NEWS: Zali Steggall MP calls for a federal integrity commission in Parliament

27 October, 2020


Another week in parliament and another call from the crossbench for a federal integrity commission, with the member for Indi doing what the major parties won't: placing a bill before the parliament to establish the Australian federal integrity commission, doing so with the unanimous support of the crossbench and the majority of Australians. Regular surveys show 80 per cent of Australians support the establishment of a federal corruption watchdog. All states and territories have an integrity commission. They have variances on how they operate, but in one way they are the same: they have investigated and revealed corruption and abuse-of-position scandals in all states on all sides of politics. From a lack of power pole maintenance in the West to Ultranet in Victoria, the Obeids in New South Wales and most recently the allegations regarding Daryl Maguire and the New South Wales ICAC.

But at a federal level there is no proper body to investigate serious allegations of abuse of position or power. The closest thing we do have is the Auditor-General's office, a body that is looking into scandals at the federal level, revealing damning reports, such as the sports rorts scandal and most recently the Leppington land sale. The Auditor-General is going above and beyond to investigate such matters with severely limited resources this year, slashed even further by the Morrison government. Many observers have suggested that this cut in funding is a direct result of it exposing certain scandals.

Despite the lack of a federal integrity commission, many scandals have been revealed, often by the media or from internal whistleblowers. To summarise just a few that have hit the media just in the last five years: $100 million in sports rorts; $80 million in water rights; $30 million in airport rights for the purchase of the land at Leppington; $440 million for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation after a meeting that they never even asked for; $60 million for Rupert Murdoch to promote women's sport, which was spent on second-grade rugby league games; the allegations of forged documents to attack a political enemy; the poisoned grassland scandal; and not to mention the use of taxpayer money to pay for salaries of staff and then stacking branches, which of course we have seen happen on both sides of politics. So it is a reminder that both major parties are guilty of questionable conduct and decision-making.

This week in the Senate estimates we've heard more and more examples of where a federal integrity commission is sorely needed—matters such as: the ASIC chair using taxpayer dollars to sponsor his personal accounting and the deputy chair using taxpayer dollars to pay his exorbitant rent; the questionable purchase of Cartier watches from staff at Australia Post; and, just today, here in this very place, we debated—or tried to debated—the matter of the $3.3 million payment to Shine Energy to conduct a feasibility study into the Collinsville coalmine, a payment that has serious question marks surrounding it. We cannot refer it to a federal integrity commission, and I'm pleased to hear it has been referred to the Auditor-General. I'll certainly look forward to that outcome. The reality is that a federal integrity commission would provide a forum for proper investigation and inquiry—an opportunity for wrongdoers to be exposed but also for those wrongly accused to be exonerated.

All sides of politics claim to support the need for a federal integrity commission and for cleaning up politics and making sure that the Australian people have a trust in government and politicians, but the Australian people have seen little action. The government promised to establish an integrity commission over two years ago, but it has repeatedly delayed, prioritising other legislation. I, like many other Australians, don't accept the excuse that the COVID pandemic caused the delay. I do not believe that extensive consultation would not have been possible. In the last six months, during COVID, the government has brought forward into parliament legislation ranging from easing restrictions on political donations, banning mobile phones in immigration detention and dramatically restructuring university fees. In fact, the pandemic has brought about a record amount of government spending and funding, which calls for more scrutiny. In the last few years there has been a disregard and carelessness to accountability and good governance that is dangerous and an insult to our communities. Other Australians are subject to rules and expectations in their duties and jobs. There is no reason that public servants, MPs, senators and their staff should not be held to the same standards. It's time to bring on the debate.