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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7225


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Victoria) (19:12): I present the report of the Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

Given the amount of time that is available to us this evening, I seek leave to incorporate the majority of my remarks and make some further additional comments.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

The Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission has conducted a seven-month inquiry examining the adequacy of current integrity and anti-corruption measures, and whether a national integrity commission should be established.

The committee received 46 submissions, along with more than 2000 campaign submissions. Five public hearings were held in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra.

The committee thanks stakeholders who participated in the inquiry and informed the committee's work: the committee was greatly assisted by the knowledge and expertise of senior public officials, legal experts, academics, civil society organisations and members of the public.

The committee found that the current national integrity framework, which comprises numerous agencies, is complex and poorly understood.

This is not to suggest that individual agencies are doing a poor job. But the complexity of the framework does make it difficult for complainants to access and navigate.

The committee recommends that the government prioritises strengthening the national integrity framework to make it more coherent, comprehensible and accessible.

Committee members examined current integrity measures for parliamentarians and ministers.

It seems that these measures are not well known and more could be done to inform people about the limitations of parliamentary privilege and the role of the Privileges Committees.

The committee also discussed some examples of misconduct by parliamentarians, and concluded that it may be appropriate for the Parliament to appoint a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner to provide advice on matters of ethics to senators and members.

The committee also recommended that the government strengthens the Statement of Ministerial Standards to improve the identification, investigation and punishment of breaches.

As part of the inquiry, the committee examined the role of parliamentary oversight committees in the national integrity framework.

It believes that committees, such as the Joint Committees on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and Law Enforcement, could be better supported by having access to a Parliamentary Counsel or Advisor to, for example, assist them to guide ongoing policy development on integrity and corruption issues.

Some stakeholders argued for a national integrity commission, while others argued that such an agency is not needed.

The committee has recommended that the government carefully consider establishing a Commonwealth agency with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters.

If the government establishes a new integrity agency, it is essential that matters such as the jurisdiction, powers, leadership, resourcing and oversight of the agency are given due consideration.

The committee has discussed these issues in its report, based on the experience of state anti-corruption agencies. Lessons can and should be learned from the state anti-corruption agencies, particularly with regard to the powers and purpose of such an agency, the careful selection of commissioners, and the judicious use of public hearings.

The work of this committee and that of the 2016 Senate Select Committee, as well as other activities such as the Open Government Partnership and research being undertaken by Griffith University, Flinders University, the University of the Sunshine Coast, Transparency International Australia, the NSW Ombudsman, the Queensland Integrity Commissioner and the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission, should inform the future direction of integrity and anti-corruption measures in the Commonwealth public sector, and help the government in its deliberations.

The committee wants to ensure that the question of whether there should be a national integrity commission is progressed.

It therefore encourages the Senate to review the question of a national integrity commission—if such an agency has not been established in the meantime—after the OGP review of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and the Australian Federal Police Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre, and the conclusion of the Griffith University and Transparency International research.

I commend the report to the Senate.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: In the tabling statement that I have incorporated, I have covered the main issues summarising the detail in the Senate committee report. The additional comments that I would like to cover are, of course, the thanks of all senators for the very hard work conducted by the secretariat. The vast volume of material that was covered and the substantive consideration of that material, I think, will leave most people following this particular issue fairly satisfied. The secretariat did an enormous job to bring together quite a vast array of material. Indeed, the senators participating in the inquiry have all done so with good faith and interest. We attempted to produce a report that would be satisfactory to the broad range of senators that participated in the inquiry. Indeed, I should pay particular thanks to Senator Smith, Senator Kakoschke-Moore and Senator Hinch, who put quite a deep amount of thought and consideration into the report. There was a fair amount of reworking to reach conclusions that we felt would adequately cover the material. That said, there are additional remarks, because I think that, whilst we all agreed there were some issues we could highlight about the adequacy of our national integrity framework and directions moving forward, different senators had different views about how that should progress.

Unfortunately, I do need to reflect on what may be an inadvertent breach of the standing orders in relation to an unauthorised disclosure, which was a press release by Senator Lee Rhiannon that was distributed this afternoon ahead of the tabling of this report. Senator Rhiannon has apologised to members of the committee for this disclosure, so I don't think, in itself, there would be a need for that matter to progress further. But there are also some issues around accuracy in that press release that I think I should reflect on in this tabling statement, because a number of issues were raised in it that simply are not accurate. This was a Labor-dominated select committee. There were two Labor members, two government members, Senator Hinch, Senator Kakoschke-Moore and Senator Lee Rhiannon. Regarding participation in the committee, it was, through my office, Labor's endeavours that ensured the Greens filled their position on the committee, which occurred only on the last sitting day before our first hearing. Had the Greens perhaps participated more deeply in this inquiry, then their report, which I have not yet had the chance to look at, might better reflect that, because, certainly, the press release does not.

The other inadequacy in the press release is that it underplays the information provided to the committee about the open government partnership—Labor's view is that a genuine open government partnership, which was what we in government had signed on to, will help us progress this issue in a very significant way—and in doing so it misrepresents the committee report. It is unfortunate that it's only in seeing this press release that I discovered that the Greens were making a dissenting report. Committee members discussed the approach we would take with this report. It was my understanding that all senators had agreed to the general report and would be making additional comments, but it seems that we misunderstood Senator Rhiannon's intentions. Again, that's unfortunate, because I think, as a whole, the process has reflected good faith and a deep desire to work together to progress parliamentary integrity, and I think the recommendations of the committee do indicate such.