SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
TASMANIA TALKS WITH MIKE O’LOUGHLIN
WEDNESDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2021
SUBJECT: National Anti-Corruption Commission.
MIKE O’LOUGHLIN: Federal Labor Candidate for Bass Ross Hart and Federal Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus are hosting a virtual town hall meeting this evening, discussing Labor's proposed anti-corruption commission. So joining me now to tell us all about it, is Mark Dreyfus. Mark, good morning, welcome to Tasmania Talks.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning Mike. Great to be with you.
O'LOUGHLIN: Tell us about this town hall meeting and obviously via zoom. Wouldn't it be nice if you could actually be in person but..
DREYFUS: It would be so much better if I could be there in person. Like most people in the parts of Australia in the lockdown, which includes me in Melbourne, we're all heartily sick of it and I miss being able to be in an actual town hall and talking to people live. But if we can't do that, and we can't right at the moment, a virtual town hall is the next best thing, and I'm looking forward to seeing my former colleague, the former Member for Bass, and now our candidate again for this role, virtually, with, I hope, hundreds of other people listening.
O'LOUGHLIN: What about for those that aren't really tech savvy is there an in-person event taking place at all?
DREYFUS: No, no, it's entirely virtual. It's a virtual Town Hall. Ross will be in Launceston and I'll be there should be people, I hope, from all over the electorate of Bass, and anyone else that's interested, watching on and asking questions, because that's what you can do in a virtual town hall.
O'LOUGHLIN: Now, tell us about the anti-corruption commission that Labor is proposing.
DREYFUS: We are committed to a national anti-corruption commission which would be strong and independent and be able to investigate serious and systemic corruption in the federal government. Every state and territory, Mike, already has an anti-corruption commission...
DREYFUS: .. and we think it's long past time that there was an anti-corruption commission at the federal level.
O'LOUGHLIN: Well what about the Commonwealth Integrity Commission?
DREYFUS: Well, that's the name that Mr Morrison has given his long promised, but undelivered, anti-corruption commission. He and his former Attorney-General, Christian Porter, stood up in December 2018 - seems like a very long time ago - and said that they would be creating a national anti-corruption commission. They haven't. We recently marked 1000 days since they made that promise and they need to get on with it. But sadly, the model that they've put forward and called a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, it's barely worth calling it a watchdog. It would not be able to fully investigate allegations of corruption. It would have to wait, if a member of the public saw an MP being given a bag of cash by someone who was wanting a particular government decision - the member of the public might be shocked by this - under their model wouldn't be able to even report it directly.
O'LOUGHLIN: Which is absolutely ludicrous Mark. I mean, I think we can all agree with you on that one. We talk of Christian Porter, we know he just came along there and put the bag down and look there's an awful lot in there, I don't know where it came from.
DREYFUS: Interesting that you should mention that. He's just received, by some reports, up to a million dollars to help him with some legal case that he abandoned. He won't say who gave him that money, and under their model if their model already existed, it wouldn't be able to investigate unless the government decided that it could. Now, you can immediately see that that's not independent, and not powerful, and wouldn't fit the bill for doing what we wanted to do, which is to have an independent body that can look at serious and systemic corruption.
O'LOUGHLIN: And you use the word independent. That is important, to have a national anti-corruption commission established as independent. I mean you can't emphasise that enough.
DREYFUS: And many of the state and territory bodies - we've already got eight of these in Australia because both territories and the six states have all got one. Many of them have got the word independent in their title. It's a very key feature on these anti-corruption commissions that they are independent of government, that they can receive allegations from whatever source, including anonymous complaints, and investigate them, and if they think it's in the public interest that the investigation go on, that they go on with it.
O'LOUGHLIN: What do you see as wrong with the current system that is out there at the moment? We have the state systems, I believe, are working well. But obviously we don't see much or hear much in the, obviously the Morrison Government well, that's really non-existent.
DREYFUS: There's a gap at the federal level.
DREYFUS: And we want to fill that gap. I think that this government is not really interested in setting high standards in government. I'm sorry to say that, but they never want anything investigated. When there are allegations of misconduct or potential corruption in their own government they just sweep it under the carpet. And I think that Australians, in very large numbers, want to see this anti-corruption commission created. People tell me all over Australia that they want to see a national anti-corruption commission, including people in Tasmania, because they look on at what they see reported about things like Sports Rorts, or the Car Park Rorts and say 'hang on, that should be able to be investigated' and at the moment, it can't be.
O'LOUGHLIN: Well, you said before, Members of Parliament, whistleblowers, complaints from the public, to make sure it's independent, but who will oversee it? There obviously has to be, what? A statutory bipartisan Joint Standing Committee of the Parliament? Will they oversee it? And how politically generated will they be?
DREYFUS: We certainly have that in mind that there would be a bipartisan Joint Standing Committee of the Parliament, and it would be, if you like, watching the watchers. It's really important who you to choose to be the commissioner or deputy commissioner of a body like this. We've seen from the experience of the states that, by and large, they've appointed retired judges or someone that's been a Director of Public Prosecutions, someone who's occupied a very senior position and most of them have proved to be the right kind of person for this job.
O'LOUGHLIN: Well, let me do Ross Hart's invitation to the event he says quote "politicians shouldn't be above scrutiny. Public money, your money, should always be spent for public good." This really should go without saying, but let's face it, currently Labor, state Labor's in a heck of a mess and you might need to give them a Zoom meeting and say, 'well, we need to have a chat here about the president is now no longer the president of the Labor Party. We've had issues with a member that's sitting that people say shouldn't be there. I mean there's all sorts of issues already in Labor here in the state.
