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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 2534

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (16:41): I rise to speak in support of the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013, and I note that Senator Moore has just indicated that the Greens have a long track record of introducing bills dealing with integrity and the establishment of a national anticorruption watchdog. That is absolutely correct, Senator Moore. It is absolutely true. In fact, in 2010, my predecessor Bob Brown introduced a similar bill, and it was introduced again by Senator Christine Milne in 2013, and here we are in 2016 with the Greens again championing a national anticorruption watchdog. We have been consistent. We have absolutely championed the cause of more transparency and accountability in our parliament.

In 2010 this bill was introduced at the same time as a private member's bill for Senate voting reform. One of those policies has already passed into law, and my view is that it is only a matter of time before we see this change pass through the parliament. It has a sense of inevitability about it. Let's just look at what is happening right around the world. We saw the election of Donald Trump. I have made my views on Donald Trump very clear, but his platform was ostensibly one arguing that corruption was endemic within the political process, positioning himself as an outsider within that process and suggesting that the establishment was rotten. We see similar trends coming from different directions in other parts of the world. We saw, for example, during the US election the emergence of Bernie Sanders, another candidate criticising the lack of accountability and transparency in Washington. In the UK there is Jeremy Corbyn. We are seeing these trends right around the world: people not part of the political establishment gaining support because the public is sick and tired of what they perceive as a system that is stacked in favour of big corporate political interests, with their politicians doing their bidding rather than the bidding of the community, and they have had enough. They have absolutely had enough.

So a national anticorruption watchdog is a case of when, not if. It has the same inevitability about it as the cause for marriage equality, something the Greens have also fought long and hard for. No matter how much people in this chamber push back on it, they will be worn down. I make a prediction now: given where the political winds are blowing, what you will see is either the government or the opposition, within the next year or so, taking to the next election a proposal for a national anticorruption watchdog, and we welcome that. We absolutely welcome that.

Senator Moore says this is backed in principle. Well, 'in principle' is not enough, Senator Moore. We want to see it in action. We want to see a national anticorruption watchdog established here in Australia. What is most curious is that Senator Moore says that the Labor Party back this in principle but she has concerns about specific elements of this bill. Well, talk to us. We are prepared to work with you to address the concerns that you may have so that we get this bill into the parliament. The invitation is there, I am more than happy. My door is open. Come and talk to us. Tell us what your concerns are and let us introduce this change through the parliament. Let me also say that we have again seen the Labor Party support our call for a royal commission. They opposed it when it was introduced as a motion here in the chamber and then took the issue to an election campaign. Here is your opportunity. Work with the parliament you have, those people and those members of the crossbench who have been driving this change now for close to a decade, and let us get this thing done. Let us not play petty politics. This can be something that we all own and what we will do is ensure we restore some faith with the Australian community. I suspect that had they had the courage to back the Greens on this leading into the last election, it might be that the Labor Party would be in government right now.

Some the things might been prevented if we had had an anticorruption watchdog established in the last parliament. Senator Day might have been warned that his actions would give rise to a perception of conflict. We might not have seen that debacle play out in the way that it has. The Department of Finance might have been more forceful in making it clear to the government that the leasing of an office that the senator had a proprietary interest in should not proceed. Most importantly, an anticorruption commission might have influenced the decisions of the Special Minister of State, who overrode the Department of Finance's advice and decided to give the supporting vote of Senator Day a helping hand. That is the sort of thing that an anticorruption watchdog can address.

Let us look again to the US for a moment and reflect on what has just happened there. The irony of course, is that President-elect Trump, who positioned himself as an anti-establishment candidate despite being the epitome of the establishment and who criticised the media despite being a product of it, is somebody who pays no tax. He has a business model of bankruptcy as his risk management strategy and a long line of creditors, contractors and employees who have gone unpaid from his shonky businesses. He uses his charitable foundation as a personal piggy bank. He has refused to release details of his tax returns and financial arrangements. That is a living, breathing example of why we need to have those transparency mechanisms in our parliaments. We are starting to become much closer to that US model of politics, with big dollars and high stakes and a high risk of corruption. That is what is at stake. We have an opportunity to chart our own course, one that responds to the public distrust that is developing around politics, by opening up the box of tricks and shining a light on it.

The political winds are blowing in this direction. This is a case of being not just good public policy but now good politics. It is the Australian community who are saying: 'We are fed up. We have lost faith with our democratic institutions. We need more transparency and more accountability.' They do it because they have seen evidence of MPs who know that if there is a good chance they might be able to get away with something they will do it. If something is in the grey zone, they will give it a go. When they do not have the threat of a regulator looking over their shoulder, they will not dot every i and cross every t.

Month by month another scandal arises. It was Senator Day recently. Of course, there is the evidence of MPs abusing their entitlements, people travelling on helicopters for short trips and people travelling across to the other part of the country to check out their investment properties. That is the reason we need to get these transparency mechanisms into the parliament.

