SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC TV AFTERNOON BRIEFING
TUESDAY, 5 OCTOBER 2021
SUBJECT: National Anti-Corruption Commission.
JANE NORMAN: Well legislation for a federal anti-corruption body might be introduced to Parliament before the end of the year. Several Liberal and National MPs have expressed their concern about the operations of the New South Wales anti-corruption body, following the resignation of Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Amanda Stoker, says the Federal Government is planning a different system for the Commonwealth.
AMANDA STOKER: We are really keen to get this done. And to get it done in a way that made 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.
NORMAN: To get Labor's view on this I'm joined now by Mark Dreyfus, the Shadow, Attorney-General. Thanks for your time today.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you Jane.
NORMAN: Has Labor been given any advice about when to expect this bill? We're now being told it could be the final two weeks of the sitting year. Is there any chance that this will even pass before the next election?
DREYFUS: I listened to that interview that the Assistant Minister, Senator Stoker, gave this morning. She refused to even commit to introducing a bill to the Parliament this year, and it's consistent with everything we've seen from this government. They are not serious about this. They promised to do it three years ago and they haven't done it. Mr Morrison stood up in December 2018 with the then Attorney-General, Mr Porter, and promised an anti-corruption commission. We haven't seen that anti-corruption commission and now they are running away from it at 1000 miles an hour. You heard Mr Joyce yesterday criticising the very idea of an anti-corruption commission and I didn't hear anything from Senator Stoker this morning that suggested that they are serious.
NORMAN: We haven't really got anything on the table as yet. We have seen a sort of a draft exposure from the former Attorney-General Christian Porter. That was criticised as being too narrow in its scope, but what do you understand at this stage is the Government's proposal for a national anti-corruption commission?
DREYFUS: What we understand is the proposal that has been described by the Centre for Public Integrity as the weakest model in the country. We've actually got a situation here where we can take the best of the eight state and territory anti-corruption commissions that have already been created over the last several decades. Instead, what this Morrison Government's coming forward with is a proposal that wouldn't be independent, wouldn't be powerful enough, wouldn't be able to look at all of the kinds of things that it should be able to look at and could only act, we're told, if a matter concerning a federal minister was referred to it by the Government itself. So you can hardly imagine a less independent proposal than that. It's a wholly inadequate model and if they do bring something forward we will be judging it against the design principles that we've published because Labor is very clear on this. We will establish a strong and independent anti-corruption commission if we are elected at the next election. I'm looking forward to doing just that.
NORMAN: Well, let's talk about some of this, of the scope and the proposals on the table. If you look at the New South Wales ICAC it is very public so, it has named Gladys Berejiklian as the subject of its inquiry. If you were to look at the South Australian model, well, their version wouldn't necessarily name Gladys Berejiklian unless, or until, a criminal charge was brought. Where's the right balance there in terms of being transparent, but at the same time not necessarily ending someone's career prematurely?
DREYFUS: Ms Berejiklian decided to end her career. Nothing in the legislation that establishes the New South Wales ICAC required her to resign, let alone leave Parliament, that's her choice. So, let's get that clear. But on the question of public, there's got to be a discretion available to the anti-corruption commission to decide to hold at least some of its hearings in public if it thinks it is in the interests of public administration, in the public interest, for there to be public hearings. Most of the activities of the New South Wales ICAC are conducted in private. We know in the case of Ms Berejiklian that there have been very many private hearings already. We saw that when she went into the witness box last year to give evidence in the course of the investigation of the former member for Wagga Wagga, Mr Maguire, who's now left Parliament, of course. The extraordinary thing here is that people are suggesting that there should be nothing ever in public and that can't be right. In order to build confidence in the integrity of government, in order to build confidence in the anti-corruption commission itself, it's essential that from time to time the commission be able to hold hearings in public and that's the kind of model that we have in mind.
NORMAN: And then in terms of scope, Mark Dreyfus, there's obviously anything that could be criminal that could be investigated by a federal body or then there's maladministration. What kind of scope would you like to see a federal body take?
DREYFUS: We've said that the focus of the anti-corruption commission that we are going to establish will be serious and systemic corruption. That's a very carefully chosen description of what it should be investigating. Of course there have been problems of some of these commissions looking at matters which were too minor. That is not what the National Anti-Corruption Commission will be concerning itself with. The National Anti-Corruption Commission that Labor establishes will focus on serious and systemic corruption. It's going to be a matter for the commission to judge what is serious and systemic corruption, but we would be expecting it to focus on those matters and not be concerning itself with more minor matters.
NORMAN: And then this issue of course of retrospectivity. The Government is not proposing to allow any new body to look back at past or previous governments. This is an issue in which Labor isn't particularly happy with the Government. What do you say to critics who say that if you have a retrospective anti-corruption body then it's just a means to settle political scores?
DREYFUS: This anti-corruption commission that Labor will establish will focus on all political parties. It won't be making distinctions drawn on political lines. It will look at all potential serious and systemic corruption. But of course, the anti-corruption commission has to be able to go back into the past. Of course it has to look at accusations and allegations that are brought before it and if it decides that it is in the public interest that there be an investigation of those matters then, of course it should be able to look back into the past. I think it is an absurd suggestion that is being made, was made by Mr Porter, it's being made by Mr Morrison, apparently it's being pursued by the new Attorney-General and her Assistant Minister Senator Stoker. It's wrong. The commission has to be able to look into the past. It has to be able to decide about matters that potentially, even though they occurred in the past, are having a current effect on the government of Australia. So, no, there certainly should be the ability of the commission to go back into the past. It shouldn't be restricted to things that have occurred after the establishment of the commission.
NORMAN: All right, Mark Dreyfus, sadly run out of time, but thank you for joining the program today.
DREYFUS: Thank you for having me.
NORMAN: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.