for that vision. This motion reflects the collaborative ethos that defines my politic as an independent member of the crossbench. This is how we write legislation we can all get behind, without ambushing one another or negotiating concessions in secret.

The ‘bring on debate’ campaign that started in my electorate of Indi is calling on parliament to debate the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill I introduced last month. Two weeks ago I met with the Attorney-General in his capacity as Leader of the House, to ask him to allow debate, but he refused.

There are many MPs on both sides of the House who are still committed to that debate. It’s actually quite clear what most MPs are looking for in an integrity bill—a broad jurisdiction that covers criminal and non-criminal corruption; common rules for all, with no exceptionalism for MPs and their staff; strong investigative powers and procedural fairness safeguards; the ability to hold public hearings when in the public interest; public referrals and powers to self-initiate investigations; strong whistleblower protections; adequate and secure ongoing funding; and oversight by a parliamentary committee and independent inspector.

These principles, which are embedded in the AFIC bill, are not new. The Senate has agreed to these principles. MPs from across the House have come to meet with me to support these principles through the Beechworth principles process I’ve run since February this year. The Australian Federal Police Association support these principles. The national integrity committee of former judges from the High Court, the Federal Court and the Supreme Court from across the nation support these principles. Transparency International Australia support these principles. I could spend the five-minute allocation listing the supporters.

Just this morning, Professor AJ Brown launched Australia’s second national integrity system assessment, which classifies the public hearing provisions in the AFIC bill as best practice. Those who have read the AFIC bill closely and have compared it to the state ICACs know that the AFIC bill builds on and improves lessons learnt in the states. Those MPs who worked with me to draft the AFIC bill know that treating AFIC the same as any state ICAC model is a total mischaracterisation.

AFIC is focused on safeguards and protecting the public interest. It has special provisions to ensure personal reputations are not needlessly tarnished, including the right to request a private hearing. It includes special provisions for persons who are exonerated following an investigation. It includes protections against vexatious and frivolous claims, and it includes protections for those who are unknowingly caught up in corruption scandals or are forced to act beyond their will, such as junior staffers and frontline staff.

AFIC is a carefully crafted bill. Findings from the national integrity assessment released this morning show Australians increasingly view corruption as a major problem. The figure rose from 61 per cent in 2018 to 66 per cent in 2020. The proportion of those who believe the federal government is handling corruption issues very badly also risen in the same time period—from 15 per cent to 19.4 per cent. Over 80 per cent of Australians want a robust federal integrity commission now as a matter of urgency.

Through bushfires, the coronavirus and border closures, the people of Indi continue to implore me to pursue the AFIC bill and a better culture of integrity in federal politics. I will continue to heed their call, and I look forward to hearing from other members today whose constituents implore them to do the same.

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