Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

BILLS - National Integrity Commission Bill 2013 - Second Reading

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:26): I rise to speak on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. Labor abhors corruption in all its forms, whether that be in politics, business, banking or unions. Over the last 30 years we have seen several of Australia's states established anticorruption bodies, with a number of high-profile cases in recent years. Senator Rhiannon mentioned a couple, but I thought I would throw in a few more. They include the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission, the Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission, the Tasmanian Integrity Commission, the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the South Australian Independent Commission Against Corruption.

These bodies have at times been tremendously successful in highlighting accountability issues in government and bringing corrupt politicians, party members and business people to task-for example, in recent years New South Wales ICAC has heard allegations that illegal political donations had been funnelled to the New South Wales Liberal Party via various slush funds. That saw the resignation of 11 New South Wales Liberal state politicians-an extraordinary number. That investigation was known as Operation Spicer. Through its years-long investigation it found that enormous sums of money, including from property developers banned from making political donations under New South Wales law, were laundered through sham organisations Eightbyfive and the Free Enterprise Foundation before being passed on to the New South Wales Liberal Party.

These revelations, which came to light through ICAC, were so explosive that they forced the resignations of former New South Wales Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell and two New South Wales Liberal cabinet ministers. Also it caused federal Liberal senator and former Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos to be stood aside by the Prime Minister. We heard the evidence and we now know that there was an investigation. It was found his evidence was 'difficult to accept', but he has since been returned to the frontbench as Cabinet Secretary. The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission is also active, currently investigating the member for Fadden for his alleged involvement in property development donations funnelled to candidates in the Gold Coast council city elections. These state-based anticorruption organisations have been operating effectively, in some cases for decades.

Contrary to Senator Rhiannon's statements, Labor is open to considering a federal ICAC. Labor has never objected to a federal anticorruption body in principle. The calls for such a body to be established are not new. They have in fact existed since the 1980s when the first state bodies were being established. In particular, a report in 2005 by Transparency International and Griffith University called for a comprehensive, independent anticorruption agency which would operate across the Commonwealth. In 2011 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity recommended the Australian government conduct a review of the existing Commonwealth integrity system, with an examination of the merits of establishing a Commonwealth integrity commission. The Labor Party's concern has always been that the case for one overarching body to exist, over and above the network of existing agencies, has not yet been proven. Australia does have federal integrity agencies which have been effective in capturing instances of potential corruption at the federal level. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity works to counter corruption in federal law enforcement bodies such as the Australian Federal Police. The Ombudsman and the Auditor-General have broad oversight over federal administration and expenditure, while specialist bodies such as the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security oversee particular parts of the federal bureaucracy such as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The Australian Federal Police and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions investigate and prosecute criminal misconduct in government. We cannot discount the work that these agencies already do. If we are to consider another separate body, we must have a strong case as to why it is necessary on top of these existing agencies. We must also consider in detail how they would interact with any new body and which would have supremacy.

Labor took important steps to improve government integrity when we were last in government. Labor created a new statement of ministerial standards, introduced a lobbying code of conduct and a federal lobbyist register and implemented a code of conduct for ministerial staff. We expanded the powers of ACLEI, introduced whistleblower protections for public servants and sought to improve transparency over political donations, something that we are still trying to achieve despite the intransigence of the current government.

There was a former select committee in the 44th Parliament, and we actually supported the establishment of a special select committee to inquire into a national integrity commission-essentially a federal ICAC-initiated by former Senator Dio Wang in February 2016. The committee was established to inquire into the adequacy of the Australian government's legislative, institutional and policy framework in addressing corruption and misconduct and whether a national integrity body should be established. There were a series of detailed terms of reference which looked at the role and, importantly, whether a national integrity commission should be established, looking at the scope of coverage, the powers and the advantages and disadvantages associated with domestic and international models of integrity and anticorruption commissions. It also looked at whether there should be broader powers and the necessity for privacy or secrecy provisions. It also looked at budgetary and resourcing issues and-that very important one-any other related matter.

This committee considered the various arguments in favour of and against the establishment of such a commission and received 29 submissions from key advocacy organisations, academics, industry and unions. It found in its interim report that there was a significant difference of opinion across these bodies about whether such a body should be established-again, contrary to some of the statements made by Senator Rhiannon. A number of submitters argued that a NIC-a national integrity commission-is not the best way to deal with any problems of corruption that may exist. These arguments can be broadly grouped into two categories: firstly, that there is a lower risk and a lower level of corruption at the federal level which reduces the need for an overarching anticorruption body; and, secondly, that there is already a strong anticorruption framework in place that has proved successful at preventing and revealing corruption in the limited cases where it has occurred. It also argued that there are costs that would be associated with a dedicated anticorruption agency, including the diminution of legal rights and financial costs. For example, the Rule of Law Institute expressed concerns that a national integrity commission creates a new system of justice without the legal protections embedded in the current system. On the other hand, a number of submitters expressed concerns regarding the adequacy of the current system. They argue that it cannot be said to be working in light of the scandals that have emerged in recent years. They question the underlying assumption that there is a reduced risk of corruption at the federal level, and they argue that a multiagency approach creates holes that may facilitate corruption.

