Mark Dreyfus MP

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Matter Of Public Importance - The Government's Broken Promise To Deliver A National Anti-Corruption Commission

16 February 2022

The ever-growing list of scandals involving the Morrison Government shows why Australia urgently needs a powerful and independent national anti-corruption commission.  

MARK DREYFUS
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS

 

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

THE GOVERNMENT’S BROKEN PROMISE TO DELIVER A NATIONAL ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION

16 FEBRUARY 2022 

The ever-growing list of scandals involving the Morrison Government shows why Australia urgently needs a powerful and independent national anti-corruption commission.  

The Government promised this in 2018, and again at the 2019 election but has now broken its promise because it is terrified, terrified of what such a body will uncover about their nine long years in office  

Now they use every subterfuge that they can find to ensure an effective national anti-corruption commission will never be established.   

Well no amount of announcements, hose dodging and ukulele-playing from this desperate Prime Minister can hide the fact that this government has waged a deceptive campaign to prevent the establishment of a national anti-corruption commission worthy of the name.  

How do we know? Because just yesterday, under intense questioning, the Attorney-General was forced to come out from behind her white-board of spin to contradict the Prime Minister, by confirming that yes, the Government has broken its election promise to establish an anti-corruption commission.  The Courier Mail headline today says it all: “Another election promise in tatters: key election commitment scrapped”. 

It's now clear - the only way that Australia will get a National Anti-Corruption Commission is to change the Government.     

The truth is that this Prime Minister and his colleagues are terrified of what an independent national anti-corruption commission would reveal about what this government has been up to for years.  The list of scandals and rorts is shameful.  And that’s just the ones we know about.  

That list includes: 

  • The Car Park Rorts;
  • The Sports Rorts Affair;
  • The Defence Minister rorted Community Safety Grants; 
  • The Western Sydney Airport Land rip off;
  • The Energy Minister’s use of a forged document;  
    Robodebt; and  
  • The appointment of dozens of former Liberal Party members and staffers to highly paid government jobs without proper process. 

The sheer number of potential corruption matters arising from within this government is disturbing enough. But even more disturbing has been the government’s response.  Because in every case the Prime Minister has reacted by doing everything he can to cover up that potential corruption.  

This is a government that staggers from scandal to scandal, surviving only by misusing its power, to threaten, to distract and to cover-up its wrongdoing.  

This is a government that lives in terror of accountability for its own actions, led by a Prime Minister who never takes responsibility for his own.   From ‘I don’t hold a hose mate’ to ‘we don’t have an anti-corruption commission, mate,” that’s this Prime Minister. 

This is a government led by a Prime Minister who his own cabinet colleagues do not trust, and who the Deputy Prime Minister described as a “hypocrite”, and as a person “who earnestly rearranges the truth to a lie”. 

It is said that the fish rots from the head, and this government is now rotten, through and through. 

And the stench from that rot is doing our nation great harm. 

The rot of this government has dragged Australia down to its lowest level on record in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.  

Australia used to have a proud record of being one of the world’s most open, transparent and least corrupt nations. 

But now, under this government, Australia’s standing has suffered the biggest fall of any OECD country.   

And now, having run out of excuses and delaying tactics, the Government has put forward an excuse that shows nothing but their contempt for the truth and for the intelligence of the Australian people.  This Prime Minister, just listen to this, this Prime Minister now claims that the government can’t legislate for a national anti-corruption commission because Labor doesn’t support the sham cover-up commission they are proposing.   

He just made this pathetic claim in Question Time today. The Prime Minister is trying to tell the Australian people that he can now only govern with the permission of the Labor Party.   And the Australian people are not buying this garbage. 

The truth is that no one who cares about the integrity of government in our country supports the pathetic sham of a body the Government is proposing.  To the contrary, their proposal has been rejected as a sham not just by Labor, but by legal and anti-corruption experts across the country, by everyone in this parliament outside of the Government, and even by some of the Government’s own back-benchers.  

The Government claims that it’s been consulting on its proposed model for three years – and in the same breath, that the model they are now putting forward is identical to the exposure draft released over a year ago!  Meaning that they ignored every single point in every single one of the 330 submissions that they received on their catastrophically bad proposal.   

It is now crystal clear that this wasn’t so much a consultation process as a deceitful delaying tactic, and a contemptuous waste of time of all of the hundreds of experts and members of the public who took government at its word, and made detailed submissions on how the government’s hopelessly flawed proposal could be improved. 

Confirmation of this sham consultation was the reason for the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald today “A glorious waste of time: Corruption watchdog bill unchanged after years of consultation.”  

So why doesn’t Labor support the government’s proposal?  Because it’s a cynical, disgraceful sham.  It is a body deliberately designed by this Government not to uncover corruption, but to cover it up.   

We all remember the Gaetjens Inquiry into who in the Prime Minister’s office knew about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.  An inquiry that was announced with great fanfare and never heard from again.  Well that’s the driving idea behind this Government’s sham of an integrity commission.   

This Government now wants to have that cover-up operation on an industrial scale.  Because they need that scale to cover up their own industrial-scale rorting. 

But don’t just take my word for this. 

  • The Centre for Public Integrity, comprised primarily of retired senior Australian judges, say the Morrison model is 'a sham designed to cover up corruption' and would be 'the weakest watchdog in the country'.
  • Former Victorian Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles says “It’s not really an anti-corruption commission at all.  It’s a body set up to shield parliamentarians and public servants” from accountability.
  • Geoffrey Watson SC, former counsel assisting the NSW ICAC says it is 'designed to cover up corruption, not expose it'.
  • And the Police Federation of Australia is rightly outraged that while inquiries into police officers would be held in public under this plan, inquiries into Ministers and other Members of Parliament would be held in secret. 

Labor doesn’t support the Morrison Government’s proposal. We don’t support it because it is so weak that:  

  • It wouldn’t be able to instigate its own independent inquiries, even in response to tip-offs about major corruption from the public or from whistle-blowers who see that corruption occurring.  
  • It would create a two-tier system, with public hearings possible for law enforcement officials accused of corruption but hearings for politicians and public servants working under the direction of the government would be held, of course, in the strictest secrecy.    
  • It would be prevented from investigating any of the succession of past scandals of the Morrison Government. 

Every state and territory now has a dedicated anti-corruption commission. The Commonwealth is the only jurisdiction without such a body. 

And the only politicians preventing a national anti-corruption commission from being established are the Prime Minister and his colleagues opposite who are trying to con the Australia people with their weak, secretive and compromised plan which will ensure they are never held accountable for their rorts and scandals. 

Repeated surveys reveal that around 90 per cent of Australian support a national anti-corruption commission being established.  And that’s because they’ve had enough of the growing stench of this scandal-plagued government.  

Unlike the Morrison Government, Labor is committed to establishing a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.  

The Morrison Government’s broken election promise, and its increasingly desperate and dishonest excuses for inaction, show that the only way Australia will ever get a National Anti-Corruption Commission is by changing the government. 

ENDS