SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
MONDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: National Integrity Commission; Australia Post.
LEIGH SALES: The Federal Government today released a draft plan for a federal anti-corruption body. It's now up for consultation. The aim is for there to be more scrutiny and accountability of federal politicians and public servants, but critics say what's proposed is a toothless tiger. We invited the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, for an interview this evening. He was unavailable. Instead, I'm joined by his Labor counterpart, the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus. Mark Dreyfus, what are Labor's immediate thoughts on what's proposed?
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That it shouldn't have taken this long for the Government to get on with the job of establishing a National Integrity Commission in Australia. Mr Morrison and Mr Porter stood up at a press conference in December 2018 - almost two years ago – and promised a National Integrity Commission. We learned in Senate Estimates about 10 days ago that the bill has been ready since December 23 2019, and finally it's been released. But sadly, it appears that the Government is pursuing the sham model it outlined back in December 2018.
SALES: You say it shouldn't have taken so long, but Labor didn't manage to do anything in this space for the entire time that it was in government?
DREYFUS: That was seven years ago, Leigh. And in those seven years, we've seen scandal after scandal.
SALES: But my point is you were in government for six years and you didn't do anything.
DREYFUS: And I'm saying that, at the time, there wasn't the pressure that there is now, there wasn't the reason that there is now, and I would suggest that trust in government has dropped to such low levels that it is vital that we have a National Integrity Commission.
SALES: You said there wasn't the pressure - and I don't mean - sorry, to be going at you - but just because you've raised it, there's always scandals. There was the HSU Kathy Jackson scandal, Craig Thomson scandal - there's always been grounds for it. Can I ask, in terms of this proposal - would it be able to investigate matters like I just named? Would it be able to investigate the $30 million paid for the land in Western Sydney that was only worth $3 million? Sports Rorts - would it be able to cover all those kinds of things?
DREYFUS: Sadly, not unless the Government itself decided that it would refer the matter for investigation. One of the huge deficiencies in the model that Mr Porter unveiled today is that the commission won't be able to self-start. It'll have to wait for the Government to refer a matter of corruption to it. There's other deficiencies - it wouldn't be able to investigate by means of a public hearing - something that the Australian public, I think, looks to as a hallmark of commissions of inquiry, as a hallmark of integrity commissions. It wants to see them operating in public.
SALES: How friendly - or otherwise - would this body be to whistleblowers?
DREYFUS: Well, not very friendly. It doesn't seem that there's going to be an extension of the protections that we put in place. In fact, I was the minister in May of 2013 when we passed the whistleblower protection scheme that now exists at the Commonwealth level. It needs to be improved. It needs to be extended. And there are many deficiencies in this scheme. It was described, when the Prime Minister put it forward, as the kind of integrity commission you have when you don't want to have an integrity commission. And sadly, the Government seems to have not listened.
SALES: Do you accept that a balance needs to be struck to protect the rights of people who would come before such a body, that their privacy is respected, for example? Because the mere suggestion that you're being investigated for corruption can be extremely damaging.
DREYFUS: Absolutely. And I think, though, that you don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, which is what Christian Porter's done today by saying that an investigation by this integrity commission of senior government officials or government ministers won't be able to take place in public at all. What you need to do is put safeguards in place. The bill that was put forward just last week by Helen Haines, the Independent MP, has got the kind of safeguards I think we should be looking at to make sure that there isn't the reputational damage that you've talked about.
SALES: Can I ask about another workplace matter - the resignation today of Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate? There's no suggestion that she's done anything corrupt, yet she was very publicly shamed in Parliament. Has her treatment been appropriate?
DREYFUS: I think that there's much broader issues about Australia Post than just what's happened to the CEO. But you saw her saying that she was humiliated by the Prime Minister. That's a matter for the Prime Minister's judgment that's called into question there. I don't think it's a proper analogy, Leigh, with anything to do with integrity commissions.
DREYFUS: Integrity commissions are formal processes governed by legislation. Here, we've got arguably a misjudgement by the Prime Minister, which is his own doing, and it's not a matter that's governed by legislation or any formal structures at all.
SALES: No, but generally - and as I say, I raise it as a separate issue - does Labor think that she should have gone?
DREYFUS: Well, I think that there are much broader issues. She is not the issue. What we need to look at is the fact that there's a nest of Liberals sitting there as the board. What we've got to look at is the fact that this government put regulations in place which have delivered less timely and less reliable postal services to the people of Australia. And I think that's what ordinary people are much more concerned about than anything to do with the CEO.
SALES: Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Leigh.