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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11338


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (12:26): I'm not sure that you are very tolerant in question time, but thanks for the warning.

The SPEAKER: I just warn her: I don't have a sense of humour before question time.

Ms PLIBERSEK: I'm rising today to support the resolution that the message from the Senate be agreed to. I thought I was going to be able to agree with the Attorney-General as well, because he started by saying that this matter deserves sober and cautious consideration. I completely agree that this is a very important motion and a very important matter that does deserve sober and cautious consideration. Sadly, the Attorney-General then went on to take us on a tour through a horror show of what would happen if we introduced a national integrity commission in Australia. If indeed what he was describing, that we'd be looking at 30-year-old breaches of workplace codes of conduct, was the outcome, I'd be the first to line up behind him and say that's not what we want in this country.

But nobody is proposing a national integrity commission that would look at 30-year-old breaches of workplace codes of conduct. What we are saying on this side, what the crossbench are saying and what the Senate has said is that where there is systematic and serious misconduct we ought to have a body in this country that is able to find it, examine it and then refer it, if there is cause for criminal charges, to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, the Australian Federal Police or an appropriate body.

I am one of those people who is proud of the fact that I believe Australia is a corruption-resistant country and that we have low levels of corruption by international standards. I believe our public servants are, by and large, dedicated, good people who do their work with integrity every day. I believe the same of members of this place and the other as well. I believe the vast majority of my colleagues, even the ones I disagree with every day, work hard in the national interest. But we can't put our heads in the sand, because we know, from looking at the state based integrity commissions, that there are exceptions to this principle. We know, from looking at the work of these state based integrity commissions, that when we catch people we do a very good public service, because we restore the faith of our electors in our parliamentary democracy—in democracy itself—by saying that if something goes wrong there is somewhere to complain to and someone who can examine that complaint.

I'm from New South Wales so I've had plenty of opportunity to see up close the work of an effective integrity commission. You can point to plenty of Liberal ministers and members of parliament on the other side who've resigned because of allegations of corruption, including recently when a member who was caught on tape resigned, causing a by-election. But we had our own, on our side. We had two former ministers jailed—one for five years and one for seven years. I and I know my colleagues would be the first to say, 'That is good. That is good for us as a party. That is good for us as a democracy.' We are prepared to be examined with all of the same scrutiny as we wish on our opponents. That is good for our democracy. I've got to say, seeing Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald jailed were two of the happiest days of my life, because it was like cutting a cancer out of the Labor Party. I'm happy that it happened. I am, first of all, prepared to say I don't believe that there is a great deal of corruption in Australia but I'm equally prepared to say that where there are these instances, it is vital for our democracy that we can find them out. I saw the open letter from 32 judges to the Prime Minister about this. I think the point made in that letter is important. It said:

When this confidence and trust is diminished, pessimism, divisiveness and conflict increase; and social cohesiveness is harmed.

We need to reassure Australians that, at a federal level, they can trust the integrity of our democratic processes. The judges went on to say:

Existing federal integrity agencies lack the necessary jurisdiction, powers and know-how to investigate properly the impartiality and bona-fides of decisions made by, and conduct of, the federal government and public sector.

These 32 people are in a better-than-average position to have an opinion on this and to know the difference that a national integrity commission would make.

The member for Indi has proposed a way forward here. We have laid out our own principles that we would apply, and the Leader of the Opposition went through those seven principles. In fact, the integrity committee that has been sponsored by the Australia Institute has proposed a number of other ways forward in this area. I think the fact that we have three different sets of proposals shows how important it is to take a bipartisan approach here. The Attorney-General said that we should have a sober and cautious approach to this, and I agree. The best way that we can have a sober and cautious approach to designing a national integrity commission is for there to be a bipartisan approach, where the government—after rejecting the need for a national integrity commission for as long as they have—set aside those objections and agree to work with us, the member for Indi and others on the crossbench, on a detailed approach that looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the various state integrity commissions, looks at what can be improved in those state commissions and proposes publicly an approach that can be examined by people who have an interest, like these 32 former judges, like the National Integrity Committee that's been established.

We can have a public debate that looks at a really robust approach that has strong investigative powers and balance that with the fact that anybody accused of impropriety ought to be accorded natural justice, ought to have the opportunity of properly answering those allegations before they're on the front page of a newspaper. Balancing those approaches, we can do that. The Attorney-General has gone through a whole lot of horror scenarios of what might happen. It is important that we get this right. It is absolutely critical that we get the detail right. But, surely, Attorney-General, the fact that you have concerns about the member for Indi's specific proposal is a reason for us all to work together across the chamber to get the detail right, not a reason to stick our heads in the sand and pretend there has never been, and never will be, corruption at a federal level. It is not beyond us to get this legislation right.

We know that this is yet another area in which the people are ahead of the government. We know that about 80 per cent of Australians support some type of national integrity commission. I think, Attorney-General, when so many Australians have enough concern to support a national integrity commission, it is important that we ask ourselves as political leaders, first of all, what we're doing wrong to see such concern amongst the people we represent; and secondly, how we can allay those concerns. What can we do together to design a national integrity commission with strong powers that can reassure Australians that we continue to live in one of the least corrupt countries on earth?