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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 2706

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (11:15): I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate—a debate that I think is really important. When you are talking about establishing a federal corruption commission, you have to take this debate extremely seriously.

I think there are only two senators in this chamber who have experience at ICAC. I am one of them; Senator Sinodinos is the other. My personal experience as a witness was in the investigation into the conduct of Ian Macdonald, John Maitland and others by ICAC. These are two people whom I have known for between 25 and 30 years. I was advised by the commission that I was not under any investigation and that I was not a person of interest. The commission simply wanted my assistance to establish factual issues, and I provided a statement to the commission and I was examined on that statement in both public and private hearings. As a politician, providing evidence to ICAC in public hearings presents significant personal and political challenges—let me tell you that.

My involvement with ICAC was simply to assist the corruption inquiry. Despite this, I was faced with significant attempts by the media to portray me as being involved in some unacceptable behaviour. On the day of my appearance before ICAC, I was confronted with News Ltd posters from Penrith to the CBD of Sydney linking me to Ian Macdonald, who was under serious investigation by ICAC. I was confronted by the media when I left the inquiry and was prominently featured in the Murdoch press on both the Saturday and Sunday following my appearance, in an attempt to find me guilty by association. This was not a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, like the late, great Neville Wran, who said, 'Balmain boys don't cry,' Bellshill boys don't cry either. I copped it. I copped all of the media attention. I didn't whinge about it; I didn't cry about it; I got on with my life in the full understanding that I had done nothing wrong and that I was simply being asked to assist the commission. What did gall me was the involvement of my family by the media. But that is what happens in political life; it is a tough gig sometimes. You have got to take the ups with the downs; you can't whinge about it; you've got to get on with it. But I was a bit peeved, let me tell you—to use the best word I can think to use in here; there would probably be a stronger word—when Senator Sinodinos became the focus of the ICAC inquiry when he was the shadow Assistant Treasurer and he stood up and said, without any need to do this, that if he needed any advice on appearing before ICAC then he would ask Senator Cameron. Again this was simply to try to smear me in a hearing that I think has exposed significant corruption, subject to those matters being dealt with by the appropriate courts.

What I said to Senator Sinodinos the first chance I got, and what I said to the press, was that Senator Sinodinos had not asked me for my advice, even though he said he would ask me if he needed any help. He obviously did not need any help. I am not sure that that is quite the case, after watching his appearance. But what I did say to him was: 'You do two things at ICAC. You tell the truth and you don't take a section 38.' I was one of the only witnesses in the inquiry I was in who did not take a section 38. Section 38 provides you with immunity from prosecution against the evidence you give in ICAC. I had nothing to fear. I had no problem, so I went in, and when I was asked whether I wanted immunity for my evidence to ICAC I said no—unlike every other witness who appeared. I said no because I had nothing to worry about. I had nothing to hide, and if my evidence meant that I had to appear again in another court I was very comfortable with that. So I did not take a section 38, and I told Senator Sinodinos to tell the truth and not to take a section 38. I can only comment on one part of that: he did take a section 38, and it is entirely his right to do that. But, contrary to the impression that the media were trying to create, Commissioner Ipp, the Commissioner of ICAC, described me in the final ICAC report on that issue as 'an impressive and honest witness'. Let me tell you, any politician who appears before ICAC is doing okay, I think, if they can get that kind of character reference from ICAC—'impressive and honest'. That is why, when I get media copies waved at me from across the chamber from the other side about my appearance at ICAC, I have nothing to fear; I have nothing to worry about. I was honest. I assisted the commission and I will continue to assist the commission if they need any further assistance. I will assist the courts if they need any assistance with prosecutions arising from ICAC. These are serious issues for politicians. Given my experience, I can understand how Senator Sinodinos feels and I can understand how his family feel because I was not engaged in any problems and it was a really tough time for me and my family with the Murdoch press trying to square up with me. When you say things about the Murdoch press, it is very tough. But you have to be big enough and your shoulders have to be broad enough to take that.

Given my experience, you might believe that my default position on this would be to oppose the bill. On the contrary, I believe that corruption in all spheres of public life must be exposed and, on that basis, with proper checks and balances, I support the establishment of a federal corruption commission. I just think there was an arrogance in Senator Macdonald's contribution today, along the lines that if he felt that he had to be overviewed by some corruption commission then he probably would not have come here. I have absolutely no doubt that Senator Macdonald is not corrupt. But I do not think you can argue that, simply because you come to the Senate, you are not open to some business trying to get you involved in corrupt activities. We just cannot run the argument that senators are above corruption and MPs are above corruption. That has been proved not to be the case over many, many years.

Senator Smith's contribution was very interesting. I think that will be the standard contribution that we will get from the coalition on this bill. The problem is not with the coalition, regardless of what is happening at ICAC; the problem is with these corrupt unions, these corrupt Labor Party people who are engaged in activity that is reprehensible. I, like Senator Faulkner, have got absolutely no time for anyone who engages in corrupt activity. In all my public life, and that goes for some years, my track record is out there as fighting corruption, fighting any violence and fighting any intimidation anywhere I find it. So I think that after appearing at ICAC I was lucky enough—not lucky; it was because of what I had done in the past and because of how I behaved at ICAC that I received that glowing position from ICAC. That is not going to be the position for many who go there, even in a federal ICAC.

