MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
A THOUSAND DAYS SINCE MORRISON’S PROMISE, THERE’S STILL NO ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION
John F Kennedy’s entire time as President lasted just over 1,000 days.
Gough Whitlam’s entire time as Prime Minister lasted just over 1,000 days.
Which just goes to show that when you’re committed to action, you can get a lot done in 1,000 days.
So the only conclusion we can draw from the fact it’s now been 1,000 days without the national anti-corruption commission Scott Morrison promised us back in 2018 is he never had any interest in introducing one.
On 13 December 2018 Mr Morrison and his former Attorney-General Christian Porter stood before the Australian people and finally, grudgingly promised them a national anti-corruption commission.
1,000 days later nothing has happened.
Not only do we NOT have a national anti-corruption commission, Mr Morrison has not even brought a bill before the Parliament.
And that’s because the Prime Minister and his Government are terrified of what an independent inquiry, conducted by a powerful and transparent anti-corruption commission, would reveal about what they have been up to.
They are terrified of an independent inquiry into their unlawful diversion of over $100 million into the Sports Rorts fiasco.
They are terrified of an independent inquiry into their Car Park Rorts.
They are terrified of an independent inquiry into the payment of $30 million to a Liberal Party donor for airport land worth a tenth of that.
This is a government that lurches from scandal to scandal and survives on secrecy and cover-up.
This is a government that lives in fear of accountability.
This is a government that lives in terror of what a powerful, independent, and transparent anti-corruption commission would reveal.
Instead of an actual bill, all we’ve seen is a weak, pathetic, desultory “exposure draft” that was so bad, the Centre for Public Integrity said that if it ever became law it would be “the weakest watchdog in the country”.
Stephen Charles QC, former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal says “[i]t's an attempt to protect ministers, politicians and senior public servants from investigations into serious corruption.”
Geoffrey Watson SC, former counsel assisting the NSW ICAC said the Government’s proposal was so secretive, so weak and so constrained that it had clearly been "designed to cover up corruption, not expose it.”
After 1,000 days of yet another announcement with no delivery, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that’s precisely how Mr Morrison wants it to stay.
When Mr Morrison holds his National Cabinet meetings, the other eight leaders around that table know their actions are open to scrutiny by a dedicated anti-corruption body. That’s because every state and both territories now has one.
In contrast, Mr Morrison knows he and his ministers can get away with just about anything - Sports Rorts, Car Park Rorts, Grassgate, Angus Taylor’s dodgy documents, the Airport land rort, and that’s just since the last election!
The only minister ever forced to resign from the Morrison Government didn’t even have to wait out one term before she was invited back.
17 months to the day after she was sacked by Mr Morrison for failing to disclose a conflict of interest in relation to the Government’s Sports Rorts program, Bridget McKenzie returned to Cabinet with a $152,000 pay rise.
Meanwhile, in his most recent budget, the biggest spending budget in Australia’s history, under “Commonwealth Integrity Commission” it actually lists zero staff for both 2020/21 and 2021/22.
There’s Mr Morrison’s priority right there in black and white: hundreds of millions of dollars to rort grants for car parks and sporting clubs into Liberal target seats, but zero staff for an integrity commission.
Nothing more graphically illustrates why Australia needs a powerful and independent anti-corruption commission – and why Mr Morrison and his colleagues will do everything in their power to stop one from being established.
If Mr Morrison won’t act, Labor will.
Labor, in government, will establish a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.
Labor’s National Anti-Corruption Commission will operate as a standing Royal Commission into serious and systemic corruption in the federal government. It will have a broad jurisdiction to investigate and hold to account Commonwealth ministers, public servants, statutory office holders, government agencies, parliamentarians, personal staff of politicians and other Commonwealth public officials.
The Morrison Government’s refusal to honour its election promise is allowing corruption to go unchecked, enabling ministers to avoid being held to account for their actions and undermining public confidence in the Australian Government.
Labor will put an end to the Morrison Government’s shameful inaction by establishing a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission.
As Gough famously said before starting his 1,000 days, It’s Time.
This opinion piece was first published in The New Daily on Wednesday 8 September 2021.