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Scott calls for a national ICAC

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Scott Ludlam 13 Aug 2015

 Senator LUDLAM (Western AustraliaCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (11:24):  I thank all senators for engaging in the debate in the largely respectful way in which it has been conducted. I want to add my comments to those of others who have spoken. I think it was Senator Fawcett actually who pointed out that this is not the first time that this bill has been before this chamber. In fact, it is unfinished business, in my view, to our institutional architecture that will sit on the table in this place until some form of an entity such as that which we are discussing has been implemented.

I think the positions of the political parties are now reasonably clear. Liberal and Nationals senators have spoken out reasonably clearly. They do not want a national ICAC or some form of national integrity commissioner. They are just not interested in it, and we heard a range of arguments put around this morning as to why. Labor appears to be open to the idea as long as nobody actually proceeds to set one up, which is reasonably consistent, I guess, with the way that they have operated around these issues in the past.

I would like to point out there may be a difficulty for us in here, in this fishbowl, having this argument around political entitlements and our use of them as MPs and how that grades from appropriate use of entitlements—some of them substantial—through to inappropriate or grey area uses through to brazenly inappropriate uses of parliamentary entitlements all the way out the other side to what we would understand as corruption. The bill that is before us attempts to deal in a number of ways with all of those different tiers of activity.

I want to quote someone who I do not think I have quoted in this place before, Nicholas Greiner, the former Premier of New South Wales. I went back and looked at a little bit of the history of how the state anticorruption bodies were set up but, principally, the circumstances in which they arose. In general they arose in the midst of appalling corruption scandals within each of those states whether it was Queensland or New South Wales that I have been reading a little bit about this morning or in my own home state of Western Australia. In May 1988 when they were initiating the ICAC bill in the New South Wales parliament, Mr Greiner said:

Nothing is more destructive of democracy than a situation where people lack confidence in those administrators that stand in a position of public trust. If a liberal and democratic society is to flourish we need to ensure that the credibility of public institutions is restored and safeguarded and that community confidence in the integrity of public administration is preserved and justified.

They are quite strong words. I would not normally wander in here quoting coalition state premiers. But when you look at the context in which that bill was introduced, when you get a little way into his second reading speech, this was the backdrop against which that entity was set up. He said:

In recent years, in New South Wales we have seen:—

He goes on to list

a Minister of the Crown jailed for bribery; an inquiry into a second, and indeed a third, former Minister for alleged corruption; the former Chief Stipendiary Magistrate gaoled for perverting the course of justice; a former Commissioner of Police in the courts on a criminal charge; the former Deputy Commissioner of Police charged with bribery; a series of investigations and court cases involving judicial figures including a High Court Judge; and a disturbing number of dismissals, retirements and convictions of senior police officers for offences involving corrupt conduct.

What I found quite instructive and interesting in listening particularly to coalition contributions this morning was that Senator Fawcett quite carefully went through and listed all the different Commonwealth entities and checks and balances and accountability agencies that exist to keep a check on different parts of the Commonwealth machinery. He spoke a little bit about ASIO and ASIS; about the Federal Police, which I will get back to in a second; and about the law enforcement community more generally. He even talked about overseas anticorruption and about state and territory bodies—everybody except us. I was waiting for the punchline where he was going to use that to somehow justify the fact that no such body should therefore apply to this place but there was no punchline and he sat down. He did not actually come to the point that I thought he would have been trying to make and it was quite a well constructed speech—that everybody else has some form of anticorruption watchdog looking over their shoulder with a certain amount of powers except this place—but then he sat down and that was the end of his speech. And I thought that was kind of fascinating.

Senator Canavan just floated right off the deep end, and started comparing it to the Spanish Inquisition or stuff that was going on in the Middle Ages, and turned it into a human rights argument that everybody else should have some kind of anticorruption watchdog looking over them except federal parliamentarians because, 'What about our human rights?' It would be funny if this was not the same guy who wilfully voted for mandatory data retention for the entire population, for extraordinarily coercive powers to be placed over the media and for the ability of ASIO to snoop on practically the entire internet off the back of a single warrant. Now he is considering allowing a handful of select immigration department bureaucrats to revoke people's citizenship unilaterally. Human rights, obviously, can be disposed of for other people, but do not trespass on Senator Canavan's human rights. He does not need an anticorruption watchdog looking over his shoulder. An extraordinary contribution—

Senator Ian Macdonald:  It is not what he said.

