SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2021
SUBJECT: National Anti-Corruption Commission.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Centre for Public Integrity has slammed the Government's proposed anti-corruption agency as the weakest watchdog in the country, warning it would hide corruption, not expose it. But the Coalition and Labor have promised to establish an anti-corruption body, with the Government expecting to put legislation for its Commonwealth Integrity Commission before the Parliament this year.
AMANDA STOKER: We are really keen to get this done and to get it done in a way that makes sure we get all the advantages of having an integrity body and avoid the pitfalls of those bodies that I would suggest have become almost rogue in the way that they operate.
KARVELAS: That's Senator Amanda Stoker, the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General speaking to RN Breakfast yesterday. Labor says its version of an integrity commission called the NACC, will have the power to investigate past corrupt behaviour by politicians and public servants. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and our guest this morning. Welcome back to RN Breakfast.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Patricia. Thanks for having me.
KARVELAS: We heard from Senator Amanda Stoker, she says the Government's version of a federal anti-corruption body must avoid going rogue and turning into a star chamber like state-based versions have. What's Labor proposing? How different is your model?
DREYFUS: I heard that interview with the Assistant Minister yesterday, and it did not sound like an interview with a Commonwealth Minister who wants to introduce an anti-corruption commission. It sounded like the reverse. Senator Stoker refused to even commit in that interview with you yesterday to introducing legislation this year. If they do introduce legislation along the lines they've been talking about for the last three years - and bear in mind it's more than 1000 days since Mr Morrison stood up with his then Attorney-General, Christian Porter and promised an anti-corruption commission in this term - that's not going to happen. If they do it, it will be, as the Centre for Public Integrity has called it, the weakest watchdog in the country. By contrast Labor is going to introduce a strong, independent anti-corruption commission which will have all the powers of a standing Royal Commission.
KARVELAS: The Government's been adamant its version of a federal anti-corruption body won't be retrospective. It will only be able to investigate current allegations because giving such a body powers to look at historic allegations is too broad and too complex. Senator Amanda Stoker says retrospective powers should only be used sparingly and when those accused expect it. If the Government did budge on retrospectivity would you support their proposed body?
DREYFUS: No. Not if they proceed with the other limitations that they have put on their body. It wouldn't be able to act on its own motion, it wouldn't be able to act on allegations against federal ministers unless the Government itself decided to refer the allegations. So, retrospectivity is only one part of the problem. This is, as the Centre For Public Integrity has described it, this proposal from the Morrison Government would be the weakest watchdog in the country. Patricia, we know from looking at the eight state and territory existing commissions - every Australian jurisdiction except the Commonwealth has got an anti-corruption commission - we know what features they need. We are in a position of picking the best features of each of those state and territory anti-corruption commissions and making sure that the Commonwealth anti-corruption commission, which a Labor Government will introduce, is the best in the country, not the weakest in country which is where Mr Morrison's taking us.
KARVELAS: If you're just tuning in this is RN Breakfast and Mark Dreyfus, the Shadow Attorney-General, is my guest. When the New South Wales ICAC was established the first commissioner, Ian Temby, said it mustn't be used retrospectively to settle scores against political opponents, and he refused to look at allegations about a previous Labor Government. So why is retrospectivity so important?
DREYFUS: It's absolutely essential that a commission have the discretion to look into events that have occurred before its establishment. You can accept what Ian Temby said, that the purpose of an anti-corruption commission is not settling political scores. It's got to apply equally to Liberal, to Labor to any Member of Parliament, to any minister. It's there to investigate serious and systemic corruption, that's its purpose. But if there is an allegation that goes to conduct in recent years by a serving minister, of course, that should be investigated. If there's allegations that go to serious conduct by senior public servants who are still there in government, of course it should be able to look into the past. But it's got to be a matter for the commission itself to decide whether or not it's in the public interest for that investigation to take place. So I think what's happened is that Mr Morrison and his ministers have got themselves tangled up in some notion to do with the criminal law. And don't forget, this is not a court, we're not talking here about convicting people of criminal offences, that's a matter for the courts. Anti-corruption Commissions are different and their job is to investigate allegations that are made, looking for serious and systemic corruption. And if, as part of that investigation, the Commission comes across something that it thinks is in fact a criminal offence then that gets referred off to the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether or not someone should be charged. Unfortunately, Mr Morrison and his ministers have got tangled up in knots. Mr Porter's model that he outlined at one point said that it would only be looking at a new criminal offence of official corruption and that's why he didn't want retrospectivity. I think they've got themselves confused. They don't understand the way that this commission is meant to work, they haven't understood the way in which the anti-corruption commissions that already exist work and we saw Mr Morrison's confusion on full display yesterday talking about the presumption of innocence, which is another confusion on his part.
