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Government's proposed anti-corruption body 'a post-modern joke'

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The Coalition has been dragging out the process of establishing an anti-corruption commission (Image by Dan Jensen)

A recent press conference in Canberra has drawn criticism towards the Government over its unwillingness to establish an anti-corruption body. Investigations editor Ross Jones reports.

“Something like a post-modern joke.”

That is former High Court Judge Mary Gaudron QC’s opinion of the Government’s proposed National Integrity Commission.

Ms Gaudron was responding to a question from Bob Katter at a press conference titled Former Judges, Opposition, Crossbench, Federal Police, Academics, Civil Society, Majority of Australians: Establish a Federal Integrity Commission with Teeth.

The Australia Institute hosted the event, which featured 17 well-known characters, ranging from Pauline Hanson to Geoffrey Watson QC, in the Mural Hall of Parliament House on 1 December.

Do not be surprised if you are only dimly aware of it, if at all, because despite a reasonable contingent of media being present, only one mainstream print outlet, The Canberra Times, carried the story. No TV.

The Canberra Times reported:

An unlikely coalition of parliamentarians, former judges and police have appealed to members of the Morrison Government to cross the floor over the "flawed" proposal for a national integrity commission.

 

Former Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles and former NSW Supreme Court of Appeal judge Anthony Whealy joined MPs including Helen Haines, Andrew Wilkie, Rex Patrick, Rebekha Sharkie, Mark Dreyfus, Zali Steggall, Jacqui Lambie, Bob Katter and Pauline Hanson to criticise the Government's model of [an] anti-corruption watchdog.

Helen Haines, the independent member for Indi, told the audience:

Just last month, I put to the Parliament, the Australian Federal Integrity Commission bill, which essentially has set the benchmark for how we should implement an integrity commission that is fit for purpose, that can restore the trust that the Australian people are desperately seeking in this parliament. It's a framework that can work.

 

We have this group of people here now coming to you and saying that the bill that the Attorney has put before us, that is now out for consultation, that's going to be six months at the very least away from being presented to the House needs to meet this fundamental standard. It needs to meet the principles that the Justice has just outlined for you.

 

We have lost patience with a process that doesn't deliver what we need. And the people of Australia are demanding of all of us to bring to the Parliament something that works, something that restores trust to parliament. And we won't rest until we get the bill that we need.

Helen Haines proposed bill is here.

Senator Jacqui Lambie had the last word:

What are you hiding? And I don't know where the Prime Minister has been hiding, but millions of Australians want this, they've had a gutful of it. There is no trust left in politics. And while you're doing that, you're doing that to us and making us look bad.

 

Quite frankly, I find it disgusting. Fair dinkum, mate, come on! We need this. We need it. Australians need it and we need to build trust back into this institution. Quite frankly, like I said, if you're not corrupt and you've done nothing wrong, Mr Morrison, then bring on a corruption watchdog with teeth. Because you've got nothing else left. Bring it on, there's two ready to go, mate. Bring it on.

 

But we don't know what yours, the best thing you could do with yours is put it in the toilet and use it as loo paper, because that's about all it's worth.

The full transcript of the press event, including the participant’s names and comments, makes for interesting reading.

The Australia Institute also released results of polling they conducted in the electorates of Robertson in NSW (Liberal), Bass in Tasmania (the Liberal’s most marginal seat) and Mallee in Victoria (Nationals).

According to the Australia Institute:

Key results, Robertson:

  • 2PP: Liberal Party 50%, Labor Party 50%;
  • nine in ten voters in Robertson (92%) support the establishment of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission; and
  • eight in ten voters (83%) say such a body should have the power to hold public hearings. 87% say it should have the power to receive and act on whistle-blower complaints.

Key results, Bass:

  • 2PP: Liberal Party 54%, Labor Party 46%;
  • eight in ten voters in Bass (82%) support the establishment of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission; and
  • eight in ten voters (79%) say such a body should have the power to hold public hearings. 85% say it should have the power to receive and act on whistle-blower complaints.

Key results, Mallee:

  • 2PP: National Party 65%, Labor Party 35%;
  • nine in ten voters in Mallee (90%) support the establishment of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission; and
  • eight in ten voters (79%) say such a body should have the power to hold public hearings. 85% say it should have the power to receive and act on whistle-blower complaints.

Frighteningly, these numbers show voters will back the Coalition despite it having no credible anti-corruption policies but very visible corruption problems.

As long as the Coalition holds government, there will be no meaningful anti-corruption body.

Andrew Wilkie summed up the spirit of the press conference when he said:

...the Government has 77 seats in a 150 member House of Representatives. With the speaker out, the Government has effectively one seat in the House of Representatives.

 

I take this opportunity to call to Members of the Government, to Members of the Liberal Party and the National Party to put your community ahead of your party. Put the public interest ahead of your party and to speak out and to say you will support a stronger model and support either Helen Haines or the Bill that has passed the Senate.

 

There's only got to be a couple of members cross the floor and the Government is defeated in the House of Representatives. And I'm hard pressed to think of a more important issue and one that would warrant at least a couple of Members of the Government crossing the floor.

Buckley's.

Investigations editor Ross Jones is a licensed private enquiry agent and the author of 'Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker'. You can follow Ross on Twitter @RPZJones.

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