We need a Commonwealth Integrity Commission with teeth

We need a Commonwealth Integrity Commission with teeth Main Image

By Kristy McBain

18 October 2021

I want to thank the Member for Clark and the Member for Indi for moving this motion. But it is an absolute joke that more than a thousand days since the Prime Minister promised to pass legislation to create a strong and independent federal integrity commission, we are here yet again debating that very thing. The government have failed to act and now they are backtracking. Instead of creating a national anticorruption commission with teeth they are proposing the weakest watchdog in the country, with hearings for all politicians and public servants being held behind closed doors, no transparency on findings, and penalties for whistleblowers. It's no surprise, though, when the Deputy Prime Minister equated the New South Wales ICAC with the Spanish Inquisition and said politicians are basically terrified to do their job. I can confidently say that a fully funded and effective federal integrity watchdog doesn't scare me one bit. When I was the mayor of Bega Valley, council had and still has zero tolerance to fraud and corruption. There is a legislated code of conduct, and I was aware that complaints made against councillors or staff would be investigated thoroughly. If there was evidence of serious wrongdoing, it would be reported to the New South Wales Police, the New South Wales Ombudsman or the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. These investigative bodies don't scare people who do the right thing. Never while I was there was I worried that I would be investigated by ICAC. This government fear implementing a watchdog with teeth because they are frightened that they may be bitten by it.

Time and time again this government have abused taxpayers' money and now they are worried that a federal anti-corruption commission will mean they can no longer sweep things under the rug. Rather than moving on and hoping the Australian public would forget, they would actually need to be accountable, and we know accountability is something the Morrison government knows nothing about. Who was accountable for sports rorts? Who was accountable for commuter car park rorts, for water gate, for paying 10 times the value of airport land, for all of those colour-coded spreadsheets that treated taxpayers funds as the coalition's re-election slush fund. Sitting on the backbench we have the member for Pearce, who refuses to disclose who his donors are after having received up to a million dollars for a private legal matter. In fact, instead of investigating and holding his colleagues accountable, the Prime Minister simply promotes MPs with question marks over their heads. Just last month, the member for Hume was promoted, even though we still have no answers regarding the alleged forged documents in relation to Clover Moore and the City of Sydney.

I used to believe that our existing frameworks for accountability were sufficient. I don't think that anymore, and that's as a direct result of this Prime Minister's lack of leadership. The government has tarnished the conventions that underpin our democracy. The idea of parliamentary accountability is gone. Ministers are supposed to be accountable to the Australian people. Parliament is meant to ensure accountability. When there are huge questions about whether parliamentarians are operating with integrity, it is the Prime Minister's duty to investigate and appropriately deal with the situation, yet we have not seen that. The Australian public deserves to know that decisions over grant funding are made based on merit rather than the political interests of those in power, and the public needs to know that, when rorts are discovered, someone will be held accountable. You need to look at the Prime Minister's response to the former Premier of New South Wales's resignation, where he said that this demonstrates we shouldn't have a strong national Integrity Commission. It's no surprise that the government's proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission is another half-baked idea, when you have a Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister who go out of their way to criticise and demonise an independent body investigating corruption at the state level. The government should be committed to stamping out corruption at all levels.

When I meet with my constituents, time and time again people raise with me their strong desire to see a national, well-funded, wide-ranging, independent anticorruption commission, and every single time it is brought up they say they do not trust that the government is acting with integrity. They want truth in political advertising. They want a federal ICAC. They want to know that we have people working in parliament who are truly working in their best interests. It's a sad state of affairs when many Australians do not trust our politicians. An Integrity Commission will start to rebuild that trust. We need an anticorruption commission to do what Scott Morrison refuses to do—to make sure that politicians are serving in the interests of the people, not serving their own interests.