KARVELAS: Okay, let's go there because the Prime Minister did say, as you say, you've got to have processes that assume people are innocent before thought to be guilty. So how would federal legislation help guard against that?
DREYFUS: The same as every anti-corruption commission already existing in Australia does. No one suggests that before someone has been found guilty by a criminal court, by a judge and jury and convicted, that they are guilty, that's the end of the matter. What anti-corruption commissions do is investigate allegations. The Commonwealth commission that we're going to establish will investigate serious and systemic corruption and make findings about serious and systemic corruption. It might be that one of those findings is that the matter should be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions because it appears that a criminal offence may have been committed. But the commission won't be making that finding of guilt. Of course there's a presumption of innocence throughout, there is a presumption of innocence throughout our legal system, it applies to every anti-corruption commission. And frankly, Mr Morrison should try and actually work out in his own mind something about the way in which these actually operate instead of trying to confuse the public. It's got contempt, it's indifferent to corruption matters. We've seen this from Mr Morrison year after year and his effort yesterday was just more of the same.
KARVELAS: And now, Mark Dreyfus, you say that a future federal ICAC should better protect the reputation of witnesses than the New South Wales ICAC does. How would your proposal do that?
DREYFUS: I didn't say that Patricia. What I said was that there's been examples of smears of innocent people who've been simply assisting the commission with its inquiries, and when they're called as witnesses. Some media organisations have chosen to suggest, falsely, that those people who were merely appearing as witnesses were themselves, accused of some wrongdoing. It's a sort of guilt by association smear. I think that we could require the Commonwealth commission, when it's established, to use some procedures that would guard against that, perhaps by making regular statements that people assisting the commission with its inquiries are not accused of any wrongdoing.
KARVELAS: Would that settle it though, just making a statement saying that?
DREYFUS: I think it would help. It might be possible to provide for some kind of process like a statement of exoneration where someone who's actually been investigated but against whom the Commission's determined not to proceed, should be treated. Again, trying to remove the guilt by association, trying to remove the false reporting. It's important. All I have been getting out there is by pointing to some examples in the past where people have been simply assisting the commission with its inquiries, who have themselves been smeared, and we need to stop that.
KARVELAS: Your colleague Joel Fitzgibbon says the New South Wales ICAC is a Kangaroo Court. Do you agree with critics who say the New South Wales ICAC has gone rogue?
DREYFUS: I think Mr Fitzgibbon doesn't know what he's talking about. The use of that phrase Kangaroo Court shows in itself a misunderstanding of what these anti-corruption commissions do. They do not make findings of criminal guilt, they do not convict anyone, they are not courts. What they do is investigate in the same manner that a Royal Commission investigates. Their particular focus should be systemic and serious corruption.
KARVELAS: But has the New South Wales ICAC gone rogue?
DREYFUS: Absolutely not. We need to be supporting integrity commissions. We need to be supporting anti-corruption commissions and attacking the bodies that we have set up doesn't get us anywhere. It's a matter for governments to design the right features of anti-corruption commissions. Everybody who's interested in the integrity of public administration in this country should be supporting anti-corruption commissions. We absolutely need one now. At the federal level we've needed it for years and Mr Morrison should be ashamed of himself for the delay that we've seen. He promised that more than 1000 days ago. We still don't have one. And if you listened to Senator Amanda Stoker yesterday it'd be pretty clear that we're not going to get one from the Morrison Government.
KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus thanks for your time.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much Patricia.