Transcript - ABC Capital Hill [22 October 2020]

October 22, 2020

SUBJECT/S: Federal Integrity Commission; farm labour

JANE NORMAN, HOST: Well, let’s bring in our Thursday political panel. We’ve got lots to discuss, and I’m joined now by West Australian Labor MP Anne Aly, and New South Wales Nationals Senator Perin Davey. Welcome to you both.

ANNE ALY: Thanks, Jane.

PERIN DAVEY: Thank you.

NORMAN: Anne Aly, I’m not sure if you heard that grab from David Fricker of the National Archives, but do you think it was worth spending more than a million dollars of taxpayer funds to try and block the release of these Palace letters?

ALY: Jane, I think Australians would be quite shocked if they actually knew where their taxpayer dollars go. You know, a million dollars to try and block Palace letters. Think about what that million dollars could do in terms of social housing. Think about what that million dollars could do in terms of prevention of domestic violence or helping women flee domestic violence. I don’t think it’s justifiable at all.

NORMAN: Perin Davey, what do you think about this? Was it a waste of taxpayer funds?

DAVEY: Oh, look, it’s an interesting one. The question has to be asked was, was it worth... was all the brouhaha in the lead up and all of the efforts by the historian to try and get those letters released publicly... I mean, she took it to court and the archives responded to that court action. But was it worth it in the end? I’ll let the public decide.

NORMAN: Do you think it was?

DAVEY: Well, it was interesting reading when the letters were released. But what it did prove is there was no conspiracy theories. You know, it was a matter of course, there was… there was no clandestine conspiracy behind the scene. So I guess at least that’s now out in the open.

NORMAN: And, yes, certainly made for some fascinating reading. Just staying with you, Perin Davey, this week there’s been a lot of focus on the idea of, well... the proposal for a National Integrity Commission, a Federal body that the Government has promised for years now to set up. Why won’t the Morrison Government put a timeframe on this plan to get a National Integrity Commission up and running?

DAVEY: Well, I think the timeframe issue is because you’ve seen from this year, we’ve gone from drought to bushfire to COVID, from, from one crisis to another. Had we put a timeframe on it at the beginning of the year, I’m sure that would have completely blown out due to circumstances well outside our control. What we can reassure people is, we are absolutely committed to the Integrity Commission. We have got draft legislation ready to consult on, but that consultation needs to occur. It needs to occur with free air, because it’s more important that we get this integrity commission right, that we learn from the examples, the state examples. We take the good bits from those and reject the bad bits, but we get it right, we consult thoroughly to make sure we get it right. Because what we don’t want is, is a half effort commission just for the sake of expediency.

NORMAN:  And just sticking with you for one more, Perin Davey, do you support the idea of a federal anti-corruption body? Do you believe it is actually needed?

DAVEY: I totally support the idea of an integrity commission, if only to reassure the public that we have nothing to hide, whether it’s needed or not. What is quite clear is the public want us to do this and it will give the public more faith in their politicians, and I think that that is well deserved.

NORMAN: Anne Aly, let’s bring you into this conversation. Of course, Labor supports the idea of an anti-corruption body federally. Do you think that there is corruption that needs to be uncovered that isn’t already by existing agencies like the National Audit Office?

ALY: Yes, absolutely. And let’s just cut the crap here, Jane, and pretend that the Government gives a poo about federal integrity body. If they did, they would have done it by now. We know they’ve had the draft legislation for a year. They’ve been talking about it for three years. In the meantime, we’ve seen sports rorts, we’ve seen grasslands, we’ve seen the airport land scandal. And nobody is being held to account. Nobody. Now, I’ve got to disclose, Jane, that integrity and corruption are big issues in my household. We talk about it a lot because my husband works in the field and I find it extraordinary, extraordinary, that my husband can investigate a state colleague. But there is nobody out there to investigate me, or any one of us here in the Federal Parliament around corruption, around misconduct, and around any of the issues that, that we’ve seen over this past year. I’m sick and tired of the excuses. I’m sick and tired of the obfuscation. Do it. Do it now. And do it right.

NORMAN: Helen Haines, independent MP, Anne Aly, will be apparently putting forward her own Private Member’s Bill next week to try and get support for National Integrity Commission or an anti-corruption body, whatever you want to call it. Do you support that? Does Labor support that Helen Haines Bill?

ALY: I haven’t seen the Bill and I haven’t seen the detail of the Bill. I think we should support anything that’s got teeth, that would have captured any of the scandals that we’ve seen over this past year with this Government, and that would hold people to account.

NORMAN: I just want to ask you about one of the complaints that Labor has about the proposal the Coalition has put forward, and that is the proposal to not hold public hearings. Now I’m from WA, you’re from WA. I know the Triple C has copped criticism in the past because, you know, people are brought before the Crime and Corruption Commission to give evidence, they might not have done anything wrong, but it can massively impact their reputation, their careers. Do you have some sympathy for that argument that sometimes public hearings can actually, well, be bad for people who are necessarily in the firing line?

