Mark Dreyfus MP

Member for Isaacs
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The Importance Of Integrity In Government

27 August 2020

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




27 AUGUST 2020

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

Unfortunately, that list of scandals also shows Australians why the Prime Minister and his colleagues continue to do all they can to delay establishing such a body.

While the Government did eventually announce, begrudgingly and belatedly, a proposed model for an integrity body, it was rightly and universally derided by integrity experts, lawyers and academics across Australia.

That was about three years ago. Where is that legislation? Where even is that draft legislation?

The Morrison Government’s proposed corruption body is worse than worthless: it is a sham, a political ploy, another marketing announcement and smokescreen from this government behind which corruption in politics would be allowed to continue unchecked.

Scandals such as:

  • the industrial scale and blatantly unlawful diversion of taxpayers’ money into the Liberal Party’s re-election campaign in the Sports Rorts Affair;
  • the use of a forged document by the Minister for Emissions Reduction;
  • the dubious dealings of the Minister for Home Affairs in relation to the au pairs;
  • the refusal of Senator Cash to cooperate with an AFP investigation into an unlawful tip off from within her own office; and
  • the Member for Fadden’s innumerable conflicts of interests and run-ins with basic standards of integrity.

And that’s not close to a full list.

The sheer number of corruption matters arising from within this government is disturbing enough. But even more disturbing has been this government’s pathetic response. Because in every case the Prime Minister has reacted by doing everything within his power – and some things outside his power – to cover that corruption up.

And now we have a new scandal that extends all the way to the Assistant Treasurer, and to the Member for Menzies.

As stated by the Government’s Special Minister of State, the law requires that “Electorate Officers … are employed to assist the Senator or Member to carry out duties as a Member of Parliament, and not for party political purposes.”

But as 60 Minutes and Nine Newspapers have revealed with evidence from multiple sources, taxpayer-funded electorate officers were employed within the offices of both the Assistant Treasurer and the Member for Menzies exclusively for party political purposes. Even worse than that, these factional players were hired at taxpayer expense for the reprehensible activity of branch-stacking.

And it’s clear from the evidence we have seen to date that the Assistant Treasurer was aware of, and endorsed, this clear abuse of taxpayer resources.

How is that this Prime Minister, who sends debt collectors after vulnerable and innocent Australians under his illegal Robodebt scheme, can continue to support as the Assistant Treasurer a person who has, according to news reports, been caught red-handed misusing public money?

As former counsel to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption Geoffrey Watson SC declared: "I very much doubt that Sukkar can or should remain a minister of the Crown. A minister is a position of real power and thus real trust and you cannot have it in the hands of people who abuse it."

This latest scandal has set another clear test for the Prime Minister. Will he follow the standard set by the Leader of the Opposition and act decisively against senior figures in his own party? Or will he try to sweep this scandal under the carpet too? Will he clean it up, or cover it up?

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister once again failed this basic test of integrity and responsibility.

It is unsurprising because responsibility is something this Prime Minister runs from at every turn. We saw it when the Prime Minister jetted off to Hawaii on a secret holiday while Australia burned. We saw it this week again as he tried to pretend that aged care wasn’t really a Commonwealth responsibility.