Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Labor turns over new leaf on corruption
Bill Shorten wants to put last year’s scandals behind him

At least Bill Shorten announced something substantial at the National Press Club today: Labor will support a National Integrity Commission, a federal anti-corruption body with all the powers of a royal commission and the widest possible remit to investigate systemic and serious corruption.

The pressure was always going to be on the Opposition leader from the get-go this year, after the loss of the Bennelong by-election in December and own goals like the belated resignation of Senator Sam Dastyari. There’s also the prospect of a string of tricky by-elections in Labor seats over citizenship, and factional “buffoonery” in Victoria undermining the stability pact that supports Shorten’s leadership.

Malcolm Turnbull seems to have a new spring in his step, too. The Coalition remains behind in the polls, and everyone assumes Turnbull will soon pass the “30 negative Newspolls in a row” mark around April … but what if he doesn’t?

Given all that, Shorten had no alternative but to get on the front foot. His decision to establish a National Integrity Commission, if Labor wins the next election, comes not before time. It follows a Senate inquiry last year, which made a mealy-mouthed recommendation that the government “gives careful consideration to establishing” such an agency. In dissenting reports, the Greens (who introduced their first bill for a national anti-corruption watchdog in 2010), NXT and Derryn Hinch all gave it unequivocal support.

The National Integrity Commission is a sure-fire vote-winner, with the most recent poll released by the Australia Institute showing 88 per cent of voters support it.

From Labor’s Martin Ferguson, who went straight from being resources minister into the welcoming arms of the fossil fuel industry, or the Liberal’s Andrew Robb, who went from the trade portfolio into the pay of Chinese developer Landbridge, or the Nationals Barnaby Joyce, who was forced to hand back a $40,000 personal “prize” awarded to him by Gina Rinehart, to the Dastyari scandal, or even Bronwyn Bishop’s infamous taxpayer-funded helicopter ride in 2015, there can no longer be any doubt that a federal anti-corruption agency is needed. The Australia Institute recently calculated that increased perception of corruption here since 2012, as measured by Transparency International, could translate to a four per cent hit to growth, worth roughly $72 billion.

Shorten made all the right noises today, saying the commission would look at everything from government agencies to politicians to judges and even the governor-general, and have the power to hold public hearings. The commissioner would be so powerful that she (yes that’s a vote for Kerry Schott, the hero of the Australian Water Holdings scandal) would be limited to one fixed five-year term. Appointments would be bipartisan. The initial budget is apparently $60 million over the first four years – it would be interesting to compare that with the budget of state anti-corruption agencies.

Shorten invited the government to work with Labor on establishing the National Integrity Commission sooner, and the prime minister has not ruled it out.

The NIC was part of a “making Australia better” agenda, which some pundits took as a Shorten variation on the Trump theme. The Opposition leader referred more than once to the “left-behind society”, ordinary working Australians whose wages have stagnated, whose kids are locked out of the housing market, who are battling to pay the bills. That’s the easy bit, however. Whenever he was asked for policy specifics, he hedged, promising to flesh the agenda out through the course of the year. Assuming he gets the chance.


The PM is making no apology [$] over documents revealed by ABC News. They showed that in 2013 the then immigration minister, Scott Morrison, asked ASIO to delay security checks, in an effort to ensure that up to 700 asylum seekers entitled to permanent protection got three-year temporary protection visas instead.

in case you missed it

The Guardian has launched a major series on environmental protection in Australia, starting with this opener, which concludes we have gone backwards since the ’80s.

Innovation and Science Australia chair Bill Ferris, releasing a 2030 innovation blueprint today, is on a mission to make Australia the healthiest nation on earth.

Fairfax Media reports that a decline in industrial action, now “almost extinct”, is linked to low wages growth.

Commentators are split on the appointment of Matt Comyn as CEO of the Commonwealth Bank. The Australian’s John Durie describes him as “an insider at a time the bank needed an outsider” [$], while Fairfax Media’s Adele Ferguson writes that he is the “best placed” person to stop future scandals. Share market analysts are split too [$].


by Shane Danielsen
Warwick Thornton’s ‘Sweet Country’
The Indigenous Australian filmmaker redefines the Western

by Jenny Valentish
Pharos at Mona: a labyrinth of sensory delights
The Hobart museum’s new wing will mess with your senses, in the most wonderful way

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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