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The Project 6 October 2021

06 October 2021

SUBJECT: National Anti-Corruption Commission.



SUBJECT: National Anti-Corruption Commission.

CARRIE BICKMORE: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has been critical of the Government's model and he joins us now. Mark, we know you're not a fan of it, but do you think it's fixable or do we need to throw it out and start all over again?

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think we need to start again. It's not good enough. It would be the weakest watchdog in the country is what the Centre for Public Integrity calls it, more of a lapdog than a watchdog, and I think we need to start again.

CARRIE BICKMORE: What would you propose as a better system Mark?

DREYFUS: I think we need a powerful, independent, national anti-corruption commission with all of the powers of a standing royal commission, that can act on its own motion, can act on complaints from anywhere in the country and fill the gap that we have at the national level. Every state and territory has got one of these anti-corruption commissions and we need to have one at the national level.

WALEED ALY: So, the example of what you're proposing is the New South Wales version, which seems to have the kind of powers you're talking about. The criticisms of it, though, they're not specious criticisms. Like there is something to them. The idea that it has on occasion ruined lives unnecessarily. The example that's often quoted, there is a former Liberal MP, Andrew Cornwell, who was forced to resign over an ICAC inquiry, spent heaps of money, $100,000s, and then was cleared four years later when the show just moves on, and no one pays any attention to it. Do you think that it's a valid criticism to say that ICAC has gone too far?

DREYFUS: I think we can all point to, in every state and territory, errors that have been made by these anti-corruption commissions. But that's not a reason for not having one. That's not a reason for throwing them out. It's the reason for getting the settings right. We've got a tremendous advantage at the national level. We can make sure that our anti-corruption commission is the best in the country by picking the best features of each state and territory commission and avoiding, I hope, some of the errors that have been made in the past.

ALY: Yes, I suppose it's about the settings though. Do you think New South Wales got the settings wrong?

DREYFUS: I think that there have been some criticisms and that's why there have been adjustments made in the more than three decades that ICAC has been in existence. I think that the settings are pretty much right. I think there's been some ridiculous criticisms made in recent days of the New South Wales ICAC, which is simply doing its job.

ALY: One of the interesting elements of this is that ICAC is there really, or any version of this, is there to give the public confidence in politicians and in the political system. Is there a danger, though, that it can do the opposite, and that ICAC may have done that, by, you know, getting rid of premiers that are widely respected, seen as competent, and people who have been of integrity? Seeing a Premier in New South Wales disappear over a bottle of wine, that actually what it does is erodes confidence in the political system unnecessarily?

DREYFUS: I think that all politicians and all commentators need to be very careful not to attack these anti-corruption commissions simply because they don't like what they've discovered, because they don't like outcomes. Bear in mind that the former Premier of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian resigned of her own volition. No one required her to resign. Nothing about the ICAC scheme required her to resign. So it's wrong. Those people that are blaming ICAC because Ms Berejiklian is no longer the Premier of New South Wales, it was her choice to resign. A quite different course of action was available to her. She could have simply stood aside or she could have decided not to stand aside at all and undergo the investigation that's now underway. We don't yet know the outcome of that inquiry.

BICKMORE: Right Mark, we'll have to leave it there. But thanks for your time tonight.

DREYFUS: Thank you very much.