One of my heroes, I must say, is former senator and former Justice Lionel Murphy. Lionel Murphy describes the features that distinguish royal commissions from the normal course of criminal justice in his judgement in Victoria v ABCE BLF. If you establish a federal ICAC, that federal ICAC will be a standing royal commission. I think you have to take on board some of the issues that could arise, and my personal experience is one of them. If you go along to ICAC even as a witness, there will be those in the media who will be political opponents who will try to smear and have guilt by association. In my view, I accept what Senator Faulkner has said and I accept what the Greens are trying to do, but I think we have to make sure there are proper checks and balances. I was in ICAC and watched how ICAC operates. It does not operate according to the rule of law. So there could be checks and balances that we would need to implement in any federal ICAC that give everybody who appears a fair go. This is what Justice Murphy said:

The Royal Commission is a non-judicial body authorised to conduct some sort of investigation and to find persons guilty of serious offences without the protection afforded them in the regular exercise of judicial power. The persons are deprived of trial by jury. Their reputations may be destroyed, their chances of acquittal in any subsequent judicial proceedings hopelessly prejudiced by an adverse finding

…      …      …

… Experience in many countries shows that persons may be effectively destroyed by this process. The fact that punishment by fine or imprisonment does not automatically follow may be of no importance; indeed a government can demonstrate its magnanimity by not proceeding to prosecute in the ordinary way. If a government chooses not to prosecute, the fact that the finding is not binding on any court is of little comfort to the person found guilty; there is no legal proceeding which he—

and these days, she—

can institute to establish his—

or her—


So there are problems with royal commissions. One of the biggest problems with royal commissions is when governments use royal commissions to attempt to attack their political opponents. We have seen two examples of that recently. We have seen the example of the royal commission into the trade union movement and the royal commission into pink batts.

Again I emphasise that royal commissions are not independent bodies. They are set up using the executive powers of government, and the government establishes the parameters within which the royal commission will work. If you are like the Liberal Party and you want to use royal commissions as a political weapon against your political opponents—which is not how Labor uses royal commissions—then you set them up they way they have set them up.

There are two things that the Liberal and National parties do repeatedly when they come to power—and this government has gone down the same path. First they establish a commission of audit to identify false problems with Labor's economic management. They then use that to create fear in the population that there are economic problems that are going to destroy the country. That, in turn, is used as a pretext to attack the most vulnerable in the community: pensioners, young people and the like. That is one tool they use—commissions of audit. The other tool they use is royal commissions.

I support the proposition argued by Senator Faulkner that no-one is above the law and that we should treat this very seriously. In contrast, Senator Macdonald seemed to be saying, 'We are above the law.' Senator Smith, on the other hand, argued that there are already a lot of established bodies to look at such matters and that we do not need any more—that there is already enough oversight. He used the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, ACLEI, as an example. ACLEI oversees a number of bodies under federal jurisdiction—the Crime Commission, customs and border operations, the Federal Police, AUSTRAC, CrimTrac and aspects of the Department of Agriculture. It oversees all of those areas.

But ACLEI does not oversee senators or members. In fact, senators and members oversee ACLEI. So it is not right to say that ACLEI can do the job. I was on the ACLEI committee when I first came to parliament, as was the now Deputy President, Senator Parry. ACLEI had been set up by the Howard government, but, when I first came along, it had fewer employees and officers than the oversight committee and its secretariat. We had more people overseeing ACLEI than ACLEI had itself. Senator Parry played a big role, working on a bipartisan basis with the rest of the committee, to make sure ACLEI was given enough resources. It has done a great job since then.

The other argument you hear is that there is no evidence of corruption. But there was very little evidence of corruption in the bodies ACLEI oversees before ACLEI came into being. Since then, ACLEI has carried out a range of investigations—in one case leading to an officer of the Australian Federal Police being sentenced to seven years jail with a four-year non-parole period.

So ACLEI is not the answer. A parliamentary ombudsman is not the answer either. Given what we have seen in New South Wales, it just beggars belief to have members of the coalition stand here and try to avoid scrutiny by saying that all the problems are in the trade union movement and the Labor Party. I cannot believe we have a government in power that says that pensioners should have their pension cut while at the same time we have Senator Sinodinos trying to justify $4,000 an hour to drive from the CBD of Sydney to Castle Hill as the chair of Australian Water Holdings—a company that was operating, in my view, while bankrupt and a company that was, despite not being able to pay its employees' superannuation entitlements, handing over tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of dollars to the Liberal Party and the National Party in donations.

These are big issues and Senator Sinodinos's role in that is still being looked at. We will wait to see what the outcome of that is. But, in my view, any senator that stands up here and says that we in this Senate or we in this parliament are above scrutiny, that we are above the law, that we should not be scrutinised by an independent body—I think that beggars belief given what is happening in New South Wales and given the evidence that is coming through about payment for influence with the Liberal Party at both the state and federal level. We have heard now about bodies like the Free Enterprise Foundation, a slush fund that is laundering money for the Liberal Party. If there is a royal commission needed, or if there is a standing commission needed, it is to look into the slush funds of the Liberal Party. That is where the corruption in government is—and that should be dealt with. (Time expired)