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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1918


Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (13:02): We are clearly in uncharted waters. The Greens accept that it is appropriate that the High Court should rule on the eligibility of Senator Day, given his apparent financial dealings with the Commonwealth and, perhaps, also the question of his own solvency, as well as ruling on the appropriate method for his replacement. So the Greens will be supporting this motion. We support the rule of law and the processes laid down in the Constitution to ensure that members of parliament have no conflict of interest between private and public interests when voting in this place on issues of national significance.

Senators, no doubt, will have heard the Greens raise these issues prior on the need for an anticorruption watchdog to oversee the federal parliament and the Public Service. You may well be tired of us sounding like a broken record; we are tired of unfortunately continuing to have cause to raise this issue. We will continue to raise it until this parliament joins the other state and territory parliaments around the country in establishing an anticorruption authority. In fact, the presence of a federal ICAC might even have prevented this situation from arising in the first place. Senator Day might have been warned that his actions could give rise to a perception of a conflict of interest, if not an actuality; the Department of Finance might have been more forceful in making it clear to the government that the leasing of an office that the senator had a proprietary interest in should in no way proceed; and, most importantly, an anticorruption commission would have influenced the decisions of the special ministers of state, who, apparently, overrode their department's advice and decided to give the helping hand of Senator Day's vote further assistance.

We know that the double dissolution did not go as the government had hoped, but the fact is that this whole situation stinks, and what looks like the government's deliberately ignoring the advice of the department in order to keep a vote in the bag is a very bad look indeed. It is no surprise that the public has such a low opinion of politicians when this is the sort of betrayal of public trust that we see. This is exactly why we Greens have, for the last three parliaments, proposed the establishment of a national ICAC, first under then Senator Bob Brown, then again under then Senator Christine Milne and in this parliament in the name of Senator Richard Di Natale.

An anticorruption watchdog, clearly, would regulate the behaviour of MPs. As well as sanctions for breach, its mere existence would improve the quality of conduct in this place. We have seen, sadly, the atrocious record of the ministerial code of conduct, and, voluntary as it may be, we know that it is still meant to be adhered to by ministers in this place. Sadly, it has been shown to be a toothless document that is not enforced by this government, or the last for that matter. The ministerial standards require a cooling-off period of 18 months for any lobbying or advocacy activity, but we have seen the former minister for resources, Ian Macfarlane, going to be a lobbyist for the Queensland Resources Council not 12 months after having been the resources minister; Martin Ferguson, go on to become a lobbyist as chair of APPEA one month after leaving this place; and Andrew Robb, who was just appointed as a consultant to a Chinese company operating the Darwin port six months after being trade minister. Clearly, the ministerial standards are too weak.

This is exactly why we need to not only strengthen them but also to introduce a national ICAC. As I said, this will have the effect of not only giving MPs the assurance of some advice on whether grey areas should be pursued but also will also ensure a higher standard of conduct in this place. If we had an anti-corruption watchdog, the public would have been able to know how long this government knew about the potential cloud over the validity of Senator Day's election and re-election. Instead, we see continued dodging by this government about when they knew, what they knew, why they did not act earlier and why, indeed, they did not act upon the department's advice not to enter into that lease.

If we want to prevent constitutional dilemmas, the regard that the public has for politicians and reduce the possibility for misconduct in public office then we need an overhaul of our anticorruption laws and we need a federal ICAC. We support this reference and we urge all parties to support the Greens' bill to set up a federal anticorruption body.