Senator LUDLAM:  It actually is, Senator Macdonald. I thank you for letting me proceed in silence, which is not often your character. So far this morning it has been very, very good of you. Nonetheless, Senator Canavan's comments—

Senator Ian Macdonald:  You need to stick to the truth.

Senator LUDLAM:  are on the record and he can speak for himself, and that is fine. I want to bring to the attention of the chamber the following: section 135.2 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, which pertains to obtaining a financial advantage that people are not entitled to receive. That is the section of the Commonwealth Criminal Code that Centrelink uses to prosecute people for wrongfully claiming welfare allowances and entitlements. There are roughly, according to what I looked up this morning, 10 prosecutions a day around the country. That is what happens, if you are in improper receipt of welfare entitlements, to people who are living right on the edge of poverty or in fact well below the poverty line.

Politicians on the other hand can sail along on baseline salaries starting at around $200k a year. If we make a mistake in here the federal police do not move prosecutions under that section of the Criminal Code. We are allowed—in some cases for years—to leave it lying under the carpet and then come forward and say, 'Oops, I am sorry, I am going to repay that.' We saw the way the disgraced former Speaker of the other place handled it. She kind of dug in bitterly until it was obvious to everyone in the country, except her and the Prime Minister, that flying a chopper to a Liberal Party fundraiser and emerging like some kind of Bond villain is so far outside entitlements that it does not pass any kind of test you would want to put on it.

The gargantuan double standard that applies appears to be invisible to everyone inside this building, but I can honestly say that it is really highly visible to everybody outside. Maybe it is like asking a fish to notice water; maybe it is just really difficult because it is what we swim in in here. That sense of cocooning and isolation that occurs in this building I think touches all of us in some ways. We are in here for weeks at a time and then fly home and reconnect with the rest of the world and with the real world. That isolation distances us and is maybe why there is this denial. We should really call out, this morning, politicians from the Liberal, National and Labor parties who are saying: 'We don't need something like this to apply to us. The states and territories are different. The police forces are different. The public sectors are different. We are above all of that. We are above reproach. There is no evidence.' The reason there is no evidence of corruption at that high level of Commonwealth politics is that nobody is charged with looking for and finding it. There is that gap in the institutional architecture that people have been quite happy to gloss over, this morning, and pretend that we do not need, and it is precisely the problem.

Some senators, probably inadvertently,—I am assuming good faith on this—clearly do not understand what the bill does, so I just want to come to what the actual proposal is. The proposal is for a national integrity commission and it has three main offices, and this is where some confusion was expressed by, I think, Senator Fawcett this morning. The idea is that the agency or the entity has three limbs. One is to absorb the existing Commonwealth Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner. It is not that we are proposing to establish a new law enforcement integrity office, it is to absorb the existing functions and operations of that body that is charged with investigating alleged corruption in the AFP and in the Australian Crime Commission.

A lot of the powers that are based on the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act of 2006 we do not propose to modify, but the two new limbs that would come into being would be the national integrity commission, which is modelled reasonably closely on the New South Wales ICAC that has been devastatingly effective at going through and routing out the unthinkable corruption that was rotting away at the hearts of the Liberal-National Party and the Labor Party in New South Wales. So that is one limb—the national ICAC.

I think that maybe it does make sense in your party rooms when you are working out your tactics to say: 'We are above all that. There is simply no evidence of any such thing.' Are we going to wait for the kind of gruesome corruption scandals that disfigured politics in the states that led to the establishment of those anticorruption bodies? Do we have to wait until it is just rotting out there in plain sight, or could we move pre-emptively to set up such a body to begin to restore public trust and confidence in the institution in which we hold so much trust in in here?

