Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP on the importance of integrity and consensus politics

30 November, 2020


I thank the member for Indi for putting the motion to the House. Consensus politics is vitally important to a functioning democracy. Yes, debate and disagreement are also a part of it, but we need to get beyond political point-scoring and party divisions. Martin Luther King Junior summed up the role of a leader well. He said that a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of the consensus. The role of a leader is to recognise the issues important to the population and to the national interest and mould the consensus for the good of the nation.

On so many issues and some of the most important in our times we've seen bitterly divided politics for far too long. This has driven stagnation on key issues, which is not in the national interest. The issues of a federal integrity commission and climate change are two of the primary examples where it is in the national interest to set a clear policy and take action. Over 80 per cent of Australians want clear policy direction and action on both of these issues, according to the Australia Institute. I suggest that, given a free vote, the majority of parliamentarians in this place would also like to vote for action on these issues.

Yet party divisions and an inability or unwillingness to achieve consensus have dragged our parliament into disrepute. We've not demonstrated leadership or ability to mould the consensus. Time and again it's been left to the crossbench to lead the charge on these important issues––to do the hard work, lead independent consultation, develop legislation and present it to the parliament for debate.

The Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill present a strong and well supported model for integrity. The need for this legislation was emphasised by the release of the Transparency International Australia report just today Australia's national integrity system: the blueprint for action. The report found that the corruption perception score for Australia has declined eight points since 2012. Correspondingly, in the last two years alone the percentage of Australians who think that corruption in government is a quite big or very big problem has increased by five per cent to 66 per cent. That's a large proportion of the population that has a strong belief that there is corruption in our government.

That is not being helped by the government's reaction to investigations, I suggest respectfully. Rather than increased transparency of grants, they've removed the concept of merit from the criteria upon which grants are provided. Similarly, the creation of a national cabinet in the place of COAG has further obfuscated the discussions and agreements made between federal, state and territory governments. We see an increasing of the veil of secrecy around government. Instead of increasing that secrecy, we need to look closely at the actions outlined in the blueprint to urgently address the issue of corruption and the absence of integrity in the country. Many of those actions are mirrored in the Australian federal integrity commission legislation presented by the member for Indi and referenced in the motion.

Similarly, the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020 presents a proven model for addressing the challenges of climate change, having been implemented in the UK and New Zealand and now tabled in Canada. This bill is up for inquiry by the House Committee on the Environment and Energy, and submissions are numerous and continue. My intent for this inquiry is an opportunity to build consensus around the need to have sensible legislation on climate change. It's well past due.

These bills, the climate change bill and the AFIC Bill, are aimed at bringing the parliament together around a non-partisan platform to address some of the most important challenges that we face today. The strength of the crossbench is that it lies in between the two major parties. I agree with the member for Mayo that it often feels like Switzerland. We can be the consensus builders. We listen to our constituents and to the Australian public more broadly and bring to the fore the issues that they care about most. We work with both sides to lead and shape a consensus. We do the hard yards to garner support and consult with the community.

While the government may be hesitant to adopt the exact legislation tabled by those of us on the crossbench, the consensus that we are able to build smooths the way for similar legislation to be implemented shortly thereafter. The pressure built by crossbenchers on these key issues of national importance is key to shaping consensus on significant issues and driving change. As a member of the crossbench, it's really important for the Prime Minister and the government to work with all members of parliament to ensure that leadership in government is on behalf of all Australians, to shape the consensus in the best interest of the nation.