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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 418


Senator RICE (Victoria) (10:32): I rise to speak on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. The Greens' position on supporting a national anticorruption agency is longstanding and based on the need to be shining a light on the murkiness that lies beneath a lot of what goes on in Australian politics and business. We have Senator Roberts over here off on his flights of fancy, which are so much more based on his narcissism and his focus that everything that he is says is right, ignoring the reality of the science of climate change, which, as we know, is accepted by 97 per cent or more of the world's scientists. We currently have the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society having their conference in Canberra this week. We have just had Canberra having its hottest year on record. We have just had climate records smashed around the world. Scientists have moved on from discussing climate change to recognising the seriousness of it. Yet Senator Roberts and his One Nation crew are off on their flights of fancy that bear no relationship at all to reality and certainly no relationship to science. If we are to have an inquiry into climate change we may as well have an inquiry into gravity. We have the basic laws of physics and chemistry. Climate change is real. Dangerous global warming is happening.

Clearly the issue of corruption and the need for an integrity commission or an anticorruption commission strikes a raw nerve, because people do not want to believe it is happening. The Labor Party for a long time have been very reluctant and resistant to supporting the Greens' call. Since Bob Brown introduced the Greens' National Integrity Commissioner Bill in 2010 there have been seven years in this parliament. But we are pleased that finally, in the last weeks, they have recognised that this is something that the community see as important and that people want to have happening; they want to have that light shone on the murky world of donations and potential corruption. So we are pleased that they have come on board with their support for an inquiry into the need for a anticorruption body. But we believe the evidence is there. We believe that there is strong evidence that an anticorruption body is really needed. We do not think that it is necessary to go off to an inquiry. Of course, if this inquiry happens we will participate, and we believe that the evidence that will come out of that inquiry will be very strong and will show that there is a need for a really thorough, well resourced, expansive anticorruption agency at the national level, just as there is at state level in the states that already have one.

Senator Macdonald's contribution was amusing, basically. He said, 'Don't worry; not a problem.' The issue is that if you are in the dark, you cannot see that there is a problem. I think that is where the current government is at. I heard the government get up yesterday and say, 'No, not a problem; we don't need one; there is no evidence of corruption so therefore it's not happening.' Senator Macdonald based a lot of his speech on the fact that we already have an agency—the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. When he was speaking I thought, let's have a look at what people feel about how comprehensive and suitable and well-resourced, how capable of dealing with these issues ACLEI is. I pulled up an article from The Sydney Morning Herald in May last year. I think the heading of that article tells you a lot. It really summarises the issue with ACLEI. The headline was, 'The mouse versus the dragon: law enforcement struggles against alleged customs drug network.' This article documented the issues of the underresourcing and lack of powers that ACLEI has to deal with the issue of drug smuggling across our borders.

This article notes that ACLEI is far smaller than most of its state anti-corruption counterparts and is also reliant on the resources of the agencies it is meant to oversee to run complex operations. In particular, it is reliant upon the Australian Federal Police. So when this issue of drug smuggling was finally passed to the Federal Police, a senior AFP officer initially deemed the evidence insufficient to begin a probe. So, yet, more drugs passed through the border. Time after time, there is evidence to show that the resources and the extent of the powers available to ACLEI are just insufficient. ACLEI's ability to investigate serious corruption was expressed as 'woeful' during a probe at Sydney airport. One security source quoted in this article said that, basically, to fight this threat to the nation's borders 'ACLEI needs to be ten-dupled in size'. The article said:

Says another anti-corruption fighter who has worked alongside ACLEI on highly sensitive jobs: "They are heavily reliant on the AFP. The trouble is when you are that reliant, it infects the sort of jobs ACLEI will take on."

This source also has concerns about ACLEI's decision to avoid public hearings into corruption, despite having the power to hold them. ACLEI is also reluctant to engage with the media about its operations, meaning the public rarely finds out about the true extent of corruption, cultural problems and management failures in the nation's border security agencies.

Clearly, ACLEI is doing what it can with resources and powers available to it. But it is not sufficient. It is not a substitute for a broad, wide-ranging integrity commission, which is what the Greens have been calling for now for seven years.

Senator Macdonald also said that there was no evidence, and said hat we have good global ratings for having clean politics. He quoted that Transparency International was not concerned about us. In fact, Transparency International twice in the last 10 years has expressed concern. There was a joint study by Griffith University and Transparency International in 2005 that recommended that a new independent statutory authority be tasked as a comprehensive lead agency for investigation and prevention of official corruption, criminal activity and serious misconduct involving Commonwealth officials. Then, as recently as 2013, Transparency International Australia called for a federal anti-corruption body to be established following reports about Centrelink tenancy leases. There is a clear case that has been established over many years for the need for an integrity commission of the type that the Greens have been calling for.

In particular, the issue which seems to really strike a raw nerve is the issue of the influence of political donations. Our donation system in Australia operates like the downstream waters of Melbourne's Yarra River. Upstream of Melbourne, the river is pure and clean, and a place that we can be proud of. But the further we go down the river the muddier it gets. No-one would want to drink that water. And this is the problem.

As recently as this morning, there was an article on the ABC website with information about political donations. They begin the article by saying:

Companies, organisations and individuals arguably make political donations for one reason only: to influence Australian politics.

