National Integrity Commission Bill 2013

I was listening to Senator Wright, and I find it a remarkable contribution to say that somehow the issues surrounding the Australian Wheat Board and the oil-for-food scandal were not properly investigated.

There were numerous inquiries. There was a royal commission into that particular scandal, and that royal commission actually recommended that 12 people should be subject to criminal proceedings. Those criminal charges did not end up being laid, but I am not exactly sure what Senator Wright is suggesting. It seems to me she is suggesting that somehow we should be double-guessing and questioning the judgement of the various directors of public prosecutions in our state and federal jurisdictions—because they are the ones who decide whether to proceed with criminal charges. I do not believe that it should be up to us as politicians or members of the executive government. I do not believe that Senator Wright actually would agree with this position—for us to direct DPPs to lay particular criminal charges. It is a ridiculous suggestion from Senator Wright that somehow the executive government should be held accountable for the DPP not proceeding with criminal charges. I do not know the specifics of the case, but I do have some trust and confidence in the various law enforcement agencies in our country and their record of integrity and independence. In our system it is up to their judgement on whether criminal proceedings should proceed, and obviously in this instance they did not decide that.

There was a lack of detailed argument from Senator Wright for the establishment of such a serious body here in Australia and a lack of any examples of corrupt behaviour—none in her speech. I listened to most of it. It was all about innuendo, potentially people doing this and that in dark rooms, but gave no actual example of corruption. They want to establish a whole new body in our Commonwealth jurisdiction, despite the fact there are already bodies that look at this. It indicates to me that this is just another stunt from the Greens. It is another stunt from the Greens to put on this piece of legislation. They know it is not going to get passed; it is another stunt for them to gain some kind of media attention. They are becoming the masters of stunts in this chamber. They are the 'Captain Risky' of this chamber. Those ads that are running at the moment are quite humorous. I cannot remember the insurance company they are promoting, and I probably should not say it in the chamber to promote them.

They are the 'Captain Risky' of Australian politics right now. They are just doing stunts all the time for no particular purpose and no actual gain for our country or the people who live here. It is simply about getting exposure for themselves and their own political purposes. That is not how I think this chamber should be run, and I do not think that is how we should bring things into this chamber.

I also want to make the point that I do not think the Greens are having a conscience vote on this bill that they have brought forward. I do not think they are giving their members a conscience vote on this bill. That is another bill that the Greens will not be having a conscience vote on. They want to say that all other political parties should have conscience votes on things, but they do not apply that principle to themselves. The other day Senator Di Natale came into this place and argued that we should ban sniffer dogs, that we should get rid of sniffer dogs. According to the Greens, sniffer dogs are apparently a great threat to the personal liberty of people in this country. I do not think they are having a conscience vote on that position either. I do not think the Greens are having a conscience vote on sniffer dogs. I reckon there might be some Green senators who actually support sniffer dogs. I think there might be some more reasonable Green senators. Senator Ludlam might support sniffer dogs. I think Senator Whish-Wilson is quite reasonable. He would probably support sniffer dogs. But the Greens do not have a conscience vote on that position either. It is all Stalinist democratic socialism for the Greens all day every day.

Senator Ludlam:  "Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I would ask you to draw Senator Canavan's remarks to the question that is before the chair and maybe put to him why he seems keen to talk about anything at all except the bill that is in front of us on corruption and parliamentary entitlements."

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  "There is no point of order. That is a debating point."

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I actually think sniffer dogs are a very important part of our anticorruption framework in this country. I will expand later in this speech about how we have a multitiered, multipronged approach to anticorruption. Sniffer dogs are some of the most important law enforcement officers we have in this country, and I strongly want to put on the record my defence for sniffer dogs, despite the Greens wanting to abolish their positions and lose sniffer dogs jobs all around the country.

The other point I want to make here is that the Greens come into this place and want to make all these innuendos and suggestions about other people and other political parties, yet they do not hold a mirror to their own actions on these matters. It has been mentioned in this debate previously but it is worth repeating—and I think the Australian people would be interested to know—that the largest donation in Australian political history went to the Greens political party. Mr Graeme Wood gave a very large donation to the Greens political party a few years ago. I do not want to make any suggestion that that influenced the Greens but, given that they have raised innuendoes about our political party, I think it is important to put on the record here in this chamber that at the same time, or a very similar time, that donation was made to the Greens political party, they were in this chamber moving motions with the authority of their leader at the time, former Senator Bob Brown, in support of policies which benefited Mr Graeme Wood.

