Member for Isaacs

Matter of Public Importance - National Integrity Commission

14 February 2018

If this government truly believes in integrity and the importance of our democracy, they will put partisan politics aside and support Labor's initiative.

Mr DREYFUS (Isaacs Deputy Manager of Opposition Business) (19:50): Watching events over the last week, I cannot help but reflect on Abraham Lincoln's declaration that nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power. It's vitally important that the Australian people are able to trust those elected to represent them. Every time a politician or other public servant violates that trust, the strength of our democracy is diminished. Maintaining that trust requires, among other things, that Australians feel confident that their government is open, transparent and free from corruption.

We in Labor have a proven record of fighting for integrity in government. The last time we were in government at a federal level, Labor clearly demonstrated how serious we are about tackling corruption. We did this by supporting significant initiatives and law reforms to make it easier to prevent, detect and respond to corruption. In 2013 Labor signed Australia up to the Open Government Partnership, an international program that provides a framework for national governments to make their public sectors more open, accountable and responsive to citizens and civil society. As Attorney-General in 2013, I introduced the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which at last provided protections for whistleblowers in many parts of the federal public service. When last in government, Labor also introduced sweeping reforms to strengthen Commonwealth freedom of information laws.

In contrast, the Abbott-Turnbull government's record on FOI has been truly reprehensible, as exemplified by former Senator Brandis' desperate attempts to circumvent those laws in trying for three years to keep his appointments diary a secret. Having lost comprehensively at every stage of the wasteful litigation he embarked on, all at taxpayers' expense, it was only when I threatened Mr Brandis with proceedings for contempt of court that he finally provided what he should have provided within 30 days if he had had even a modicum of respect for the laws he was supposed to oversee or the principles of transparency and accountability that those laws are founded on.

Finally, Labor took a national anti-corruption plan to the 2013 election, a plan which, to my great disappointment, the Turnbull government has taken absolutely no action to progress through its four years of dysfunctional governance.

That brings me to the policy announced by the Leader of the Opposition just last month for the establishment of a National Integrity Commission. This is a bold initiative. The body we will establish will effectively operate as a standing royal commission with all the powers and resources it needs to detect and stamp out corruption in the federal public sphere. Labor has never had any in-principle objections to extending integrity measures, but for many years we felt that existing anti-corruption and integrity bodies were sufficient to the task at hand. But in recent years there has been a loss of public faith in Commonwealth institutions. Australia currently ranks 13th of 176 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. That doesn't sound so bad, but we were sixth on that list just six years ago. In January 2018 a survey of federal public servants by the Australian Public Service Commission revealed that five per cent of respondents said that they had seen misconduct, with cronyism and nepotism the most common charge. With scandal after scandal unfolding over recent years, many involving ministers from the Abbott and Turnbull governments, we in Labor believe it's time to do what we can to restore the public's trust in their government. Already every state and territory has now established or is in the process of establishing anti-corruption bodies. It's time we held our Commonwealth public officials to the same standard and created a single broad based body to prevent corruption.

As the Leader of the Opposition announced last month, Labor's national integrity commission will be based on seven design principles designed to ensure that the commission will operate as independent statutory body, with sufficient resources and legal independence to carry out its functions free from influence or interference from the government of the day. And, because we understand the urgency of this reform, we have committed that legislation to establish the national integrity commission will be introduced into parliament within first 12 months of a Shorten Labor government being elected.

As we have said before, Labor is ready to work with the Liberals and other interested parties to begin work on a national integrity commission straightaway. So far, we have heard not a word of support from the Turnbull government for our proposal. If this government truly believes in integrity and the importance of our democracy, they will put partisan politics aside and support Labor's initiative. I reiterate our offer to work together on this important policy now. (Time expired)