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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1285

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (20:00): I rise today to speak in support of the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority Bill 2017. I will try and keep my comments reasonably brief. The Greens have had legislation before the parliament to introduce a national anti-corruption authority. I think in the last four parliaments—so, under Bob Brown, Christine Milne and now me—we have had legislation to introduce an anti-corruption authority. Part of that authority would be the creation of an independent parliamentary monitor or authority. Today one-third of that bill becomes law and I suspect it will not be long before we see the establishment of a national anti-corruption watchdog in its entirety.

It is very pleasing to be leading the national debate on so many issues; to be shaping the direction of public policy in this country. We have seen Senate voting reform and reform of superannuation—issues the Greens have helped to put on the agenda. Indeed, negative gearing and capital gains tax reform are issues we put on the agenda well before they were popular. It is pleasing to see at least one side of politics adopt those policies. We pushed hard, through my colleague Senator Whish-Wilson, for a royal commission into the banking and financial sector. We think we are close to achieving an outcome in that area as well. It is a long list of reforms championed by the Greens, sometimes at a time when they are not popular, and then eventually adopted by parliaments, or, indeed, by one side of politics. It just goes to show that we are an ideas generator in this parliament and we are having a big influence.

This specific bill does improve the oversight and integrity of MPs' claims and entitlements. We will be supporting it, but there are a few structural flaws that we want to see improved. We would like to see, as Senator Rhiannon said earlier, the establishment of a compliance officer within the authority to be able to conduct investigations into specific claims. We want to make sure that matters are properly investigated by requiring the authority to refer any suspected wrongdoing to the AFP. The AFP would have to provide reasons why they did not pursue a prosecution against an MP who has done the wrong thing. It is very important that enforcement is part of the solution. Through this legislation, we understand it is not just laws that will need to change; it is also the culture. We believe this legislation will help shape that culture.

We know that our other amendment will fail today. In fact, we tested that earlier through a motion. We do think that it is critical that an allowance that is nominally there to provide for MPs to conduct their electorate duties be used for that purpose and not be taken as salary. It does speak to a much deeper problem that, often, it is both sides of politics that are dragged kicking and screaming to these reforms. They often do as little as they can. We would like to push them further. We think there is more that can be done.

I know that part of the reason for this bill and ramming it through the parliament tonight is that this issue is dealt with and swept off the front pages of newspapers, but until we deal with this issue fully and until there is root and branch reform, we will continue to see scandals over and over again. We will continue to do what we can by specifically pushing for reforms to the electorate allowance to make sure that every MP in this place does not take it as salary but, in fact, uses it to conduct their parliamentary duties.

With regard to the specific amendment from the Xenophon party, the amendment would require that a member of the authority be appointed to represent the community expectations and values that are expected from members of parliament. Any effort that brings politicians and people closer together, that bridges that gap and that addresses the democratic deficit that exists right across this country is something we will support.

With regard to the specific amendment from Senator Macdonald, the amendment would extend the jurisdiction of the authority to oversee the expenses of the judiciary and senior public servants. We are open to that proposal, but we have not seen any evidence that, in fact, there are structural problems or evidence of misconduct. For those reasons, while we do not rule this out in its entirety, we want more information before we can support that specific proposal.

Let me finish by foreshadowing a second reading amendment. I would like to add that the Senate notes that senators are paid an allowance of $32,000, known as the 'electorate allowance', and calls on all senators to commit to spending their electorate allowance on their electorate and their electorate responsibilities rather than using it to top up their already generous salary.