They outline a dataset of where the donations have flowed 'to reveal the industries,' as they say, 'and people using their riches in a bid to buy influence.' The influence of political donations is corrupting Australian politics. Exactly how and where and which companies—we do not know because we do not have the tools to investigate it. All we know is it is extremely murky. We do not have the information to actually be able to pinpoint and do the investigation to find out which of these resource companies have actually been unduly using their influence and which decisions have been unduly influenced by those donations that of been made. But what we do know is that a huge amount of money is being handed over by donors—and, as the ABC said, for one reason only: to influence Australian politics. In 2016, there was: $6½ million from individuals; $3½ million from property and construction businesses; $1.8 million from resources; $1.7 million from unions; $1.2 million from pharmaceutical and health companies. This level of donation really shows that there is a reason why these companies are making donations. We can see exactly the influence it has. It becomes very, very murky. Whether it is gambling or pokies, cigarettes or alcohol, property development, the big roads lobby, or fossil fuels—decisions are being made that are not in the public interest.

Senator O'Sullivan: You people got the biggest donation. You got $1.5 million.

Senator RICE: Or worse—they are completely destructive.

Senator O'Sullivan: Why don't you talk about the $1.5 million you got?

Senator RICE: I will take that interjection from Senator O'Sullivan. Yes, there was a donation made by Graeme Wood to the Greens. It is no longer the biggest individual donation to a party. That was surpassed during the last election. But, yes, Graeme Wood was very, very concerned about climate change. He wanted to see action; he knew that the future of the world depends upon us taking serious, urgent, dramatic action on climate change, and he saw that the Greens were a vehicle to get more action on climate change. We know the seriousness of climate change. We know that both the Liberal and Labor parties are not taking that action. And he saw that, too. The people of Australia saw that, too.

Senator O'Sullivan: What do you get for $1.5 million?

Senator RICE: What he got was: he supported the Greens in being able to run a strong campaign focused upon needing to take urgent action to set up the framework that we could be taking action—the whole clean energy framework.

Senator O'Sullivan: You are hypocrites!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ketter ): Order! Senators are entitled to be heard in silence without interjection.

Senator RICE: In fact, the level of resources helped the Greens run a very successful campaign and ended up helping to give us the balance of power in the lower house and the balance of power in the Senate in that 2010 election. Together with the Labor Party, we put in place a framework for tackling climate change that we are very proud of. It has been ripped apart by your government in the years since, doing huge damage to our ability to take serious action on climate change and basically making Australia complicit in actions around the world that are seriously putting the future of our planet at risk. I am very proud of the fact that we have run a very strong campaign and that people want to support us—from Graeme Wood to the hundreds of thousands of people who support the Greens by giving small amounts like $20 in a very transparent, accountable way—to get action that serves the interests of a sustainable future for us all.

But look at the murkiness of other donations where we are not so clear about what the outcomes are. Look at the influence of Transurban on Victorian roads policy at the moment. I have no evidence that there is corruption there, and I am not claiming that there is corruption there, but there is not transparency and there is not accountability. What we know is that Transurban put to the Victorian government a market-led proposal to build the Western Distributor. We know that the Victorian government, at the time of the last election, suddenly changed their direction from having a different road to aiming to build this road that Transurban are proposing. There is huge amount of concern about the benefit that Transurban are going to get out of this and about the influence that they had on the Victorian government. It is not just the Greens who are concerned about this; in fact, there was considerable concern about it in the HeraldSun this morning. Conservative columnist Terry McCrann—somebody who I very rarely agree with—said:

It's also been far too easy for governments — especially Labor ones — to do deals with Transurban. Transurban pays the upfront bill; the government doesn't have to borrow.

We all get a new or bigger road. You just let the meter run a few years more.

That means that it is just a few more years of huge profits being made by Transurban, which, on the face of it, is not in the public interest. People think, 'Well, the government doesn't need to borrow,' but that money is being paid by communities, paid by the people who have to pay those tolls. They have no option but to pay those tolls. There will be a massive increase in the tolls being paid to Transurban and a massive impact on ordinary people because of the influence that Transurban have had upon the Victorian government.

We have the ongoing issue of those private sector interests—the roads lobby and the influence they are having—but there is also the issue of the broader influence of the fossil fuel companies and the millions of dollars in donations that they make. That is happening across the world. We are seeing that in the United States, with President Trump doing the bidding of those who want to pollute the planet, speeding up catastrophic global warming just for their own selfish, short-term greed. They want to keep on polluting, and they have a lot of money to be able influence governments to keep on polluting to serve their interests. They will keep on doing it for as long as they can get away with it.

Meanwhile, the planet is in a desperate state. We know that we need to pull back from fossil fuels being emitted. We know we have to transition to renewable energy. Everyone knows that that is the direction we need to head in—at least anyone who has any sense and any skerrick of a scientific understanding—and yet, because of the influence of the fossil fuel lobby, we are continuing to pollute in massive, unacceptable ways.

And now we have a government that is saying that suddenly coal is the new black again and that we are talking about clean coal. There is no such thing as clean coal. We get told that clean coal is clean because it is 30 per cent less polluting than other coal. I tell you: if we are going to protect the planet from dangerous climate change and if we going to protect ordinary people and our agricultural systems from climate change, 30 per cent cleaner is not good enough. We have to get down to zero carbon pollution as quickly as possible, so clean coal does not cut it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: A point of order, Senator Bushby?

Senator Bushby: I understand that Senator Rice is very passionate about climate change, but we are here to discuss the National Integrity Commission Bill. I understand the path that led her to where she is, but I think she is off topic now.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Bushby. It is a wide-ranging debate, and we do canvass a range of issues, but I ask you, Senator Rice, to try to remain as relevant as possible to the matter at hand.

Senator RICE: I am happy to respond to Senator Bushby because in fact it is absolutely germane to this debate. We are continuing to pollute the planet in the way we are because of the influence of those fossil fuel companies corrupting the political system.

The Greens want to shine a light. We need to clean up that river because at the moment the waters of where those donations are going and what influence they are having are just too murky. We want to see a national anticorruption commission, an independent statutory agency that we would be able to rely upon to shine a light on what is going on. With that, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.