Mark Dreyfus MP

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Matters of Public Importance - National Anti-Corruption Commission

11 August 2021

The ever-growing list of scandals surrounding the Morrison government shows why Australia needs a powerful and independent anti-corruption commission and why the Prime Minister and his colleagues continue to do everything they can to stop one from being established.

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

 

MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

NATIONAL ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION

 11 AUGUST 2021

The ever-growing list of scandals surrounding the Morrison government shows why Australia needs a powerful and independent anti-corruption commission and why the Prime Minister and his colleagues continue to do everything they can to stop one from being established.

Every Australian state and both territories have had an anti-corruption commission for years. Only the Commonwealth still does not have one. Why? Why is that? It's because the members of the Morrison government know that if a national anti-corruption commission is established - a real anti-corruption commission with the powers, independence and resources to investigate politicians - there's a good chance a significant number of them might appear before it.

The Prime Minister claimed his 2019 election win was a miracle. But what we are now discovering is not so much a miracle, as an election bought with vast sums of taxpayers' money used as the property of the Liberal Party to be sprayed around whenever the Liberal Party thought that it could buy them votes.

The Prime Minister's fond of quoting the former chief of army's statement that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that the standard that he accepts is not only to walk past any scandal in his government, but also to ensure that no-one is ever held accountable for it. Least of all him.

There's an old saying that the fish rots from the head and this Liberal government is rotting from the Prime Minister down. That's why former Liberal Party luminaries and leaders - people who do have standards and are loyal to the standards of Menzies - are appalled at what they see our Commonwealth government becoming under this Prime Minister.

Just two weeks ago Dr John Hewson wrote:

Morrison simply doesn't understand leadership. It involves strategic thinking, being proactive, and acceptance of responsibility with integrity and accountability.

On Dr Hewson's test of leadership, the Prime Minister fails most disastrously.

When Australia was burning and Australians were dying, this Prime Minister fled the country for a holiday in Hawaii. When he was shamed into returning to Australia, he shrugged it off with a sentence that will forever define his prime ministership, and you all know it: 'I don't hold a hose, mate.' No words better define this Prime Minister's character and his attitude to personal responsibility than these six words: 'I don't hold a hose, mate.'

When the COVID-19 crisis hit the country, we once again saw this Prime Minister avoid responsibility at every opportunity. The federal government had two key responsibilities in responding to this global pandemic: national quarantine and a vaccine rollout. This Prime Minister's desperate avoidance of responsibility for both has meant our nation is still relying on tourist hotels to provide the medical quarantine that only dedicated quarantine facilities can safely and reliably provide, and we are 35th out of 38 OECD nations in our vaccine rollout. Is it any surprise that half the nation is back in lockdown? And yet this Prime Minister still doesn't have even the sense of personal responsibility, the basic integrity or willingness to be accountable for his actions to say sorry to the Australian people.

Responsibility, integrity, accountability: these are the basic requirements of character a nation's leader must have for the nation and its people to prosper, and that's why this Prime Minister is so terrified of a national anti-corruption commission. As scandal after scandal unfolds, he never takes responsibility and never holds anyone accountable. Scandal after scandal demonstrate what a government without integrity will do, hoping that the public will just accept that corruption is synonymous with the federal government rather than its mortal enemy.

Former Victorian supreme court judge David Harper QC said of the most recent scandal, the car parks rort:

On any appropriate definition of corruption, this is an instance of it; and it should be called out as such.

Eminent law Professor Anne Twomey, who's opinions are often relied upon by this government, has pointed out that section 71 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act requires ministers to make sure spending is 'efficient, effective, economical and ethical'. Professor Twomey says of the car parks rort:

It is screamingly obvious, when you look at the Auditor-General's report, that the grants did not fall within the category … Ministers were under an obligation to make sufficient inquiries to be able to satisfy themselves of those things and clearly have failed to do so. So there is certainly breaches of the law.

There are so many other rorts and examples of maladministration that are as bad or even more egregious than the Prime Minister's pork-and-ride scheme that I can only mention them now. We've had the sports rorts affair, we've had the Western Sydney Airport land rip-off; we've had the brutal, unlawful and shockingly expensive Robodebt fiasco; we've had senior ministers repeatedly breaching the standards of ministerial conduct, knowing that the Prime Minister will not enforce standards of integrity he himself shows contempt for on a daily basis; and we've had the handing out of untold numbers of highly paid taxpayer funded jobs to former Liberal Party members, failed Liberal Party candidates and former Liberal Party staffers.

The ongoing work of parliamentary committees, investigative journalists, whistleblowers, the independent Auditor-General and ordinary citizens has exposed these rorts and corruption scandals. But in the absence of a dedicated national anti-corruption commission, we've only been able to scratch the surface of the scandals that have so far come to light, because, using all of the resources of government, from concocted claims of cabinet confidentiality to secret inquiries by political mates that are never concluded, the Prime Minister has done everything he can to stymie any rigorous and independent investigation of these matters and done his best to cover up each and every scandal.

Every state and territory now has a dedicated anti-corruption commission. Australians know that these bodies, while not perfect, have proved their worth time and time again. Most notably in the Prime Minister's home state of New South Wales, the ICAC has demonstrated its importance in fighting corruption in government in every party, and by any politician. Every single non-government member and senator in this parliament is united against the Morrison government in demanding a powerful and independent national anti-corruption commission - an anti-corruption commission with teeth. The only politicians preventing a national anti-corruption commission from being established are the Prime Minister and the members of his government, and they are doing this because they know what it will uncover and reveal to the Australian people about what this government has been secretly up to these past years.

I am not saying that Labor governments in Australia have been without blemish, but, unlike the Morrison government, we in Labor recognise that corruption in the federal government is a serious problem and that bold and urgent action must now be taken to combat it. After eight long years in office, the Liberals have failed to take any action to tackle corruption, leaving the Commonwealth the only Australian government without a body dedicated to tackling corruption by politicians and government officials.

An Albanese Labor government will put an end to the Morrison government's shameful inaction by establishing a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.

I say again; this Prime Minister's conduct has demonstrated the opposite of the qualities a Prime Minister must have. The opposite of character and leadership. The opposite of the acceptance of responsibility. The opposite of integrity. The opposite of accountability. These rorts and scandals that have come to light - and who knows what other disgraces we don't yet know about - are why the government has failed to deliver the national anti-corruption commission it promised way back in December 2018.

We're coming up for 1,000 days, on 8 September, from when Mr Morrison and his former Attorney-General promised to deliver that national anti-corruption commission, and we haven't seen it yet. These rorts and scandals that we do know about tell us why the Morrison government is so terrified of a national anti-corruption commission.

ENDS