There were also, however, a number of arguments made in favour. It was proposed that the establishment of a national integrity commission would improve policy coordination, provide leadership and education services, reduce potential jurisdictional gaps, increase administrative efficiency, send an unambiguous signal that the issue of corruption is being taken seriously and provide that necessary confidence to the public that corruption is minimised at the highest level of government. It was suggested that anticorruption bodies at the state level play a significant educative role and that the mere existence of a federal anticorruption body would send a strong and positive signal to the public. The report quotes Associate Professor Gabrielle Appleby as follows:

One of the main purposes of these types of bodies is to promote public confidence in the integrity of government administration. The establishment, in and of itself, is one way of demonstrating that.

Other witnesses to the select committee inquiry suggested that there were gaps in the current coverage of federal bodies which had anticorruption responsibilities. Professor AJ Brown of Griffith University, always a strong contributor to these arguments, said:

Currently there are very large areas of important Commonwealth public administration which are not subject to effective review and oversight in relation to the management of integrity risks and breaches. While it is valid and sensible for the Commonwealth Parliament to prioritise those areas of activity which should be subject to closer scrutiny and oversight than others, the fact is that all agencies and departments should be included in these elements of the Commonwealth's overall integrity system.

Additionally, a single body would provide one point of contact for tips and complaints from individuals and would remove the conflict of interest where a body may end up having to investigate itself in cases of alleged corruption. An NIC, it was suggested, would have no incentive as an independent agency to cover up any corrupt activities which may have occurred.

But there was by no means a unified conclusion found by the committee in its interim report. We are still a long way from consensus on what such a body, if it were proposed, should look like. For example, Transparency International Australia, in its submission, proposed a two-phased approach of establishment of a serious fraud and corruption office and a separate process to improve measures to address non-criminal corruption and serious misconduct. That included examining options for a national integrity commission and a parliamentary integrity commissioner. The Law Council of Australia, which previously had supported a national integrity commission, also suggested instead a staged approach comprising the development of a national anticorruption strategy for the Council of Australian Governments, the completion of an updated national integrity system assessment and, on the basis of that assessment, consideration of whether the Australian government should establish a national integrity commission or an anticorruption council. Accordingly, the majority on that committee recommended in its interim report that the government support research into potential anticorruption systems which would be appropriate for Australia and did not come up with a clear conclusion on the need for a national integrity commission. That committee lapsed at the prorogation of parliament earlier this year and has not been revived in the 45th Parliament.

Labor's position on the bill before the chamber today is that we are open, in principle, to looking at a federal corruption body but we believe that this particular bill is premature. If the Greens actually were dedicated to establishing a federal corruption body, as opposed to making points and grandstanding, they would not have brought this bill on for debate today when it is so clear that there is still much work to do to determine how such a body would function.

The National Integrity Commission Bill 2013 is similar to others that the Greens party has introduced: the original National Integrity Commissioner Bill, which was introduced by Senator Bob Brown in June 2010 and reintroduced when parliament reconvened after the August 2010 election; and the National Integrity Commissioner Bill 2012, introduced by Adam Bandt MP. There are serious problems with the current bill, which the Greens party knows very well. As it stands, this bill has three components: a federal ICAC body based on the New South Wales model, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity in its present form, and an independent parliamentary adviser to advise MPs on ethics and entitlements and to develop a parliamentary code of conduct.

The creation of an independent parliamentary adviser is not necessarily good policy. For example, the former New South Wales Parliamentary Ethics Adviser was not consulted by any MP during the last New South Wales parliament. We are yet to hear an argument as to how the federal version would be any different. There are also open questions about how a number of existing federal integrity bodies, including ACLEI, ought to be integrated with or situated alongside any federal ICAC body. These are very difficult questions which the select committee found it could not answer without further research.

Labor has never ruled out supporting a federal anticorruption body, but if we choose to pursue this it must be done correctly and should not be rushed, because that would not be the appropriate message. It cannot be done with this bill without the proper consultation and without the further research recommended by the select committee. Labor supports a broad approach to anticorruption consistent with our longstanding policy. We will continue to explore the idea of a federal anticorruption body, particularly when so many federal Liberal MPs have demonstrated that corruption is an issue that cannot be ignored at the federal level. While Labor does not support this bill, we know that this is a conversation which is not yet over and should not be over.