Speeches

PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – COMMONWEALTH INTEGRITY COMMISSION - MONDAY, 29 JULY 2019

July 29, 2019

HANSARD

FEDERATION CHAMBER

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

MONDAY, 29 JULY 2019

PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – COMMONWEALTH INTEGRITY COMMISSION

I would like to start by commending the Member for Mayo for this motion. I agree with the Member for Mayo that the majority of Australians would like better and more robust oversight of our Commonwealth public sector and particularly our Commonwealth parliament.

There is something within this motion though that I have to question, because the motion starts by congratulating the government on its commitment to establishing the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. I have to question where that commitment actually is, because I haven't seen that commitment.

Just this week, Australians have again witnessed what can at best be described as questionable behaviour that a federal integrity body would have had the imprimatur to monitor and investigate. Within the LNP ranks, we've got the minister for energy who continues to refuse to answer questions about his meetings with the environmental department that involved his personal interests. Rather than answer to an inquiry, the minister and the Prime Minister, who is actively working to protect him, produced a letter written six months after a meeting and addressed to someone else to try to claim that the minister was not, in fact, acting for his own interests. I don't believe that the Australian people will be fooled by this. If we had a federal integrity body, we would not have to pursue these issues in parliament. A federal integrity body would have the mandate to fully investigate this mess. This government would like to hold others to account. We often hear them talk about the big stick. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that 'big stick' means. But it doesn't seem that they're very good at holding themselves to account, unfortunately, because it's not just this week that has exposed possible breaches by this government. Over the past few months, we have seen scandal after scandal after scandal.

There is the awarding of a contract costing taxpayers almost a quarter of a billion dollars to Paladin Holdings in a closed tender process conducted behind closed doors. And when questions are asked about the issue, the response of the Minister for Home Affairs, who is responsible for this, is to refuse to comply with the Senate order to produce relevant documents. Apparently, this minister believes that Australians don't deserve to know exactly where their tax dollars are spent and whether such contracts represent value for money. Then there's what has become known as 'watergate'—the Australian version—again implicating the minister for energy and the former agricultural minister, who signed off on an $80 million purchase of water entitlements from a company of which the energy minister used to be a director and which is also a Liberal Party donor. And these are just a couple of examples of the double standards shown by this government time and time again. They are quick to use their judgement of others. They are quick to pull out their so-called big stick, particularly when it means they can distract us from what's going on in the coalition party room or behind closed doors.

It's pretty clear to me that this government is not serious about integrity. And I must say that I do not agree with the member for Berowra that the current suite of arrangements is adequate for ensuring oversight. Things like the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce and the fraud centre that the member mentioned, among others, just do not speak to the significant issue of the possibility of misconduct or corruption by Commonwealth employees and, particularly, by members of parliament. They just don't speak to that. We certainly do need a federal integrity body. As I said, a federal integrity body would be able to investigate and monitor the kinds of things that we have seen coming out of the LNP government over the past few months. If the government is actually serious about this, where's the legislation? Where is the legislation being pushed through as a matter of urgency this week before we adjourn? It is nowhere to be seen. I think it's very clear that this government is actually quite terrified of what the Commonwealth Integrity Commission could expose.