I have no evidence that there was any form of corrupt behaviour, but at least I am upfront with that. The Greens come in here and want to make allegations and slurs against other senators and other political parties without any evidence and then say, 'All these political parties are terrible and corrupt.' That is a hypocritical approach by the Greens, because it is the kind of behaviour they have engaged in themselves, but of course do not want to talk about that at the time that they raise innuendoes about others. This whole debate on this bill is based on innuendo. It is based on no evidence whatsoever. There has been no evidence provided to the chamber.

This bill has been presented after a long MPI debate we had late last year, and in that MPI debate there was no evidence presented that there is any kind of corruption occurring on a large scale or in a systematic way at the federal government level. Indeed, the actual evidence that does exist shows that we have a very enviable record on corruption in Australia. Transparency International has done an international comparison on corruption in different countries, and Australia ranks nine out of 177 countries on that scale. It is a record that we should be proud of. That does not mean that we are perfect and we cannot do more to ensure that corruption does not occur, but we are by no means a country that is behind the race on this issue.

Another report that confirms this statistic is a World Economic Forum Global competitiveness index report that was done recently. They surveyed businesses across the world in different countries and asked them what the biggest issues facing them were in those countries and what the barriers were for them doing business. This report covers a range of issues, not just corruption. It is worth noting that in Australia Australian businesses rate corruption as the equal last issue facing them in their business and doing business in Australia. Of course, that is not the case in some other countries, unfortunately. But in our country corruption is not a major issue facing business—and, again, that is something we should be proud of.

We are ranked nine out of 177. There are other countries that are slightly ahead of us. We are in a group of countries that are lucky enough not to have the scourge of corruption that infiltrate the wider society. Other countries, like us, also do not have anticorruption bodies like the Greens want to establish. Similar countries to us, like the United States and Canada, have not established anticorruption bodies, and they too rank very highly on these corruption indices. So there is simply no correlation between having a lack of corruption in a country—an economy and a business sector free of corrupt activities—and having a federal anticorruption body. One does not necessarily lead to the other. That is another indication that there has been no evidence provided here.

Before we establish new bureaucracies or new government agencies to deal with a matter it should be incumbent on any of us, whether a political party or individual senators, proposing such a bureaucracy to bring forth evidence as to why they want to establish that body. That evidence has not been established at all. There is simply nothing here from the Greens political party that shows there are corrupt activities at the federal government level. I do not know if this bill has been costed. It probably has not, given the Greens. I think Ken Henry once said that there is not a supercomputer big enough to be able to cost the Greens' policies. He is probably right.

We should all make sure we produce evidence before we want to spend more public money and divert more attention in the Commonwealth government bureaucracy, and the Greens completely fail to do that time and time again. It is also the case that when the Greens bring this matter forward they do not actually—

Senator Ludlam:  "Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Canavan maybe unwittingly, but at least uncaringly, has misled the chamber. The proposal was costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office at $90 million, and I ask you to draw that to the attention of the hapless senator."

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT:  "Thank you, Senator Ludlam. That is a debating point, so I would give the call back to Senator Canavan."

I thank Senator Ludlam for bringing that to my attention. I did say I was not sure if it was costed, so I do not believe I have misled the Senate at all. But I do appreciate his bringing that figure of $90 million to my attention. As I have said earlier, they have not produced any evidence of corruption, but they want to spend $90 million on a problem that does not exist. It shows and confirms the approach of the Greens towards broader economic issues and towards the public debate. They have no concern for the spending of public money and they are quite happy to make a proposal costing Australian taxpayers millions of dollars when they have brought no evidence in to suggest that it is an issue, and they know that it has no chance of passing here today. They do not try to argue anything—they do not go around to us all and say, 'Do you want to vote for this? It might be a good idea.' They do not do any of that. They do not work with other political parties and senators to try to convince them; all they do is come into this chamber and put forward stunts. It is not for this chamber. It is not for getting legislation through and effective policies implemented. For them it is all for exposure and political purposes, and it is all about the stunt. It is all about the stunt with the Greens.

Again, as I was going to say before I was interrupted, not only do the Greens present no evidence for this body to be implemented, they then go on and ignore the fact that we actually have a variety of agencies in place in Australia to deal with anti-corruption. Indeed, we have one primary body whose task is to put a check on corruption in Australia—the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. It is charged specifically with investigating corruption allegations, and has been in existence for some years. Indeed, last year its investigations led to the arrest of an Australian Federal Police officer for allegations of corruption. While we rank highly on corruption relative to other countries there is no doubt that sometimes, unfortunately, it does occur and we should of course have appropriate law enforcement agencies looking at these issues and enforcing the law when the law is breached. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity is the primary body, but other bodies also assist in this task, including the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Border Force and the Australian Federal Police themselves.

