SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC ILLAWARRA MORNINGS
TUESDAY, 12 APRIL 2022
SUBJECTS: Visit to Illawarra; National Anti-Corruption Commission.
NICK RHEINBERGER: The Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is coming to town today and I had a pretty long chat with him this morning, mostly around the establishment of a National Anti- Corruption Commission, which Labor is promising to do, and they say is a broken promise from Scott Morrison. First of all, here's Mark Dreyfus telling us about his visit today.
DREYFUS: I'm coming into the Illawarra to meet with Alison Byrnes, Labor candidate for Cunningham and we're going to the Illawarra Legal Centre down in Warrawong.
RHEINBERGER: And what's happening there?
DREYFUS: I like to meet with Community Legal Centres because I've got a very, very long-standing interest, going right back to when I was the Attorney-General in the legal assistance sector. I've watched with concern about underfunding of the legal assistance sector. And it's very important to me to meet with people who work in Community Legal Centres and see how their work is going, seeing what the unmet legal need is, seeing how they are helping, and I know they are helping but how much more help they would like to provide in their community.
RHEINBERGER: Have you got any specific policies regarding such things as Community Legal Centres or legal aid in Australia?
DREYFUS: We're going to have to have a long look at the unmet legal need. We keep getting told about it. When we get into government, we're going to have to, if we can win the election, of course, we're going to have to examine the relationship between Community Legal Centres, Aboriginal Legal Centres, Legal Aid Commissions and assess how Australians are being served with legal assistance, with assistance when they go to court, with assistance with legal advice.
RHEINBERGER: You've been pretty staunch in your criticism of the Federal Government's failure to introduce the federal integrity commission. What would Labor do if it won power?
DREYFUS: We have a very long-standing commitment to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission and that's what we will do if we are elected to office at the May 21st election. The Commonwealth is the only Australian jurisdiction that does not have an anti-corruption commission. Every state and territory has one. Mr Morrison promised at the last election that he would establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission and he hasn't done it and I think it's obvious to all Australians why he hasn't done it. He is running a government that is riddled with corruption. He's running a government that has got rorts coming out of its ears. He doesn't want any of that examined, and that's why he's broken that promise and has not established an anti-corruption commission. We will. It will be a powerful one with teeth.
RHEINBERGER: What evidence do you have that the Morrison Government is riddled with corruption?
DREYFUS: I think you've only got to look at the rorts in the grant programs. That is corrupt activity Nick. When you've got a program of government expenditure that is directed not to need and not to merits of a particular community program, then, of course, it's corrupt. When you're making decisions that are based on your party priorities on which seats you fund depends on whether or not you think you're going to win that seat. That's corrupt activity, and I think we need to call it out as being corrupt.
RHEINBERGER: But isn't that the same as it ever was? We have bureaucrats suggesting ways we should spend money. I mean, we had the Ken Henry Review suggesting the ways the taxation system should be adjusted in Australia that was largely ignored. Isn't this just the way politics is done? Is that actually corrupt behaviour?
DREYFUS: The Morrison Government has made this into an art form. The Morrison Government has had programs, many of them announcements at the last election, where money was promised without any guidelines, money was promised without any rules. And we learned after the election because of work done by the Auditor-General that it was directed by coloured spreadsheets in the Prime Minister's office. That's not the way things should be done and it's certainly not the way things have always been done. This is something that the Morrison Government has introduced to us to the highest levels of Australian Government. Think about the car park rorts where dozens and dozens of car parks were promised to Liberal-held seats, community car parks in Sydney and Melbourne. Almost none of them have been built. There were no guidelines. That wasn't assessed on the merits of any of these projects. Think about the Sports Rorts where it was simply directed to particular seats and without regard to the merits of the particular proposal. I think Australians are sick of this Nick. I think Australians want to see an end to this level of corruption and rotting in their Federal Government.
RHEINBERGER: Well, I would agree with you, but the question is, would the Labor Party operate any differently? I think there's an expectation that this is the way it's always been done. And we're always going to get pork barrelling. How would the Labor Party operate?
DREYFUS: That's the way Mr Morrison wants people to think and we've got to stop it. We've got to bring this to an end.
RHEINBERGER: What does that mean? What does that mean in practice? Does that mean that if you get an inquiry or you get some highly qualified public servants saying this is where we need to spend this money you will follow their advice to the letter?
DREYFUS: Of course, we've got to have rules. We've got to have something that can be checked later. We've got to have assessments and governments need to be prepared to explain if they're not going to take the advice of, as you say, highly qualified public servants. But can I make this point, Nick, if we've got an anti-corruption commission, it's not going to have regard to one party or another. It's going to have regard to proper standards in government and that's what we've seen at the state and territory level where anti-corruption commissions have now been in existence for many decades. And they apply to both parties. They don't have regard to whether it's the Liberal Government or a Labor Government. They go after corruption and that's why we should have an anti-corruption commission. Australia this year recorded its worst ever score on a key measure of corruption. It's called the Transparency International Corruption Index and Australia recorded a score of 73 out of 100. It's the worst result since this measure started and we've got to do something about it. That drop is, I think, largely due to our failure to establish an anti-corruption commission
RHEINBERGER: is the best model the New South Wales ICAC?
DREYFUS: What we're in a position to do is look at the best features of the six state and two territory anti-corruption commissions and look at where mistakes have been made because not all of these anti-corruption commissions are perfect. But there are very, very many good aspects of the New South Wales ICAC. It's the longest established of the anti-corruption commissions. And, as I say, we're going to make sure that the Commonwealth Anti-Corruption Commission when it's established, fix the best features of each of the state and territory commissions.
RHEINBERGER: Would that commission be looking not only at political decisions, but corruption within the federal public service?
DREYFUS: Of course. It needs to be broad based. It needs to look at all serious and systemic corruption in government, whether that be by a minister or a Member of Parliament, or a public servant, or a police officer or anyone else working for the Federal Government. It's got to look right across the board.
RHEINBERGER: Mark Dreyfus, there's certainly plenty to talk about and perhaps we'll meet again before the election is over for now. Thanks very much.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much. Looking forward to visiting the Illawarra.