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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 2463

Senator KETTER (QueenslandDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (17:20): I present the report of the Senate Economics References Committee on foreign bribery together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

At the outset, I wish to thank a number of people, including former Senators Xenophon and Wang for moving the motion to establish the inquiry. I particularly thank the witnesses and the people who gave submissions. Forty-six submissions were received. There were three hearings, and I thank those witnesses who came along. I want to thank the secretariat for their hard work in preparing the 213-page report, which I think will make a significant contribution to public policy in this area of foreign bribery.

As mentioned in the report, foreign bribery impedes economic development, corrodes good governance and undermines the rule of law. Appropriately addressing foreign bribery is essential to cultivating integrity in all areas of government, business and community. There are clear moral problems with bribery, but it should not be forgotten that such activities hamper productivity here and abroad. If people and firms operating in an economy believe that there are ways to circumvent the rule of law, it destroys trust and economic activity and leaves us all worse off.

The picture in Australia when it comes to foreign bribery reveals that there is some movement but at a snail's pace. The government appears to have taken a minimalist approach to the issue that does not go nearly far enough. What became clear during the inquiry was there had been very little enforcement action and very few actual prosecutions. It took considerable research to delve into the various reasons for why this has been the case. Australia's historically poor record in investigating and prosecuting foreign bribery matters has also affected its international reputation. I have said previously in the media that I am concerned that stakeholders see Australia as a soft touch on this matter. International bodies such as the OECD, as well as Australian commentators, have consistently criticised Australia's foreign bribery legislation for being too narrow in scope and inadequately enforced.

There are a number of aspects of the report I would speak to, but I note we are very short of time. The one issue I do want to highlight is the strong evidence in favour of abolishing the facilitation payment defence. This is one of the more conceptually complex issues arising from Australia's anti-foreign-bribery legislation. Australian companies are taking matters into their own hands in choosing to prohibit such payments and should be commended for this, and many submitters talked about the removal of this particular defence.

There are a number of aspects to the report, but I won't deal with them at this point. Just to finish, the evidence in the report makes it clear that we can be doing more to stamp out foreign bribery. This report includes some sensible recommendations. I hope the government takes this report with the seriousness it deserves to stamp out this immoral and productivity-destroying activity. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.