Let us look specifically at what the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013 does. The bill establishes a National Integrity Commission as an independent statutory agency, which will consist of a National Integrity Commissioner, the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner and an Independent Parliamentary Adviser. It will provide for the investigation and prevention of misconduct and corruption in all Commonwealth departments and agencies and by federal parliamentarians and their staff, provide for the investigation and prevention of corruption in the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission and provide independent advice to ministers and parliamentarians on conduct, ethics and matters of propriety, including use of entitlements. So it seeks not just to expose corruption but, more importantly, to prevent it. This is both through its functions of advising MPs and also in its ability to investigate cases where corrupt conduct is feasible and where it can provide advice, making the office proactive in addressing potential issues of corruption.

Again I say to Senator Moore, who outlined that the Labor Party support this proposal in principle: work with us. If there are specific elements of this legislation that you have issues with, talk to us. We are happy to have a conversation that ensures that we get a national anticorruption watchdog introduced through this parliament.

Let's not pretend for a moment that the federal parliament is somehow immune to the influence of corruption. Every state in Australia now has some kind of anticorruption commission. The federal government is the only exception, and that must stop. At a state level we have seen the work they have done. We have seen what has been uncovered. Corruption at the state level has already been established.

Let me give you some examples. Last year in South Australia the chief executive of a state government agency was charged with two accounts of abuse of public office. In Victoria we had the likes of the education department financial manager, who funnelled $2.5 million from schools into his pocket and into the pockets of his relatives and senior departmental officials. Some of the money was spent on overseas trips and on lavish parties. Last month IBAC charged nine people, including two mid-level public servants, for allegedly funnelling $25 million from Victoria's public transport department into various family linked businesses over seven years. The money was spent on real estate and luxury goods, including jetskis and a grand piano. IBAC, the anticorruption body in Victoria, is now turning its attention to revelations of a fraud of up to $1 million involving the botched school computer program, Ultranet, amid calls for its powers to be ramped up.

Of course, let's not forget the now infamous revelations of the New South Wales ICAC, charging with corruption offences former state Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, along with exposing illegal donations from property developers to several state Liberal MPs. It is remarkable that in that context of the work that the New South Wales ICAC has done they have been criticised for uncovering the stench of corruption in New South Wales leading to very serious charges.

Again I say that the federal jurisdiction is the only jurisdiction that is unchecked against the very real threat of corruption and maladministration across the federal Public Service. Federal parliament is not immune. We are not immune to the same sort of activities of those individuals who would choose to exploit the public purse for their personal gain. It is clear, given the widely established corruption charges that have been dealt with at the state level, we need the same oversight at the federal level.

Let me quote from some esteemed legal professionals. Let me quote the counsel assisting New South Wales ICAC, Geoffrey Watson QC, who said:

I have seen things that show that federal politicians are not immune from temptation.

That was very, very pointed. He was saying very clearly that there is a need to do something in the federal parliament. Information gathered by the New South Wales corruption body left him 'convinced of the need for a federal ICAC'. That says to me that if one were to be established it would need to get to work straightaway and it would have clear cases in mind where we would see evidence of corruption uncovered.

It is not just people within the legal community. Those accountability monitors responsible for addressing issues of transparency have said for many years that Australia is lagging behind the back of the pack. We have got Neville Tiffen, Transparency International Australia director, who said:

… it is almost unbelievable that the Commonwealth does not have an ICAC. Detractors say that there is no need for a federal ICAC because there is no evidence that corruption exists at the federal level. This is a nonsense. They must believe behaviour changes as you board a plane for Canberra. Without a federal ICAC, we simply do not know the level of corruption that exists.

Transparency International have criticised Australia for our low and ineffective penalties for corruption. A 2009 reports highlights that Australia 'made little or no effort to enforce the OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Our reputation is not good. In late 2014 Transparency international released a report which said that Australia had dropped for the second consecutive year in its annual corruption perceptions index, slipping outside the top 10 countries for the first time.

We need to address this issue. The Australian community—indeed, the global community—are saying to politicians of all colours, all stripes: 'We have had enough. We have lost faith in the people who are elected to lead us.' Globally, we are slipping in our standing. We are slipping in the standards that the Australian people expect. The political winds are blowing and they are blowing hard. It is the Greens who will continue to lead the charge in helping to win back trust from the public. If we do not, we leave it to demagogues like Donald Trump who will ensure that they prey on fear, on division, on the politics of hate. They look to enemies to blame for the problems that lie before us.

The critical challenge here is that we restore faith in our democratic institutions. We do that by establishing a federal anticorruption watchdog. We need an ICAC that has the powers to hold all Commonwealth departments, agencies, federal parliamentarians and their staff to high standards of transparency. We need investigation and prevention of corruption in the Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission. We need independent advice to ministers and parliamentarians on conduct, ethics and matters of propriety, including the use of entitlements.

We can have these reforms right now if either the government or the opposition support this bill. If they have concerns with this bill, talk to us and we are prepared to look at ensuring that we take their concerns into consideration. Learn the lessons from what is going on right around the world and do not think that what is happening in many of those other nations cannot happen here.

We Greens, having a long track record from my predecessors Bob Brown and Christine Milne, will continue taking this fight into this parliament. We will not rest until the Australian parliament has a national anticorruption watchdog that ensures that politicians and public officials are held to account.