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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11343

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (12:46): I thank the member for Kennedy for sharing those stories with us. I also acknowledge the wisdom that he brings to this particular process. I actually want to address the what and how of this. Minister, I welcome your comments and certainly those from the Labor side. To me, the art of parliament is doing exactly what we've done here—you make your best effort and, as a private member, you bring the legislation to the House and ask, 'Okay, how can we, together, make this better?' Minister, I ask you: what will you do to help us make this legislation better? Certainly, I'm open to the critique that you bring to it. I also acknowledge your expertise in this area and also your access to your department. Clearly the whole parliament is looking to you to look at this legislation and make it better. I don't think it's appropriate, at this stage, to critique it in the detail which obviously needs to happen, but today what we're asking from you is the higher moral ground. We're asking: 'What is the government going to do about this? What is the government's position on this? What would it take for the government to come to what has been the most generous of speeches by the crossbench and Labor and work together, to do what we know the Australian people want—which is for us to work together on a thing that matters to them, which is trusting institutions?' So, Minister, I'm really pleased that you're here and you're part of the debate, but my call to you is: can you please tell us what, when and how?

I pick up the member for Melbourne's comment of, 'Could we do it by Christmas?' because we all know, if this doesn't get resolved and we go to an election, how really bitterly this will be fought out. The stories of corruption that my colleague from Queensland tells us that we know are not very far below the surface will all come to the fore and we will spend our time arguing the detail and not doing what we know the people of Australia want us to do—work together and work in harmony. That's what we need to do.

The second thing I want to say is a little bit about why I'm so passionate about this. The background for me is I'm a farmer by trade and inclination. My profession is agriculture. I really, really care about how agriculture is run in this country. I've had a lifetime of work with the department of agriculture and the public servants in it. So you could imagine my enormous distress when I read the Moss review that came down recently. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, the member for Maranoa, for doing that review. But it showed us what is currently happening in the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which we love, about an issue that farmers particularly care about—the welfare of our sheep and our livestock—and we could see that not only is the department not able to do its job but people have been intimidated and there's been a significant failure of the application of the regulations that needed to happen.

So, for me, the main job of the government is to make sure that we make rules, that they're enforced, and that the regulation happens. I welcome the member for Farrer to the chamber for this bit: in live export we've had a huge failing of regulation. A commission like that we're talking about is exactly what could have helped very early. The people who knew there was a problem could have gone to this commission and said: 'We've got problems here. We don't think it's corrupt, but things aren't working out. Could you do an investigation?' We could have spared ourselves so much of the trouble we've had and the huge community angst around how the live sheep export business is being operated because our community in the Public Service didn't have a place to go to get it addressed. So that Moss example, for me, is just an absolute standout of why we need this sort of commissioner and why we need it now.

Minister, I take on board your comments about the definition and about retrospectivity. If I could make a comment about retrospectivity and why it's in the bill, I, for one, am not a fan of retrospectivity—ever—but I know with corruption that there's often history—not always but frequently there's a story that needs to be understood. If we don't give this commission power to actually look at the history, to look at the story, of what we basically call deep-rooted corruption that has a past, we can't address it in the future. I'm really happy to work with you, Minister, your department and your staff about how we can do that better. But we can't just pretend that we're only going to look at things that go wrong from here on into the future, because so many things that we know don't work—for example, in the department—are because there's a history of how things were done, a history of how people were treated and a history of fear. You've actually got to do some degree of retrospectivity to address that. I would be really pleased to work with you and your department to get some words about how we could make this better in the future, but I don't want to ignore the past.

I welcome your presence in the debate, Minister, but, from the bottom of my heart, I call out: 'Come back and tell us this week that the government, across the parliament, will accept the offer from Labor and from us to work together,' because, truly, it's only the government stopping this happening. We know that you're basically in favour of it. We know that the previous Prime Minister was basically in favour of it. We suspect that most of your backbench are in favour of it. What we're asking for now is some leadership in how we work together to get what the country wants, which is the ability to trust that we in this parliament can actually work in a way that gives people trust in our processes and our integrity in working together. I'll leave my comments there but look forward to continuing the conversation with you.