SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
MIX 104.9 FM 360 WITH KATIE WOOLF
MONDAY, 11 OCTOBER 2021
SUBJECT: National Anti-Corruption Commission.
KATIE WOOLF: A looming federal election is not too far away, and joining us on the line is the Shadow Attorney-General for the Labor Party of course, Mark Dreyfus. Good morning to you, Mark.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Katie. Good to be with you and very sorry to hear the Cool Spot got broken into.
WOOLF: Yeah I know.
DREYFUS: I had a very enjoyable lunch there when I was last in Darwin.
WOOLF: It is such a lovely spot, and, you know, unfortunately not alone by the sounds of it last night. So, hopefully the police are able to apprehend those involved sooner rather than later. Now, Mark are you in Darwin at the moment?
DREYFUS: No, I don't think I'm able to come to Darwin at the moment. We're in lockdown here in Melbourne.
WOOLF: You're in Melbourne? Oh, you poor bugger. I wasn't sure exactly whether you were traveling around talking about some of Labor's proposals, but I thought I'd ask quickly. Now I know that. Obviously, a Federal Labor Government would indeed establish a "powerful, transparent, and independent, national anti-corruption commission", that is a pledge which is being made right now if indeed you are elected at the next Federal Election. Why do you reckon this is required?
DREYFUS: We think it's long overdue, Katie. Every state and territory has an anti-corruption commission and it's long past time that we have one at the federal level.
WOOLF: I guess for some people listening they'll be thinking if there is one at every state and territory level why do we need an overarching national one?
DREYFUS: Because the state ones and the territory ones can't look at the activities of the Federal Government. They can't look at Federal MPs or Federal ministers, and that's, I suppose, why you could say there's one in every state and territory. They are there to look at their own Parliaments, their own public services, and it's a gap at the federal level.
WOOLF: Is there particular behaviour, or are there particular things going on, that you are worried about and really sort of prompting this call?
DREYFUS: There sure are. There's an ever increasing list of scandals and cover-ups at the federal level that have really reinforced the urgent need for a powerful and independent national anti-corruption commission. Like the Sports Rorts or the Car Park Rorts of the Morrison Government, or even more recently the fact that the former Attorney-General, Christian Porter, thinks it's okay to get apparently up to a million dollars in donations towards his abandoned defamation case and not reveal who gave him those donations. If we had an anti-corruption commission, it could look into that.
WOOLF: So, if Labor is elected at the Federal Election, whenever that happens, how quickly would you commit to getting this national anti-corruption commission up and running?
DREYFUS: We'll bring legislation into the Parliament. We'll pass the legislation to establish the commission. We will have to find an appropriate person to be the commissioner for the commission and find some staff, but we'll be getting right down to it and establishing it as soon as we possibly can.
WOOLF: Do you have any worries about anything that's happening sort of, I know it's on a federal scale, but for us here in the Northern Territory that might need to be looked into?
DREYFUS: One of the things about setting up an anti-corruption commission is precisely because we don't know what's going on in a corruption sense. Corruption generally takes place in secret and you set up these independent commissions so people who hear something, people who know that there's something going on, know that there's also somewhere they can complain to that will look into it. And the experience of the state and territory anti-corruption commissions - some of them have been operating now for some decades - has, on balance, been a pretty good one. It's resulted in corruption being uncovered. It resulted, sadly, I should say, in some cases of Members of Parliament or Ministers, being charged with criminal offences and in some cases jailed. That's not anything to feel good about, but it is something to know that we've got these anti-corruption commissions now, and something can be done. That's why we want one at the Commonwealth level to fill the gap.
WOOLF: I know for us here in the Northern Territory it's not so long ago that our ICAC was established and at the time, when Ken Fleming QC was the ICAC Commissioner, he joined me in this very studio and spoke about the need for additional funding and just how many reports have been going through and the lack, I guess, of resources at the time. Would this be an expensive thing to set up? Has there been any costing done or do you anticipate just how much it might cost to get it up and running?
DREYFUS: To give you an idea, we think it's going to cost somewhere above $100 million over three years to set it up and get it running. We've got some guides from the state and territory commissions looking at what it costs to keep them running and you won't really know until it's been in operation for some years what's the right amount. One of the things we've tried to take account of in our model is we've provided for a Joint Standing Committee of the Parliament to oversee the anti-corruption commission. One of the purposes of doing that is to make sure that they can make sure that the government of the day continues to adequately fund the anti-corruption commission. Sadly, we've seen from the Morrison Government that they cut the funding of the Auditor-General at the Commonwealth level, I think, because they didn't like some of the reports that he was handing down. Now, we can't have that. We need to have these oversight bodies, these accountability bodies, properly funded at all times.
WOOLF: I know some people listening will be thinking more than $100 million over three years is an enormous amount of money, of Australian taxpayers dollars to spend. What would you say to those who feel that it could be a waste of money?
DREYFUS: I'd say to those people to have a look at the scale of expenditure at the Commonwealth level. Commonwealth budgets in recent years have been running at more than $400 billion a year and if we have to spend $30 or $40 million a year on an accountability body that makes sure that we don't have corruption in the spending of those billions and billions of dollars. I think that that's a small price to pay, and I think it's a price that we should be paying.
WOOLF: Well Mark, we really appreciate your time this morning. How are you guys going in Victoria at the moment?
DREYFUS: We are looking forward to the end of our lockdown Katie, desperately, and looking a bit enviously at New South Wales. These lockdowns shouldn't have been necessary. I'm sorry we didn't get the vaccinations organised, much, much earlier. Can I put in a plug for the Zoom Town Hall that my colleague Luke Gosling and I are holding this evening at 6pm, Darwin time? You can email Luke's electorate office, or you can go on his Facebook page.
WOOLF: And is that in relation to the anti-corruption commission?
DREYFUS: It is, and you can email Luke at either his electorate office [email protected] or you can go on his Facebook page.
WOOLF: Well Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, we really appreciate your time this morning.