I forget whose contribution it was said, 'How gross of the Greens to come in here off the wake of a hideous parliamentary entitlements scandal and talk about entitlements'. Sorry, that is what we assume this chamber is for. The third limb is to establish an independent parliamentary adviser, effectively an integrity commissioner for MPs. We were talking before about that grey area between legitimate use of entitlements. For example, I was criticised in The West Australian for taking a charter to the Lake Way uranium drill site out the back of Wiluna. It is about 1,000 kays from Perth. The Aboriginal mob in the north-east goldfields are really concerned about what a uranium mine on a lake bed would mean for country and culture in that part of the world. I guess I could have rung them and said, 'Come to Fremantle.' I chose to go to them. I would consider that legitimate use of a charter entitlement. It is expensive because WA is larger than Western Europe. I would consider that a legitimate entitlement. Most of us, quite frankly, use the entitlements legitimately, as far as I am concerned.

Senator Ian Macdonald:  You were going to an antinuclear rally.

Senator LUDLAM:  The grey areas are where it is actually a question of interpretation. I think all of us at one time or another would have really appreciated the opportunity to pick up the phone and say, 'I am proposing to do this. Is this within entitlement or not?' We all make—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator LUDLAM:  Even you, Senator Macdonald. Nobody is accusing you of rorting entitlements, but wouldn't it have been good on some occasions to say, 'Is this within entitlement or not; I'm not sure'? And then you can—

Senator Ian Macdonald:  I can work it out.

Senator LUDLAM:  Oh, you are above all of us, Senator Macdonald—so unimpeachable!

Senator Ian Macdonald:  Clearly you think you are.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  Order!

Senator LUDLAM:  It is just wonderful!

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  Order! I would ask senators to direct their debate through the chair.

Senator LUDLAM:  I should not take the bait, should I? I should not take the bait.

Part of it is around interpretation, and then some of it is actually about straightforward integrity. As far as I am concerned, when flying yourself like Cruella De Vil into a Liberal Party fundraiser, you should not need to pick up the phone to ask whether that is okay. That is just completely not okay. That is about tightening up the entitlement system to make those things just basically off limits.

But then I think that for the grey area we would all appreciate the ability to ring up somebody to support MPs and to support staff in particular on making those judgement calls, because we are employed by the taxpayers, a lot of whom are struggling under what is happening in the economy at the moment. The last thing they want to see here is the kind of flagrant abuse that has been in the papers and on the front pages in the last couple of weeks.

So we think this is a relatively uncontroversial bill. This is not a stunt. This is about bringing forward a matter that I would have thought most people would be intrinsically in support of: to complete that gap in the institutional architecture. Everybody else—no matter how flawed or how much you could critique how the anticorruption bodies around the country have run in practice, you have seen continual amendments; Premier Baird is proposing amendments to ICAC even as we speak—has to keep track with custom and practice and corruption, quite frankly. This is for us to complete that gap in the architecture and not to hold the conceit that we are above all of that.

The best way to keep us above all of that is to have a watchdog on the beat, not just around the areas of ambiguity but around the areas, quite simply, of criminal conduct and corruption. I do not think we should assume that this institution is necessarily somehow above the fray of human conduct that occurs and that requires those checks and balances and those accountability mechanisms in every other tier of society where people exercise power or enormous budgets in the public trust. We are not seeking to override state and territory anticorruption bodies; we are seeking to learn from them.

If there are other offers—and I guess I would particularly address these comments to the opposition, who have not ruled it out but are showing no interest at all in doing anything with these ideas—if you think this can be improved, if you think there are better ways of going about it, either come at us with amendments or put your own bill into the field. Announce something—anything but sitting on the fence. Given what people have been put through with Mrs Bishop's tip-of-the-iceberg scandal over the last couple of weeks, surely now is the time to come forward and finish the job.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  I call Senator Lines. Senator Macdonald?

Senator Ian Macdonald:  Mr Deputy President, I did want to say a few words.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  Senator Macdonald, you have already contributed to this debate, so unless you are raising a point of order—

Senator Ludlam:  Let him seek leave.

Senator Ian Macdonald:  No, I was just going to—I think Senator Ludlam is giving me leave to speak a second time.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  Well, he may like to, but I am not going to give it to you.

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