Mark Dreyfus MP

Member for Isaacs
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(03) 9580 4651

ABC TV News States Of Corruption 9 November 2021

09 November 2021

SUBJECTS: National Anti-Corruption Commission; Victorian IBAC Inquiry; NSW ICAC Inquiry. 




SUBJECTS: National Anti-Corruption Commission; Victorian IBAC Inquiry; NSW ICAC Inquiry. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus joined me a little earlier. We did invite the Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, and Assistant Attorney-General, Amanda Stoker, to join the program. Both were unavailable. Mark Dreyfus, welcome. 


KARVELAS: The Centre for Public Integrity has said that this proposal that the Morrison Government has suggested for a federal ICAC would be the weakest watchdog in the country. I know that you've seized on that to say that this is not an acceptable model of an ICAC. Is this better than nothing though? Or if this is the proposal do you think it's worth opposing? 

DREYFUS: No, it is not better than nothing and I very much hope that the Government is listening to a number of their own backbenchers who've agreed with the Centre for Public Integrity that the model that was put forward by Mr Morrison and his former Attorney-General, Mr Porter, isn't good enough. We need a powerful, independent, National Anti-Corruption Commission. The model that Mr Morrison's put forward is not that. 

KARVELAS: Okay, so what are the key changes which have to be made to this proposal for it to pass the test for Labor to accept it? 

DREYFUS: There's a fundamental change which is that you cannot have two divisions. Mr Morrison seems to think it's okay to have one division that will look at law enforcement and police officers and another division that will look at ministers and MPs and senior public servants and they'd operate completely differently. The one in Mr Morrison's model for the MPs and ministers would be entirely in secret, wouldn't make public reports, wouldn't have public hearings and that's just not good enough. So the first thing... 

KARVELAS: One class. 

DREYFUS: ..get rid of the two divisions. Second thing, it must have the power to hold hearings in public. Third thing, it must be able to act on its own motion. It must be able to act when it receives allegations from members of the public. It must be able to act when it gets whistleblowing from inside government. At the moment Mr Morrison's model, it couldn't do any of those things. There would have to be a referral of an allegation by the Government. 

KARVELAS: The Government has been critical of, for instance, the New South Wales ICAC, saying it's destroyed careers over trivialities and that the way that it conducts his business is show trials. Barnaby Joyce now infamously calling it like a Spanish Inquisition. You've also said that there are some criticisms of, perhaps, the way some of these models work. How should that be fixed? And what are those criticisms that you have about the way that they operate? 

DREYFUS: I think there is an issue about what I'd call reputational damage. That there's the potential for these inquiries - it's an executive inquiry, it's not a court - to damage the reputations of people who are only witnesses. In other words, someone against whom no allegation has been made at all, but they get smeared. This has happened. People who've appeared before the NSW ICAC to assist in an inquiry have been the subject of shocking media smearing. I think you could possibly adopt some procedures to do something about that.  

KARVELAS: What sort of procedures would help? 

DREYFUS: Requiring the Commission to state often, and publicly, that someone who is just there as a witness is not the subject of the inquiry, that no allegations are made against them. A requirement that the Commission do that. I think similarly for people against whom an allegation has been made, who have been exonerated after an inquiry, we need to look for some formal process that requires the Commission, in those circumstances, to make a formal statement of exoneration. I think that would help. I do think that that reputational damage is something that is behind a lot of the public concerns that have been expressed about ICAC.  

KARVELAS: We've got, currently, two very high profile investigations - one in the ICAC, one IBAC in Victoria, looking at your political party, the Victorian Labor Party and branch stacking. Out of those two models which ones which one do you think is preferable? 

DREYFUS: They're actually pretty similar. And what a wonderful demonstration, Patricia, of first of all independence. One of these anti-corruption commissions, the New South Wales one, is looking at the current government or former Premier in the current government. The one in Victoria is looking at a former minister in the current government. Independent. But I think what we need to get is actually just to have a strong and independent federal commission. The fact of these inquiries helps build confidence in government in Victoria, New South Wales. We sorely need that at the federal level. That's what I really want. I think we've got an advantage here at the federal level, we can pick the best of each of the already existing eight anti-corruption commissions. Every state and territory has already got one. Some of them have been in operation for more than three decades. We're in a happy position - probably the only good thing I can think of about coming last - we're in the happy position of being able to pick the best out of each of the models that have now been tried, and defects identified, at state and territory level.  

KARVELAS: Does Labor want to make this an election issue? Would you prefer not to vote for a Government model that you clearly are saying is unsatisfactory, and campaign for your model for a national integrity commission? 

DREYFUS: In government we are going to create a powerful and independent anti-corruption commission. 

KARVELAS: And if this one is legislated before the election will you seek to reform it? 

DREYFUS: Where is it? I'm moved to say. 

KARVELAS: There is nothing yet, but if it is to happen before the election, are you saying that you just don't think that's plausible now? 

DREYFUS: It won't be established before the next election. That's already clear and Attorney's-General Department officials said that in Senate Estimates. It was promised by Mr Morrison and his former Attorney-General, Mr Porter, on the 13th of December 2018. It feels like ancient history to say that and we haven't seen legislation introduced into the Parliament. We've got two sitting weeks remaining this year. It will certainly have to go to a Senate inquiry because all complex legislation introduced to the Australian Parliament is sent, appropriately, to a Senate Inquiry. Let's say the election is at the last possible time, May - we don't have a sitting schedule for next year - it's very difficult to see how this could pass the Parliament ahead of the next election. And it is disgraceful. It's Mr Morrison's disgrace. Yet another example of something that he's promised and not delivered on that we haven't even now got an anti-corruption commission.  

KARVELAS: If he's able to table the legislation in the last sitting fortnight would that deal with the issue? Do you think that that would be an attempt by the Morrison Government to show that it's serious about this?  

DREYFUS: Well let's see. Let's see if Mr Morrison has paid attention to the public complaints from some of his backbenchers who've said that this, this, and this, aspect of it needs to be improved. Let's see if he's listened to the hundreds and hundreds of submissions that were sent to Mr Porter, most of which he chose not to make public, but were sent to me and I know from those submissions how critical the Australian community is of the currently proposed model for Mr Morrison. It's not good enough. It's more a lap dog than a watchdog to use a phrase that Senator Jacqui Lambie used in respect of Mr Morrison's model. It's not good enough. If he does bring forward legislation in the next two sitting weeks, of course, we'll look at it. And of course, we'll engage with it. And of course, we'll debate it. Because if it's anything like the model that Mr Morrison's had up until now, it won't be good enough. 

KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus, thanks for joining us. 

DREYFUS: Thanks very much Patricia. 

KARVELAS: And that was Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. And we did request an interview for tonight's special looking at federal ICACs and State ICACs with the Attorney-General and the Assistant Attorney-General to ask about the Government's proposal but both were unavailable.