ALY: Personally, I don’t have any sympathy for that argument, Jane. We’re public figures. We are public figures here, and we take that risk when we take on this, this role, that we are going to be scrutinised, whether it’s in the media or in other kinds of public hearings. And I know, for a fact, that those who investigate corruption, they don’t take it lightly, they don’t bring people before the Triple C or before the ICAC lightly. There’s a lot of work that goes into an investigation.

NORMAN: Perin Davey, can I ask you about that? Because this is obviously going to be one of the fights between Labor and the Coalition when the legislation is eventually put up for consultation. Labor believes public hearings need to be held. The Liberal Party so far, Coalition believes it should be held in private. Why should these hearings be held in private? I guess it’s the whole… is sunshine the very best disinfectant?

DAVEY: Well, I mean, firstly, I’d like to take issue with Anne saying that we can’t be investigated. We can absolutely be investigated. The Federal Police have… can investigate us if we have done something wrong. We are certainly not…

NORMAN: But only for certain things, right [inaudible] … agency.

DAVEY: ...we are certainly not free from scrutiny. The media run a very tight watch over our spending and our... our declarations of interest. So we are under scrutiny. It can be reinforced and it can be bolstered by an integrity commission. And I think that that is what we’re aiming to do with regards to public hearings, you do have to admit, that in certain circumstances – and I’m from New South Wales, we have the ICAC, and we have seen in the past that sometimes people are hauled before ICAC, their reputation is ruined, their career is ruined, only to find that they actually did nothing wrong. Now, then we have the other occasions and Labor understands full well that when ICAC does find that something has gone on, they then refer it to the police.  So ICAC in and of themselves, are the prosecuting body. So, you know, we’ve seen... we’ve seen that work. We’ve seen it with Eddie Obeid, but we didn’t necessarily need the public ICAC hearings before it went to the police hearings. So, you know, there is a point in time when it is appropriate to, to come out, but we need to let people have natural justice, and the presumption of innocence.

NORMAN: Alright, a long way for that debate to go. But Perin Davey, just sticking with you. Farmers and tourism operators are pleading with the Federal Government to allow working holiday makers into this country, noting that there are massive labour shortages looming because of the closed borders. Have you received any representations from farming groups and is the government sympathetic to this plea?

DAVEY: Look, absolutely. I’ve received a lot of representations. The, the issue of labour shortages is twofold. You have the seasonal workers shortages, which is for, you know, harvest, horticulture, the mango harvest in the Northern Territory. There’s great risks there because they can’t get enough workers. But we’ve also got labour shortages across the regions in full time work, like across the whole breadth. So I’d really like to see more work done to encourage people out of the cities, into the regions to take up those jobs. We’ve started on that as a Government. We’ve got the temporary relocation package to try and encourage the... we’ve seen our unemployment rate go up through the COVID crisis significantly. And we want to try and encourage those people to where the work is, where there is ongoing work. But in the short term, you know, it would be great if we could open the borders. But we also need to understand that we have Australians overseas who want to come home to. So we’ve got to make sure that we balance what... what we need to do for our own citizens, for Australians; and then also work out what we need to do to keep our agricultural industries moving and keep them going. So… and we also need to protect the public health.

NORMAN: Anne Aly, what do you think about that? Obviously, farmers and tourism operators are crying out for people to be able to come into Australia from overseas. But of course, there are so many Australians still stuck overseas.

ALY: I agree with the Senator on this one. And I do think there’s more that we could be doing to incentivise people, Australians. We’ve got we’ve got a million Australians out of work and we’ve got... we’ve got job shortages. In my electorate I’ve got fruit growers who are also experiencing job shortages. So I think, let’s think outside the box a little bit, and think of ways in which we can encourage Australians to go to the regions to take up these jobs. Let’s match the unemployed with these jobs and in that way address both our unemployment issues as well as our labour shortages.

NORMAN: Is one of the issues in WA at the moment, Anne Aly, the fact that you have a hard border closure? So there’s Australians, perhaps on the East Coast, who aren’t able to help fill those labour shortages in WA because of McGowan’s hard border closure?

ALY: Well, the McGowan Government has actually undertaken a... a huge step in encouraging people to undertake those jobs. So we’ve got the Wander Out Yonder campaign. So there’s a communication campaign, there’s job matching, things like that. And these are the things that I think the Federal Government could be doing more of as well, is encouraging Australians who are unemployed to take those jobs to address those... those two issues.

NORMAN: All right, Anne Aly, Perin Davey, thank you very much for your time today.

ALY: Thank you.