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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11345

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (12:57): It goes without saying that there's way too much questionable stuff going down in this country right now. So many decisions are being made by governments, by politicians and by senior officials that have question marks hanging over them that it is understandable that the community is concerned. One recent example is the decision to grant almost half a billion dollars to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. There was the decision not that long ago to grant Foxtel, I think, it was $30 million, for reasons that are still unexplained. We go back some years, but it's a hot topic currently, to the issue of the spying on the East Timorese parliament and the fact that the government is now going after the whistleblower and his lawyer. Crucially, there is still the unaddressed matter that the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and the then secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who both were involved in as much as they would have had oversight of the spying operation, but yet the minister and the secretary both went on and worked for Woodside Petroleum.

In the case of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, in the case of the money for Foxtel and in the case of a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and a former secretary for Foreign Affairs going on and doing paid work for a company that their actions had materially benefited there might be a really good explanation. Perhaps in all of those cases there was no misconduct and they were all good decisions by good people. But we don't know, because we don't have any means to examine those sorts of issues. In a day and age when people are understandably more cynical than ever, of course people will start drawing conclusions that there was misconduct.

I'm reminded that in the eight years I've been in this parliament, and before that, there have been dozens upon dozens of changes to our security legislation, including greater powers for the state and greater intrusiveness, like mandatory metadata retention. Whenever these sorts of things are sold to the public by governments, the government says, 'If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear.' I will make the point again: the government says, 'If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear.' So why then is the current government so anti some sort of federal anticorruption or integrity authority? If the government has nothing to hide it will have nothing to fear from the establishment of such an organisation.

It is regrettable that the government has only been dragged to this point, kicking and screaming, because of the political reality of this parliament. The fact is that if there were a vote on this motion today and the government were to stick to its guns it would probably vote against it and try to sell its decision to the public. But the public would be outraged, so it looks like the government is going to roll over on this motion but probably do nothing about it.

The government criticise the member for Indi's bill, which she introduced this morning and which has been seconded by the member for Mayo. Instead of criticising what the crossbench have put forward, why don't they actually come to the table, exactly as the member for Mayo has pleaded with them to do, and offer some amendments? If they're going to vote in favour of this motion because they've been forced to vote in favour of this motion by the reality of the numbers in the parliament, why don't they actually show a bit of backbone, lead from the front, as has been requested by the member for Mayo, come back to the parliament with some amendments and make it better? Make it perfect. We don't have the resources on the crossbench to come up with the perfect solution, but we can come up with a really solid start to an issue like this. Then, with all their resources, they can amend it and improve it. But I bet they don't.

Then they'll wonder why they'll be struggling to win an election in six months time and struggling to regain the trust of the community. No wonder the community is so cynical about politicians. We only had a banking royal commission because the government was dragged, kicking and screaming, to that point. It is no wonder the government is so on the nose and no wonder politicians are so on the nose when it is patently clear that the majority of members of the community want some form of integrity or anticorruption body.

We in this place have no-one but ourselves to blame that we are held in such low regard by members of the community. There are just so many excuses: it would become some sort of mechanism for disgruntled public servants to go after their peers, or some means to go after a bureaucrat from 30 years ago. No it won't. That's not the intention. And if there is some sort of weakness in the current bill which would allow that, let's deal with that weakness. Let's close that hole in the current bill.

I was really touched by the point made by the member for Indi, saying, 'Let's work together.' Can't we once, in the public interest and in the best interests of our constituents, come together as one in this place and come up with something that's a good thing? Why is it that everything one side in this place suggests is opposed by the other side? Why is it that just about everything from the crossbench is always ignored? Why can't governments be more open-minded to the talent and ideas in this place and be open-minded to the public interest and what the public wants? This is just another example of where governments are out of step with majority public opinion.

I could rattle off so many things. The public want strong action on climate change—ignored by the government. The public want to shut down live animal exports—ignored by the government. The public want strong action as far as gambling reform goes—ignored by the government. The public want a strong and effective anticorruption body—ignored by the government. It will be ignored by the government because the only reason the government will support this motion is the numbers in this parliament, and none of us on the crossbench or on the opposition benches have any confidence that the government will actually go on and do something about it.

Through you, Mr Speaker, to the Attorney-General: you're a decent man. Take this bill that's been tabled today by the member for Indi, allow it to be brought on for debate and bring some amendments back to this place. Let's improve it. Let's make it better. We won't be offended even if you table your own bill now. We want the outcome. This isn't about who owns this or whose name is on the front of it; it's about the outcome. Through you, Speaker, I implore the Attorney-General: either bring some amendments back to this place on the bill that's before the House, or bring your own bill into the House. I tell you what: it will be popular in the community and it will improve your stocks politically. Surely you want that? Surely the government wants to get off 45 per cent or 55 per cent in the next Newspoll, where it seems to be stuck? Act in the public interest. Swallow your pride. People will respect you for it. People will respect you a lot for it, for the fact that you say, 'Okay, we've come on board.' That's what the public needs.

No more excuses. It's not good enough to say, 'This will just become a mechanism to go after public servants from 30 years ago.' It's not good enough to say, 'Look at the problems, say, in New South Wales with their ICAC,' or for the member for Kennedy to single out some of the problems that were created in Queensland in his experience when he was in the state parliament. In fact, we can leverage off those problems that have occurred over time and in other jurisdictions. We can examine those case studies, find out where the weaknesses are and make our federal integrity commission the best in the world. We're actually lucky that we have these examples of problems with other anticorruption bodies in the states in this country and overseas. We can learn from them, and the public will thank us for it. That's all I'll say.

There is clearly a strong public interest in a federal anticorruption body. We're having issue after issue where questions have been raised and not addressed. Why exactly did the Great Barrier Reef Foundation get almost half a billion dollars? Why did Foxtel get $30 million? Why did a former foreign minister and a former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade go and work for Woodside Petroleum, which was a material beneficiary of a spying operation that the former foreign minister and former secretary of that department had an association with? In all those examples, maybe everyone acted legally and with integrity. But we just don't know, because we don't have a body to examine these sorts of cases.

It goes without saying that not only do we have to have good and clean governments but we have to be seen to have good and clean governments. In fact, if we set up an integrity commission and it looked at a 100 different issues and in every case it found that no-one did anything wrong, that would actually still be a good outcome. It would still be a reason to have the integrity commission, not to not have the integrity commission, because the public could have confidence that governance in this country is done cleanly and with integrity. I applaud the Labor Party for running with this issue now. If you do become the government in six months, the community will be expecting the new government to act on this and to speedily establish some sort of federal integrity commission.

Question agreed to.