Integrity commission: It’s time
The major parties want reform, and in the long run they should benefit
At least one good thing will come out of the May election, regardless of who wins: both sides of politics have committed to setting up an anti-corruption body, which should improve the accountability of public servants and politicians. Even the Coalition’s contentious, limited model for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission was described by one critic as “a step forward”, and represents a $100 million-plus investment in the investigation of corruption over the next four years. Even better would be Labor’s model for a National Integrity Commission: though not yet fleshed out, it is along the lines of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, which can hold public hearings. Either way, a dedicated anti-corruption body at the federal level cannot come soon enough after a string of scandals in the last term of parliament, and with polling today showing that two-thirds of Australians now have low or very low trust in the federal parliament.
Ensuring higher standards of integrity among federal politicians could be the salve for the cynicism that has driven voters away from the Coalition and Labor over recent decades. It is worth pondering whether an incipient drift back to the major parties – suggested as a potential defining theme of this election in analysis [$] of this morning’s Newspoll [$] – might accelerate if the next government, of whichever persuasion, was to really embrace reform in this area, and set up an integrity commission with bite. If the major parties were smart, they would do it out of sheer self-interest. Most probably, it will take pressure from the Greens and other reform-minded crossbenchers, such as the departed Cathy McGowan, who introduced the private members bill that forced the government’s hand.
The Coalition’s model for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission was announced in December. In a short public consultation in January the government took 78 submissions, and has received the report of an expert panel led by former NSW crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen (who was investigated by ICAC), former AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, and WA public sector commissioner Mal Wauchope. A spokesperson said that Attorney-General Christian Porter has received advice from the expert panel on the drafting process, and that the next step is the drafting of legislation that would be completed after the election.
Labor’s shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, today said that the Coalition’s “National Integrity Commission is the kind of model you announce when you don’t want a National Integrity Commission”, adding that, “only Labor can be trusted to legislate for a National Integrity Commission with teeth within 12 months of the election”. Labor has not released a detailed model but a year ago outlined seven design principles, including that its body will take complaints from the public and whistleblowers, and will have the investigative powers of a standing royal commission and the discretion to hold public hearings.
Perhaps this election will indeed prove the turning point, where trust and confidence in the federal parliament begin to rise again after decades of decline, and trust in the established parties along with it. That would go against one of the prevailing narratives of this election, that independents are a threat, particularly in conservative-held seats from Warringah to Wentworth, Indi to Flinders to Kooyong – to name only the electorates where the former PM’s son, Alex Turnbull, is backing [$] candidates. It is quite possible that the Coalition will hold or regain those five seats, and the rise of independents will prove a chimera.
Today’s poll for The Australia Institute shows that 80 per cent of Australians support the establishment of a national integrity commission, and support crosses voters of all parties – support among One Nation voters was highest of all at 89 per cent. It is not so surprising: a lack of trust in the system and a desire to lodge a protest vote are two sides of the same coin.
“WikiLeaks contributed something profound to journalism: a 21st century tool to get around the increasing state surveillance of journalists’ interactions with their sources. By putting an encrypted gap between source and media, the WikiLeaks model removed the opportunity for surveillance. It’s a model that has now been adopted by many investigative journalists and major media organisations.”
Advance Australia national director Gerard Benedet tries to explain away a video of its satirical superhero gyrating and rubbing itself up against a poster of independent candidate for Warringah Zali Steggall, who slammed it as sexualised and inappropriate.
The minimum amount of unpaid entitlements that Clive Palmer owes to the former workers at Queensland Nickel, according the special purpose liquidator appointed to recoup taxpayer funds from the collapsed venture. After three years, Palmer has promised to repay the entitlements. More than $66 million has been paid out by the Commonwealth.
“Health, aged care and disability services alone are expected to cost $21 billion higher per year in a decade’s time. This is not the time for a tax cut ‘auction’. In the recent past, we have seen how eight successive income tax cuts created pressure for harsh cutbacks in essential services and social security payments in the 2014 budget.”
“And then we got where we were going. Assigned via VCE reading list: Remembering Babylon, David Malouf. An Australian book about Australian settlement by an Australian author. And here, of course, is where I’ve been going. This sleek, slim book – readable in an afternoon – was good. Not a whiff of affirmative action. It shook our snobberies: here was a very-much-alive half-Lebanese writer (from provincial Brisbane, no less) producing English-language writing of the very first order. (We spoke like this.)”
“According to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, real Aussies drive utes, with a spare SUV to take the family camping at the weekend. Oink oink, vroom vroom! Bill Shorten and his ilk just don’t cut it – as Mathias Cormann might say, Shorten is just a girlie man. Revheads rule OK! Malcolm Turnbull tactfully described ScoMo’s rant as ‘peak crazy’, which it was. But perhaps even worse, it was pig (grunt) ignorant.”
“‘[T]he department actually put refugee applications in a drawer and failed to look at them for over 12 months,’ [Asher Hirsch from the Refugee Council of Australia] says. ‘So rather than have additional checks on the applications, the department just simply froze applications from people that arrived by boat or other refugees. We think this was a deliberate attempt to try to deny refugees their right to citizenship as a further deterrent or further punishment.’”
Win a double pass to
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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?
At least one good thing will come out of the May election, regardless of who wins: both sides of politics have committed to setting up an anti-corruption body, which should improve the accountability of public servants and politicians. Even the Coalition’s contentious, limited model for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission was described by one critic as “a step forward”, and represents a $100 million-plus investment in the investigation of corruption over the next four years. Even better would be Labor’s model for a National Integrity Commission: though not yet fleshed out, it is along the lines of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, which can hold public hearings. Either way, a dedicated anti-corruption body at the federal level...