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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11344

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (12:53): This morning, we talked about Transparency International Australia and the really good work they did to assist the member for Indi with her bill. We talked about the work of the Australia Institute and, more broadly, the desire of the nation to ensure that we have integrity: integrity in this place, integrity in the Public Service, integrity across all reaches of decision-making. I concur with the member for Kennedy and say, firstly, we absolutely need bipartisan support for this. The member for Indi is right: the only team that is holding this back is the government. I think it's fair to say the rest of the parliament want us to move forward.

It's got a feeling of deja vu about it, doesn't it? It's a feeling of deja vu going back to the banking royal commission. Scores of times, the government voted against that. The government said, 'Nothing to see here!' 'Rank socialism' is what a former Prime Minister said with respect to a banking royal commission. But what we have uncovered is that it was much needed and should have happened years ago. I believe the same will happen with the National Integrity Commission.

If the Prime Minister doesn't want to listen to the crossbench, if he doesn't want to listen to really everyone in the parliament apart from his own frontbench and if the Prime Minister is not paying any attention to what happened in Victoria over the weekend, I would urge the Prime Minister and indeed the government to listen to the story of the 34 former Australian judges—eminent people—who in quite an unprecedented manner wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister for the establishment of a national integrity commission. I wish to read into Hansard just some of the letter:

Confidence and trust in government and public institutions is at an all-time low. When this confidence and trust is diminished, pessimism, divisiveness and conflict increase; and social cohesiveness is harmed. As a result, the economy and the welfare of all Australians suffers. Ultimately, as international experience has shown, democracy itself is threatened and may be irreparably damaged. Governments ignore at their peril demands by citizens to combat corruption with vigor.

A major cause of the current deterioration in trust is the suspicion that corruption permeates many governmental decisions and actions. Corruption, broadly understood in this context, occurs when those in public office place private interests over the public good. The avoidance of corruption is an essential organising principle of our representative democracy.

Secrecy is at the core of corrupt conduct. Electronic communications and advanced developments in IT provide formidable means of concealing misconduct, which is difficult and expensive to combat. Those involved in large-scale corruption are usually well-organised, experienced, astute and wealthy. A well-funded and properly resourced national anti-corruption agency, with overall jurisdiction to investigate all public decisions and conduct, and with appropriate powers and protections, is needed to combat them. The price of freedom, and freedom includes living in a society free from corruption, is eternal vigilance.

… … …

The National Integrity Committee has outlined a benchmark for designing a model integrity commission. It must have a broad jurisdiction and strong investigative powers, including public hearings, in order to adequately investigate and expose corruption and misconduct.

If the government doesn't want to listen to the crossbench, and if the government uses their first opportunity to talk about an integrity commission to critique the crossbench instead of leading from the front, I urge the Attorney-General: for goodness sake, lead from the front on this. If you're not going to listen to us, if you are not going to listen to the crossbench, if you're not going to listen to the Australian people, for goodness sake why don't you at least listen to 34 eminent former High Court and Federal Court justices? Thank you.