Crown saga prompts push for federal integrity body
Nine’s revelations prove Australia needs an anti-corruption agency with teeth
As the Crown Casino controversy spreads, calling into question the integrity of Australia’s border protections and the influence of powerful Chinese high rollers such as expelled billionaire Huang Xiangmo, we are no closer to understanding which members of parliament are alleged to have facilitated such apparently systematic corruption of Australia’s law enforcement regime. The referral of the allegations against Crown to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) may or may not result in an investigation, and any investigation it does result in won’t be able to examine politicians’ conduct, as Labor’s former candidate for Higgins and former Transparency International Australia chair Fiona McLeod confirmed on RN Breakfast this morning.
Australia needs a national integrity commission with teeth, immediately, and today federal parliamentary crossbenchers joined the Australia Institute to spell out that this means a body with the power to conduct public hearings and initiate its own investigations. As Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie said this morning, it also means resources – at least $100 million a year, more than double the federal government’s planned budget. Bernard Keane writes [$] in Crikey that ACLEI’s budget is around $11 million.
With a one-seat majority in the lower house, and needing the votes of four crossbenchers in the Senate to get anything through parliament, the Morrison government cannot afford to ignore today’s call for an anti-corruption body with teeth, which is backed by the Greens, Centre Alliance, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall, Andrew Wilkie and Senator Jacqui Lambie. A press conference in Canberra attended by the crossbenchers was fronted by former Victorian Supreme Court judge David Harper, a member of the Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee, who said that “without a federal integrity commission with teeth, public trust and confidence in our federal parliament will continue eroding”. Lambie said that the 46th parliament was “less than four weeks old and already we have seen four cases that would have been referred to a federal ICAC, and according to the government there’s nothing to see here? It’s disgraceful – we need to get the dirty money out of politics and a federal ICAC with teeth is the way to do it.”
The shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, who yesterday spoke against an open parliamentary inquiry into the Crown allegations, today called on the government to bring on the legislation for an integrity commission. He pointed out the inconsistency in rushing to debate the union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill while the government was “so allergic to ensuring integrity in their own ranks, they can’t even bring themselves to talk about an election commitment that they made, which was to bring a national integrity commission [to the parliament]”.
An ACLEI investigation will not be enough to address the public outrage and concern over Nine Media’s Crown Casino revelations – particularly insofar as it applies to the conduct of lawmakers themselves, who are supposed to act in the public interest. As is clear from the Nine reports, the fast-tracking of visas for high rollers is alleged to have been going on for years. An “express visa” was introduced in 2016 following Chinese president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive, after pressure from Crown shareholder James Packer, who said [$] in an interview: “Why should the visa requirements for a wealthy Chinese visitor wanting to come to Australia be any harder than the visa requirements for a wealthy American? We’re not in a Cold War anymore.”
Former Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg has so far refused to name the two ministers and MP who he alleges lobbied him to smooth over immigration checks for high rollers visiting Crown, but it would already seem that the networks of influence are entrenched. Multiple inquiries are underway at state level, and The Sydney Morning Herald today reports that Huang Xiangmo’s relationship with former NSW Labor Party boss Jamie Clements and former state MP Ernest Wong will be the focus of fresh NSW ICAC hearings next month. The story will not go away.
Meanwhile, Crown Resorts told the ASX that it cannot explain an 8 per cent fall in its share price this morning. Billionaire James Packer – who denies any knowledge or involvement in the allegations against Crown, as does Crown itself, and who has been reducing his involvement in the casino company over some years – must be having a tense week.
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Businesswoman and former City of Sydney councillor Kathryn Greiner, also wife of federal Liberal Party president Nick Greiner, calls for cultural change and gender quotas to support female MPs in response to fresh allegations of sexual assault by two former staffers.
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Labor leader Anthony Albanese tells caucus to get used to backing flawed legislation like yesterday’s child exploitation bill, which includes minimum mandatory sentencing, despite it being against party policy.
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“I understand that your preference would be for Facebook to remove all content that you believe constitutes misinformation – which in this instance means all content that discussed whether or not Labor intends to introduce a death tax – rather than demote it; however Facebook only removes content that violates our community standards. We do not agree that is our role to remove content that one side of a political debate considers to be false.”
“For a company that industry analysts estimate will spend upwards of AU$20 billion on content in 2019, Netflix is having a patchy year ... This means you need to venture deeper into Netflix’s vast server racks. The company’s engorged spending doesn’t just cover newly commissioned originals, it also picks up the international streaming rights to shows that previously debuted via other broadcasters. Easily the best thing I saw on Netflix in July was the just-added British comic drama Flowers.”
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“Whale migration is set to have a significant impact on the character of Australia’s cities over the next few years. This elusive breed of mammal, the VIP international gambler – or ‘whale’, as it is called in casino circles – is known to wager millions a night on games of baccarat or blackjack. No less than 12 huge projects aimed at ensnaring these players are being planned across ten Australian cities, with a total expenditure of more than $15 billion. Where do these whales come from?”
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?
As the Crown Casino controversy spreads, calling into question the integrity of Australia’s border protections and the influence of powerful Chinese high rollers such as expelled billionaire Huang Xiangmo, we are no closer to understanding which members of parliament are alleged to have facilitated such apparently systematic corruption of Australia’s law enforcement regime. The referral of the allegations against Crown to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) may or may not result in an investigation, and any investigation it does result in won’t be able to examine politicians’ conduct, as Labor’s former candidate for Higgins and former Transparency International Australia chair Fiona...