Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 23 October 2017
Page: 11458


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (10:15): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Mr BANDT: We need a national anticorruption watchdog, we need a national ICAC, and this bill will deliver it. In recent weeks and months media and, it seems, the whole country have done what they periodically do, which is put a lot of attention on allegations on members of this place. And, unfortunately, recent allegations that we have seen, for example, of a former minister, who is alleged to have taken up a new job while they were sitting in parliament and not disclosed it and then gone out and lobbied against a government bill, including allegedly while they were in this place, are exactly the kinds of allegations that surface from time to time, and people want to know they are being taken seriously. That's why I and the Greens believe that we need a National Integrity Commission to be a national anticorruption watchdog or a national ICAC that is able to hold members of this place to account. This bill could be a silver lining out of the ongoing saga over politicians and public servants' behaviour. We could see a long-lasting reform of our laws to deal with corruption and integrity. This bill creates a national commission through the establishment of the National Office of Integrity Commissioner comprising three elements: the National Integrity Commission, the existing Australian Commission for Law Enforcement and Integrity (ACLEI) and the new office of the Independent Parliamentary Advisor.

The National Integrity Commission in this bill would be established as an independent statutory agency. The bill provides in a comprehensive legislative framework a critical addition to the national integrity system through the establishment of a National Integrity Commission to enable the investigation and prevention of misconduct and corruption in all Commonwealth departments, agencies and by federal parliamentarians and their staff.

The bill brings together and co-locates this function with the independent oversight functions of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commission for the investigation and prevention of corruption in the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crimes Commission thus creating an integrated federal approach to misconduct and corruption in the parliament and Public Service.

It beggars belief that in this country there is no national anticorruption agency with the powers or jurisdiction to investigate claims of misconduct and corruption across the federal parliament or Commonwealth agencies. People have seen in New South Wales, in particular, that when you have an anticorruption watchdog that is able to investigate all sides of parliament without fear or favour, when it lifts up every rock and is able to open doors and look at places that politicians don't want it to look, it often finds some very disturbing things; so disturbing, in fact, that members of both the Labor and Liberal Parties have found themselves prosecuted as a result of that investigation and convicted in many instances. The question is: if that is what is happening at the New South Wales level, can we really stand up here with hand-on-heart and say, 'Oh, well, it's not happening at federal level; that might be just that happening in New South Wales but it can't possibly be happening federally.' And is it the case some have said, 'There's no case for a federal anticorruption watchdog because there haven't yet been any allegations raised against members of this place.' Or is it the other way around? Is the reason we don't hear about claims of misconduct or corruption at a federal level precisely because there isn't a national watchdog that is able to investigate and hold people at the Commonwealth level to account?

Public trust in parliament and in our institutions is at an all-time low. One of the things that we have got to do in this place is restore the public's faith in the work that we are doing, and one of the best ways of doing that would be to ensure that there is a federal anticorruption watchdog that can hold every one of us to account and that can hold everyone at the federal level, at the highest levels of our federal bureaucracy, to account as well. If the public knew there was someone looking over our shoulders, then they might have a good deal more confidence in us as an institution. There is no argument that we can give to people when we go out and talk to people, as members of this place do—at our stalls, talking on the phones, meeting them on the street—when people say, 'Why is there an anticorruption commission at the state level but not at the federal level?'. There is no good answer to that. It is time for us to fix it. We need to reform a number of things in this place—we need to reform our donations laws; we need to stop the revolving door between politicians and big business—and this is an integral part of that.

The argument that existing agencies and mechanisms are sufficient or appropriate for fighting graft ignores the important role of prevention, the promotion of ethical conduct and the integration of integrity systems across federal and state jurisdictions. Prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Integrity Commission in 2006, there were calls for its role to be extended beyond investigating and preventing corruption in federal law enforcement agencies. At the time, those calls were not heeded, but this bill addresses that oversight. This bill will operate in a federal jurisdiction and it won't replace or override state legislation. It provides for the ACT and Northern Territory to contract the National Integrity Commissioner to operate in respect of their territories in the same way that the Commonwealth Ombudsman acts as the ACT ombudsman. And the national commission established by this bill will complement the state based anticorruption commissions.

The need to address corruption is evident in the fact that all Australian states have established or committed to establishing anticorruption bodies with various powers and jurisdictions. Importantly, they all include the power to investigate the activities of politicians. The evidence of the powerful and effective work of the state based anticorruption bodies reinforces the need for a similar mechanism at the federal level of Australian politics. This bill states what we mean by 'corrupt conduct' so that people know what it is and can be held to account for it. It is defined as including any conduct that adversely affects the honest or impartial exercise of official functions by the Parliament, a Commonwealth agency, any public official or any group or body of public officials; or involves the dishonest exercise of functions by a public official; or involves a breach of public trust by a public official or perverts the course of justice; or involves the misuse of information or material by a public official. It lists all kinds of corrupt conduct, such as blackmail, bribery and fraud, for the purpose of adversely affecting the exercise of functions by parliament, a Commonwealth agency or public officials, and provides for retrospectivity and that the National Integrity Commissioner can investigate corrupt conduct that occurred before the commencement of the bill, before a person became a public official or outside of Australia.

We don't bring this bill here because we say that everyone in this case should be presumed to be corrupt. No, that is not the case. And that is the same with our public servants. We are lucky in Australia to be characterised by, I believe, overwhelmingly honest public servants and people who come into federal politics with the best of intentions. But, if there's wrongdoing at the state level, it stands to reason that there's a good chance of wrongdoing at the federal level as well. Yes, it might be by a minority, but it doesn't matter that it's by a minority. It doesn't matter how many people do it; even one instance of doing it is wrong. We have tried through parliamentary committees to pursue that kind of wrongdoing where it's been alleged before—when it was alleged in the Reserve Bank of Australia's subsidiaries, for example. What we know is that it's very, very difficult through parliamentary committees to hold levels of the federal government, the federal parliament and the federal Public Service to account, and that's why we need a well-resourced anticorruption watchdog with teeth, and that's what this bill will provide.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Wilkie: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

The SPEAKER: The question is that this bill be now read a second time. The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.