DREYFUS: These anti-corruption commissions apply across the board. I can't comment on particular things in Tasmania.
O'LOUGHLIN: Oh you can!
DREYFUS: But what I can tell you is we've got great candidates in Tasmania. Ross Hart in Bass, Chris Lynch in Braddon, and my colleagues Julie Collins and Brian Mitchell who are serving members. I'm looking forward to campaigning with them at the upcoming federal election, and I'm hoping that Labor people in Tasmania are focused on the upcoming federal election.
O'LOUGHLIN: Well, we know that he has to have one by, what is it? May 21st. So are we thinking March? So an Albanese Government obviously needs to get in for this is to be implemented, is that right?
DREYFUS: Yes, and we are completely committed to introducing a national anti-corruption commission that will be powerful and independent and will be able to tackle serious and systemic corruption when allegations are made. The public needs to see that there's somewhere they can go, make a complaint, and know that it will be properly investigated.
O'LOUGHLIN: We don't hear of all of the corruption in the federal government over, not just recent years, when it goes back it's not just Liberal it's Labor as well. That's why I tend to think this is important. The fact that it was 2018 it was first put out there that there might be an anti-corruption commission, well a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. I agree there should be something but why hasn't this been put to the Morrison Government now, and say right, we need this now, upgrade. Here's it is, go for it. Labor will back you.
DREYFUS: We've put it loud and clear. We've said that the model they put forward is not adequate. The crossbenches in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have made exactly the same point. It's a very rare situation that I've held a joint press conference with the whole of the Senate crossbench but we did that last year to make the point to Mr Morrison that we're ready to back a proper anti-corruption commission, one that is strong and independent. The model he's put forward doesn't fit the bill. He hasn't actually brought it to the Parliament at all and you'd have to think - I've heard the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General on the radio yesterday, just refusing to commit to even bringing legislation to the Parliament. So, I'm not holding my breath for Mr Morrison to do it. I don't think he's serious. He doesn't really want to do this because he doesn't really want there to be an independent commission that can look at the activities of his government or any other government.
O'LOUGHLIN: Will it have the power to hold public hearings? Because the public need to be aware.
DREYFUS: We think this is another important feature and a deficiency of Mr Morrison's model. He doesn't want this commission to be able to hold public hearings. I say that is very important that it has the discretion - not that it has every hearing in public - but that it has the discretion to hold some here. I think it's a really important feature because it builds confidence and shows the public that their allegations are investigated that they will be examined, and it shows something of the activities of the commission, if it, from time to time holds hearings in public.
O'LOUGHLIN: And what about findings that could constitute criminal conduct?
DREYFUS: What happens then - and this is the way all of these commissions work, they're not courts, they're not making, themselves, findings of criminal conduct or finding people guilty - if one of these anti-corruption commissions thinks that there is a criminal charge to be laid they refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police for further investigation. They will decide, in the ordinary criminal justice system, whether or not charges are to be laid and a trial is to be had. There's a really important distinction to be made between the criminal justice system, which charges people with criminal offences and sends them to trial, and what these ant-corruption commissions do, which is to investigate serious and systemic corruption. Not all corruption will necessarily be a criminal offence, but all corruption is certainly going to be below the standard that we expect of our MPs and ministers. That's why you have these anti-corruption commissions - it's to set standards, to enforce standards, to get proper conduct from our MPs and ministers.
O'LOUGHLIN: One of Ross's quotes "eight long years of rorts and dodgy deals. I'm sick of the cover ups and cozy deals.".
DREYFUS: Well I agree with him. And there's plenty to point to. Just recently you could look at the Sports Rorts, you could look at Car Park Rorts. Look at the forgery out of the current serving cabinet minister Angus Taylor's office where he used a forged document to attack the Lord Mayor of Sydney, never properly investigated, he's gone on to be promoted. You could look at the payment of 10 times the value of a piece of land, paid to a Liberal donor out at the Western Sydney Airport. The list goes on and on of things that have come to light. And we can see, we can all see that something has gone wrong but no investigation or no proper investigation has taken place. It's just been swept under the carpet.
O'LOUGHLIN: Would you say that would be the same as the State Labor Government then? Swept under the carpet so that we don't hear any more about it? I mean I know you don't want to weigh in, but I think you should.
DREYFUS: Political parties, Tasmanian State Labor, Tasmanian State Liberal, Federal Labor, Federal Liberal should be supporting anti-corruption commissions as a really important mechanism to increase the standard of behaviour for their governments.
O'LOUGHLIN: Nice sideswipe Mark! That's good.
DREYFUS: I'm trying to tell you that this needs to apply across the board, should be supported by all political parties, because all of us should be governing in the interest of all Australians and governing to a high standard. It's something to aim for. Having those anti-corruption commissions helps us achieve that aim.
O'LOUGHLIN: Look, I do agree that there needs to be an anti-corruption commission. There's no doubt about that at all, so give us the details of the Town Hall tonight, what time etc if you don't mind.
DREYFUS: It's 6:30, and that's the only detail I can give you because Ross has organised. What we'll do is we'll ring through after I've hung up on this call. If you're prepared to broadcast the details that will be excellent. And I can give you more details as to how you log on to this virtual town hall at 6:30 tonight.
O'LOUGHLIN: All right, and also the full details of the Labor proposal by the way, an anti-corruption fact sheet, you can get all that or just go to alp.org.au. There's an awful lot of reading to get through. But if you want wish to find out more. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus I wish you the best for your Zoom holiday in Tasmania.
DREYFUS: Thank you very much. Thanks Mike, thanks for having me on.