For the reasons stated in the Committee report, Labor does not support the passage of this Bill.
Labor Senators believe that however well-intentioned, the Bill that is the subject of this inquiry would only serve as a piecemeal, inadequate answer to the clear demands of the public for national integrity commission.
However, unlike government members of the Committee, Labor Senators do not believe that the solution to legitimate and well-founded public concerns about integrity in government is for parliamentarians to bury their heads in the sand and wait for those concerns to dissipate. They will not.
There is widespread support in the community for the establishment of a national integrity commission. According to polling by the Australia Institute, as many as 80% of Australians support the creation of such a body at the federal level from across the political spectrum (76 per cent of Greens voters, 82 per cent of LNP voters, 89 per cent of One Nation voters and 80 per cent of Labor voters). That support must be understood against the background of declining trust in institutions, politics and politicians, which has been reported in a range of surveys over recent years.
In recent years, there have been a growing number of credible and serious allegations of impropriety and misconduct, none of which have been satisfactorily investigated or resolved. Labor Senators believe we can expect more scandals to emerge.
All Australians should feel confident that their government is open, transparent and free from corruption. The reality is that Australians cannot have that confidence today.
Australia needs a powerful and independent national integrity commission but the current Government continues to show little interest in establishing one.
After spending almost a year rejecting calls from Labor to support the establishment of a national integrity commission and a mere two weeks after the Prime Minister dismissed it as a 'fringe issue', the Morrison government announced in December 2018 that it would move to establish a federal anti-corruption commission.
One of the many criticisms that have been levelled at the Morrison Government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission is that it would give special treatment to politicians and public servants. It would do this by establishing two divisions – one to investigate allegations of corruption by law enforcement ('the law enforcement division'); the other to investigate allegations of corruption involving public servants and politicians ('the public sector division'). The powers of the law enforcement division to investigate allegations of corruption would be more extensive than the powers of the public sector division, and only the law enforcement division could hold public hearings.
We do not propose to go through all of the other very substantive criticisms of the Morrison Government’s proposal for the purposes of this Additional Comment.
For present purposes, it is enough to note that the Government’s 'Commonwealth Integrity Commission' is designed to fall short of the best state models of anti-corruption commissions. It is the sort of integrity commission you design if you don’t want an integrity commission.
By contrast, Labor is committed to establishing a national integrity commission with all the independence, resources and powers of a standing royal commission into corruption.
It has now been over two-and-a-half years since the Morrison Government claims to have started work on its weak, ineffective and opaque 'Commonwealth Integrity Commission'.
In the course of hearing Additional Estimates in March 2020, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee heard evidence from the Attorney General’s Department that a series of exposure drafts of the legislation to create the government’s preferred model for a national integrity commission has been on the Attorney-General’s desk since at least January 2019.
Senator WATT: What stage is this work actually up to?
Ms Chidgey: We have an exposure draft bill, but final decisions are to be made by the Attorney and the government on its release.
Senator WATT: So the department has provided the Attorney with an exposure draft of the bill?
Ms Chidgey: We've provided multiple versions, so it's been a continuous process of refining that draft.
Senator WATT: And it's really now up to the Attorney-General when he chooses to release this?
Ms Chidgey: That's right, subject to any final changes.
Mr Moraitis: Senator, just to clarify my answer about two years. You asked how long the department has been working on this, and I said two years.
Senator WATT: Yes.
Mr Moraitis: The first version of a bill we provided to the Attorney in January last year, so it's one year and a bit. Just to clarify how long we as the department have been working on this, because it's a massive undertaking.
Senator WATT: So when (will) the Australian public expect to see a bill or an exposure draft?
Mr Moraitis: It's a matter for government at this stage, I think.
In May 2020, the Attorney-General was reported as saying that the exposure draft had been ready for release before the Covid-19 pandemic but the crisis had redirected the government’s focus.
The draft legislation to establish the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) was ready for release to allow for consultations ahead of introduction into parliament before the global economic and health crisis caused by the coronavirus.
In June 2020, the Senate ordered the Minister representing the Attorney-General to table a copy of the draft legislation to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. The Minister refused to comply with the order of the Senate.
Labor Senators are of the firm view that the Attorney-General should make the exposure draft of his Commonwealth Integrity Commission legislation public.
Labor Senators are of the view that the impact of the Covid-19 on unprecedented government expenditure which requires a high level of scrutiny in circumstances when sittings of parliament have been scant at best, an increasing prevalence of government contracts being let without an open tender process and government appointments to various government advisory and other bodies are being made without adequate transparency and disclosure of real and perceived conflicts of interest have created an environment in which there is a heightened risk of corruption.
That the Attorney-General immediately make public the exposure draft of the bill for the government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission.
That the government work on a bipartisan basis to establish a national integrity commission with all the independence, resources and powers of a standing royal commission into corruption.
Senator Tim Ayres
Senator Kimberley Kitching
Senator for Victoria