This government has sought to strengthen the resources available in this field and to these bodies. The Australian government has made an extra million dollars available to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to help its own activities. Personally, I think that is a much more responsible approach to this issue than picking up $90 million from the air. I am not exactly sure what this $90 million will be used for; it will be a massive bureaucracy, no doubt. But there is no clear issue with the way corruption is handled at a federal level, and it is good that the government is continuing to make sure it is well-resourced, because it is a very important area. The government has also announced Task Force Pharos, which is looking particularly at the issues of corruption in the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. There have been a number of issues raised there in the last few years and, again, it is right and proper that something specific has been established here to investigate.

With the time available to me I want to move to the broader issues of establishing an anti-corruption body like the one the Greens want to establish. It is not just that this would create a bureaucracy and cost money, it is that the kind of body the Greens want to establish will, and does, at state government levels restrict individual liberties. I believe that at times it is appropriate for liberties to be restricted where there is appropriate public policy concern, but I note that generally the Greens are not on that side. Generally, when issues restricting individual liberties come forward in this chamber—and they have a number of times in the past year—the Greens oppose those changes. We have passed legislation in the past year that has restricted liberties to help try to protect our country against terrorist activities. I believe they have been appropriate changes to the law, and I note the Labor Party's support for those changes—they are serious issues.

We should seriously consider any time we seek to restrict individual liberty but, generally speaking—and certainly particularly speaking on these issues in the past year—the Greens have opposed those changes because they see it as a breach of human rights to restrict individual liberty. It is well within their right to hold those positions, but I note here that they do not then outline why and make a case for why liberties should be restricted here in this instance. Also, there is no case being made in human rights law or in philosophy about why it would be right and proper to restrict liberties in this case. These bodies have very specific powers at the state level. ICAC and, in my state, the Crime and Corruption Commission, have the power to force people to give evidence and that, traditionally, has been something that has been protected in common law and in other similar countries in constitutions.

We do not have what is colloquially known as 'taking the fifth' in this country, but in the United States they have a constitution in their Bill of Rights of protection against being forced to give evidence, particularly where you would incriminate yourself. But we do have a tradition in English common law that this is not permissible; that the powers that are given to bodies like ICAC and the CCC are akin to star chambers.

'Star chambers' is a colloquial term from the Middle Ages, when the kings of England would establish chambers to force people to reveal whether or not they had committed the great sin of being a Catholic. These chambers were originally established to force witnesses to divulge whether they were papists and believed in the Pope in Rome and not in the Church of England. Over time, English common law ruled that it was not right and proper to force individuals to provide evidence because people are put in a corner when forced to provide evidence to a court of law or to some chamber or in this case to a corruption body. A person either has to speak the truth and, if they do incriminate themselves, they obviously face the sanction of that particular court of law or they do not give evidence. If they do not give evidence, they are subject to perjury under these bodies. I do not think it is right and proper to force individuals in that case—or in all circumstances.

As I said earlier, sometimes it may be right and proper to restrict liberties. At a state government level they have decided to establish these bodies. They do restrict individual liberties. They do help to get to the root of corruption at certain times, but it is something that needs to be balanced by any responsible government before it is introduced. It needs to be considered at least and the Greens have not even considered these issues in their promotion of this bill. That is a great failing in my view of this particular proposal. We need to seriously consider whether it is right and proper at the federal government level to establish a commission that does restrict individual liberty against the potential benefits of rooting out corruption.

Evidence that corruption is a major issue has not been provided. Therefore, I do not think it is right and proper to go against the hundreds of years of tradition in our legal system that protects individuals against giving evidence that might incriminate a person. On this point, I would like to conclude with some issues in my state. The Crime and Corruption Commission in my state was established after the Fitzgerald inquiry, which exposed serious corruption in Queensland, but what is not commonly known is that the Fitzgerald inquiry did not recommend the establishment of what was then called the Crime and Misconduct Commission for this precise reason—that it would be restrictive of individual liberties and, in their view, was not a necessary response to the issues that the Fitzgerald inquiry uncovered.

There was then a Liberal and National government in Queensland. It did not agree with that recommendation and established the Crime and Misconduct Commission. The Queensland government debated and considered it and, given the serious corruption exposed, thought it was an appropriate response to those activities. I make the point that before we would implement something similar here in the federal sphere, we would want to have that evidence, that exposure of some serious and systematic corruption. That simply has not happened and the Greens have simply not brought that forward and therefore this bill should be opposed by this chamber.

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