MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ATTACK ON ICAC SHOWS UP GOVERNMENT’S LACK OF INTEGRITY
Gladys Berejiklian resigned as NSW premier because she said it was untenable for her to remain in office while she was under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
It says everything you need to know about Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approach to integrity that he wanted Berejiklian to stand as a candidate for his government while that same investigation was still under way. On this issue, as in her handling of the pandemic, Berejiklian’s judgment has been far superior to Morrison’s. If it was untenable for the premier to continue in office with serious unresolved allegations of corruption hanging over her, it was equally untenable for her to seek election to the Commonwealth Parliament while those same, serious allegations remain unresolved.
It is even worse for the Prime Minister to be seeking to influence the conduct of that inquiry by misusing his high office, seemingly to try to bully the commission into clearing the former premier because he thinks it will help his election chances. Morrison’s attack blatantly misrepresents what political corruption is and what integrity bodies do.
According to Morrison, any misuse of office, misconduct, conflict of interests, bias or misuse of public funds is now acceptable, just as long as no criminal conviction is recorded.
What sort of a standard is that setting? It certainly explains why, three years after Morrison and his then attorney-general Christian Porter made their grand announcement promising Australians a Commonwealth integrity commission, Morrison still hasn’t even brought legislation before the Parliament, let alone passed it.
Morrison says it’s all Labor’s fault because we won’t support his draft proposal. The facts are his proposal is so bad the Centre for Public Integrity has said that if it ever became law it would be “the weakest watchdog in the country”.
It is a proposal that Stephen Charles, former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal, says is “an attempt to protect ministers, politicians and senior public servants from investigations into serious corruption”.
No wonder Morrison won’t even allow his proposal to be debated. Robodebt, sports rorts, carpark rorts, the Western Sydney Airport land scandal — this is a Government that lurches from scandal to scandal and survives on secrecy and cover-up. This is a Government that lives in terror of what a powerful, independent, and transparent anti-corruption commission would reveal. It’s now clear that if Australians want a national anti-corruption commission they have to change the Government.
Morrison won’t act. Labor will. The national anti-corruption commission Labor will establish as a priority 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, the personal staff of politicians and other Commonwealth public officials.
The Government’s refusal to honour its election promise is allowing corruption to go unchecked, enabling ministers to avoid being held to account and undermining public and international confidence in the Australian Government.
Labor will end the inaction by establishing a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission
This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Monday, 13 December 2021.