Bill's Speeches

NATIONAL INTEGRITY COMMISSION - CANBERRA - MONDAY, 26 NOVEMBER 2018

***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***

I rise to agree with this resolution, that this resolution from the Senate be agreed to.
 
Despite the relatively few members of the Government attending in this chamber at this time, this is a significant development, the agreement to this resolution. 

It is a win for Labor, it is a win for the crossbenchers and more importantly than that, this is a win for the people of Australia. 

Today this parliament, in the House of Representatives, has for the first time endorsed the call for a National Integrity Commission. That is, the Government has now moved its position.

It was in January this year that I announced that a Labor Government would establish a National Integrity Commission.
 
Not because I believe that this parliament has a particular problem with corruption, because if any Members were aware of it, they would report it.
 
Indeed the Members and Senators that I have had the privilege to get to know over the past ten years, from all points of view, are dedicated people here to make a difference.
 
But I and Labor, have been advocating for a National Integrity Commission because we believe it is essential to rebuild trust in our public institutions.

People in Australia are concerned that politics seems to be about politicians looking after themselves and not the people. 

We have been advocating a National Integrity Commission to rebuild some of that lost trust that the Australian people have in their democratic system. 

We need a National Integrity Commission to restore some faith in our politics and our democracy.
 
To make it clear that there's not one rule for the politicians and the Commonwealth Government on one hand, and another rule for everybody else.
 
I welcome today the Liberal and National Government reversing their previous opposition to a national anti-corruption commission.
 
Now of course, Australians do have the right to ask how sincerely and strongly the Prime Minister believes in a National Integrity Commission, or if he is just focused on protecting his job.
 
This should not have taken so long. 

Clearly that there are so few Members of the Government here, shows the reluctance that the Government has to endorse an anti-corruption commission but nonetheless, they have got to the right conclusion.
But it should not have taken the fear of losing a vote on the floor of the Parliament for the Government to be dragged - fingernails on the concrete into the chamber to endorse an anti-corruption commission, a National Integrity Commission.
 
But it is better to be late than not to be at all supporting an anti-corruption commission. 
We now have an opportunity for the whole parliament to work together to help design the best possible National Integrity Commission. 
 
Labor has said that the National Integrity Commission will be based upon the following seven design principals: 

For the Commission to operate as an independent statutory body, with sufficient resources to ensure it's able to carry out its functions regardless of the government of the day.
 
Secondly, the Commission would be constituted by one Commissioner and two Deputy Commissioners, each of whom would serve for a single, fixed, five-year term.

  • Further, the Commission will have sufficiently broad jurisdiction and freedom of action to operate as a standing Royal Commission into serious and systemic corruption by Commonwealth parliamentarians or their staff, public servants, statutory office holders, the Commonwealth judiciary and the Governor-General.

The Commission should be granted the investigative powers of a Royal Commission, including search and surveillance powers, the power to compel witnesses and subpoena documents, and carry out its own investigations with warrant oversight by the Federal Court. 
 
Further, while the presumption will be that the hearings will be held in private, the Commission will have discretion to hold hearings in public where it determines it is in the public interest to do so. 
 
Labor would continue to consult on appropriate threshold for such hearings in conjunction with the Government and indeed the crossbench. 
 
The Commission should only be empowered to make findings of fact. Any findings that should constitute criminal conduct should be referred to the AFP or the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions. 
 
A bipartisan Joint Standing Committee of Parliament would be established to oversee the Commission, and have the power to require the Commission to provide information about its work.
 
This committee should also be responsible for appointing the commissioners and the Commission would also report to Parliament on its performance annually. 
 
The time has come, in fact it is long past the hour for this Parliament to establish a National Integrity Commission.
 
What we seek to do is make a powerful statement about restoring faith in our democracy and it will be so much stronger and much more meaningful if the whole Parliament has a say in the design.
 
This has to be about better politics, not more partisanship. 
 
It is why I wrote to the current Prime Minister last week, proposing that as a first step the Attorney-General and the Shadow Attorney-General sit down with members of the crossbench to talk about the design principles, including those that I've outlined.
 
I regret to say that the former Member for Wentworth, when he was Prime Minister rejected our offer. I do acknowledge that the current Prime Minister for all sorts of political reasons, has nonetheless arrived at the correct conclusion. 
 
Labor has been willing to co-operate in the national interest, it’s now time for the Government to do the same.
 
It is important that whilst the Government in its urgent need to seek to avoid a vote which it might lose, has drawn the right conclusion on establishing an anti-corruption commission. It is important that the Government does not therefore cynically sit back and do nothing further on this matter.  
 
It is important now that we get on and do the job. 
 
If Labor was to win the next election we will do the job in the manner which we've outlined, but there is no need to wait to the next election to do it. 
 
What we need to do is help restore and rebuild some faith and trust in our democracy.
 
We should treat this mission with the same seriousness that we treat national security and on the same co-operative, bipartisan basis. 
 
The people of Australia know this matters, they want better from their parliament, they want more from their Government and they  deserve much more from the political system.  
 
We understand today is a very significant day. 
 
We understand that because the Government has entered minority status and the Member for Wentworth is an independent, that the Government face the very real prospect that despite its wishes and its opposition to a National Integrity Commission, the resolution in the Senate would be supported in the House of Representatives. 
 
I am pleased that the Government, faced with defeat on the floor of the House of Representatives, has chosen the wiser and more pragmatic path of stopping its opposition to a National Integrity Commission.
 
But having said that, we should now not see this change, this reversal of position, this change of heart from the Government, as being an excuse to dismiss this matter, vote for it, and then hope that it never comes back. 
 
I make the offer to the Government, the Attorney-General and Shadow Attorney-General in consultation with the crossbench, using some of the design principles that we've outlined, and other principles as others may see fit to bring forward to the discussion - let us work together and get this done. 
 
But this is a very, very significant proposition and I move that the resolution of the Senate be agreed to. 


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