Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 – Consideration in Detail

Dr HAINES (Indi) (17:13):

The question is that the expenditure be agreed to. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could say yes to that, knowing that we could all sleep comfortably at night, knowing that there was an independent cop on the beat looking out for anticorruption in this place should there be something as extraordinary as, for example, an unfavourable ANAO report on departmental expenditure? Let’s just contemplate for one moment the unthinkable happening. This, of course, is not a talking point; it is, in fact, an uncomfortable truth. Like a minister deliberately rorting a sporting fund program for electoral benefit or, good heavens, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications handing over nearly $30 million to a Liberal donor for a parcel of land near the Western Sydney airport when it was worth barely $3 million, it is very uncomfortable indeed!

The problem, of course, is that there is no such cop on the beat. While there are anticorruption commissions in every state and territory in this nation, there is not one in our federal parliament. On 8 September, it will be 1,000 days since the Prime Minister promised this country an integrity commission, and what have we had since then?

First, we waited 690 days for no action at all. The Prime Minister sat on his hands and hoped that the public would forget, but I want to say to you that I did not forget.

I introduced the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2020, a private member’s bill, into this House in October last year. Immediately following that, in November, the Attorney-General published a dud draft bill. He sent it out for consultation for the third time in as many years and received hundreds of submissions, as the minister acting for the Attorney-General just pointed out. But those submissions found that the bill was, in fact, unsalvageable; it was dead on arrival. The government received 333 submissions to this round of consultations on this dud bill. Analysis from the Centre for Public Integrity found that none of the 333 submissions supported the bill as drafted. In fact, only two of the 333 submissions had anything positive to say at all, and it’s pretty clear why: exclusive private hearings for MPs and the Public Service, referrals restricted to inner-circle bureaucrats and an impossibly narrow definition of ‘corrupt conduct’. Can the minister representing the Attorney-General accept that this bill needs a total rewrite?

It’s pretty clear the government has no intention, really, to deliver on this election promise. With the rolling scandals coming out of parliament on both sides, it’s obvious to see why it doesn’t want to deliver. MPs are sent to parliament to deliver for the people they represent, not to play games, not just to deliver talking points and not to deliver stunts but to give good, honest, decent legislation. They’re not here to stall, obfuscate and sit on their hands. That’s why I wrote my own robust consensus bill with good MPs on both sides. That’s why it’s sitting on the paper right now. It’s really time we got it done.

In 53 short days, we’ll be in an election season. I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General: given that it’s taken almost 1,000 days for you to get this dud proposal this far, how can the Australian people believe you when you say that you hope to pass a bill before December? We already know that the government’s bill would be rejected in the Senate, and we also know that good MPs on both sides would find it very difficult to vote for any government bill in the House. So will the minister admit that it has no chance of passing its own bill and get out of the way so the parliament can pass a consensus bill, like the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2020?

A bill really needs to be able to deliver for what it is intended to do, and the government’s proposal limits referrals to inner-circle bureaucrats. It does very little to uncover corruption, let alone inspire the public that is trying to hold its officials to account. It’s critical that an integrity commission has the power to initiate its own investigations. Where there’s smoke, there is often fire. An integrity commission needs to be able follow that thread, and it needs to be funded to do so, but there is no money and there is no line item in this year’s budget.

The question is that the expenditure be agreed to. I’d love to assist the government in spending some money on a decent integrity commission. I’m committed to working with the government to do so. I really hope it does, and I really hope it gets on with it. I don’t want to go to an election without an integrity commission and nor do the Australian public.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

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