Transcript: Former Judges, Opposition, Crossbench, Federal Police, Academics, Civil Society, Majority of Australians: Establish a Federal Integrity Commission with Teeth

E&OE TRANSCRIPT — PRESS CONFERENCE
12noon Tuesday, 1 December 2020
MURAL HALL, PARLIAMENT HOUSE

Attendees:
The Hon Anthony Whealy QC
– former Judge of the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal
The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC – former Judge of the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal
The Hon Mary Gaudron QC – former Judge of the High Court
Helen Haines MP – Independent Member for Indi
Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP – Shadow Attorney General
Rebekha Sharkie MP – Centre Alliance Member for Mayo
Andrew Wilkie MP – Independent Member for Clark
Bob Katter MP – Independent Member for Kennedy
Zali Steggall MP – Independent Member for Warringah
Senator Larissa Waters – Greens Leader in the Senate, Spokesperson on Democracy
Senator Pauline Hanson – Leader of the One Nation Party
Senator Jacqui Lambie – Independent Senator for Tasmania
Senator Rex Patrick – Independent Senator for South Australia
Professor AJ Brown – Transparency International Australia
Geoffrey Watson SC – Centre for Public Integrity
Troy Roberts – Australian Federal Police Association
Ben Oquist – Executive Director of the Australia Institute

The Hon Anthony Whealy QC : Well, we’re all here. I hope we’re all here. My name’s Anthony Whealy. I’m here with the National Integrity Committee and also the Centre for Public Integrity. I’ve been asked just to, in Aussie rule terms, to act like the umpire and throw the ball in. And that’s what I’d like to do by way of starting.

We’re a disparate group of people here before the cameras. But we’re all here, as it were, under one tent. We have Members of Parliament, Labor, crossbench, Greens, Independents, Police Association, our National Integrity Committee, the Griffith University, who have just published yesterday the National Integrity System Assessment and many others. And we’re here because we have one important thing in common, and that is we are advocating for and see the absolute necessity for an effective anti-corruption body, an integrity body at federal level.

That’s our primary aim in gathering together under this tent. But the corollary to that is that we must say that the exposure bill put forward by the government is completely ineffective. I think we’re all as one on that. We might have slightly different reasons, but there are a handful of reasons that are fundamental to this statement. And the first is that to have two divisions in an integrity system is totally counterproductive to the effective exposure of corruption. It should be, of course, one rule for all. Once you start to carve out people who are not subject to the rules of an anti-corruption body, you have failed at the outset.

And that leads me onto the other points, namely that the politicians and the majority of people in the public service, such a body cannot investigate unless there is a reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence. This definition does not apply to the law enforcement division of Christian Porter and Scott Morrison’s bill. People who are in the police force can be investigated for corruption of any kind, but politicians and the majority of the public service can only be investigated if there is reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence. So that concept is far too narrow and it needs to be broadened out to align with the definition of corruption in the bodies that exist already at state and territory level.

Secondly, and most importantly, complaints about corruption should be able to come from the general population, from our community. We should enhance the ability of whistleblowers to come forward and lodge complaints. Under the government model, complaints from the public about a policeman or a tax office or someone who works for ASIC can be made. But complaints from the public cannot be made or cannot be accepted by the proposed integrity body dealing with politicians and public servants. And this is a very serious limitation on the effectiveness of an anti-corruption body and what we, the community, expect such a body to be able to do.

And finally, I would refer to the fact that you can have a public hearing involving a policeman or a border enforcement officer, but you can’t have a public hearing for a politician or the majority of public servants.

Why? Is that fair? Would the community accept that? I’ve mentioned it to some of my most right-wing friends and they think it’s an abhorrent distinction. And you can’t have public findings of fact involving corruption by politicians and the majority of public servants. But you can about law enforcement officers and so on. That all harks back to my preliminary point. It has to be one system for all, otherwise, it won’t work.

Helen Haines MP : Thank you, Justice Whealy. Thanks for coming out this afternoon. The Justice started by saying, he is the umpire throwing the ball into the field, well, I say to you, look around, you look at the team standing here who are coming together in one tent, on one football field. If there was to be a premiership for designing a Federal Integrity Commission with teeth, a robust Federal Integrity Commission that is fit for purpose then here’s the team that are telling you what it needs to look like. And I’d be putting my money on this team. And right now, this group are saying to you that the model put forward by the Attorney General is manifestly inadequate. The Justice has just outlined for you the principles that are not fulfilled in the Attorney’s bill.

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 justt 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. Thanks for coming out. Plenty more to speak.

Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP : Thanks very much, what you see here is a parliament united against the Morrisson Government in demanding a strong, powerful and independent National Integrity Commission. Mr Morrison and Mr Porter are standing in the way of a strong, independent and powerful National Integrity Commission. They are trying to con the Australian people into thinking that they’re flawed and compromised model will do the job when it is absolutely clear to anybody who looks at their model that it won’t. What Mr Morrison actually wants is not an anti-corruption commission. What he wants is a cover up commission, a commission that will never investigate Ministers, a commission that will never investigate Members of Parliament, a commission that will do absolutely everything possible to do the reverse of what a strong and independent National Integrity Commission should be doing. What Mr Morrison’s model would do is cover up and make sure that the scandals that are engulfing this government are never properly investigated. And I thank everyone here for coming along today to show that we are united as a Parliament against the Morrison Government.

Senator Larissa Waters Well, it’s very interesting to see who’s not here today. We have the judiciary. We have representatives from the Federal Police Association. We have every single party from parliament except the governing party. Now, that governing party has been dragged to the table on matters of corruption and they have been beset by scandal after scandal. But it’s been two years now since their initial weak proposal was put forward. And all we’ve seen from them is a second round of consultation on the same weak model. The same weak model, which is effectively a protection racket for politicians. It treats politicians differently to other law enforcement agencies, as has been pointed out already today. Democracy deserves better than a protection racket for Scott Morrison’s scandals. He needs to step up to the plate and deal with these issues, urgently fix his proposal for a weak corruption body and maybe take a look at either Helen’s Bill, which was introduced in the House, or even the bill that passed the Senate more than a year ago for a corruption watchdog with teeth. The parliament is united on this, with the exception of the Government, there are several models, all of which are good and strong and robust and independent. And the Government just wants a fig leaf and a protection racket for its own sordid scandals. Well, we’re all united here today to say that’s not good enough, the Australian population deserve better. They know how dodgy and corrupt this place is and they want it fixed. So it’s over to the government to finally clean up their act.  And if they won’t do it well, we’re not going quietly.

Bob Katter MP  I deeply regret that the partisan implications have been put on this. Helen moved this in a spirit of cooperation by all parties concerned. And that’s the way it should be going forward.

You were in Government, my friend. Four years ago, I didn’t notice you doing anything when you were in Government, and I think you might have been the Attorney-General, but I don’t want to indulge in what you indulged in there.

I was one of the two people that decided to bring on the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland that had gone to a stage where there were 42 murders carried out effectively by the police force in Queensland. And without a watchdog that Helen’s proposing, that would have continued. That was police corruption that we were talking about. And it turned out in the courts it was decided, that the Commissioner of police himself was providing protection. And that is part of what was going on. But I make the point with very great regret that these things have to be done because many, many innocent people in Queensland were destroyed in the Fitzgerald Inquiry. But did we stop the murders that were taking place? Yes, it did. And if a body such as Helen is proposing was there before, I daresay those murders would not have taken place.

This is all a matter of public record and a very, very deeply troubling public record at that.

But it’s non-partisan, Helen never meant it to be partisan. You’re in Government. Governments don’t tend to turn the spotlight on themselves. But we hope there will be some people that stand up in the Liberal Party and stand up for what is the right thing to do, which is what Helen’s moved today.

Troy Roberts, Australian Federal Police Association: I just want to mirror what my learned colleagues here today have said, all of our members are professional members. We are not scared of an integrity commission, full stop. But what we do want to see, is we want to see all members covered by this bill under the same rules. We want to see a fully funded model that all members can expect fast turnaround times when it comes to an investigation, that’s not dragged out for five years. We’ve had members under investigation for five years, only to come back with a non-established or a not- guilty finding. This is not good enough. Our strong preference is for Dr. Helen Haines’ Bill, and we put our strong support behind it. Thank you.

Senator Rex Patrick: We are at the nadir of public confidence in politicians and politics. This sham ICAC bill from the Government does nothing to reverse that fall in confidence. It’s not an acceptable bill. We have to have something much, much better.

Ben Oquist: We’re all happy to take questions.

It’s clearly an issue that’s united the parliament and the community for effective anti-corruption watchdog with teeth. New polling out today in a range of marginal seats from the Australia Institute demonstrates that. But as has been alluded to, it’s more than just popular support. It’s actually a belief and trust in democracy itself that is now under threat without the federal anti-corruption watchdog with teeth. The public have lost faith at a certain level with politics and democracy. And if you want to protect it, this is the least we can do, and this representation demonstrates that.

I know there are other people who might want to take questions. Senator Lambie or Zali Steggall, or Andrew Wilkie are all here and able to do that as well as Rebekha Sharkie, AJ Brown, Mary Gaudron is here at the back, as part of the National Integrity Committee, as well, former High Court Judge. Geoffrey Watson SC as well.

Happy to take questions from any of you, if Anthony if you’d move back here as well.

Question: Can I just ask the Police Association, I’m just wondering…

Interject: [Could you speak up a bit?]

Question: The government’s bill does single out law enforcement in one category and then  politicians and staff in another. I wonder how do you feel about that? But your people seem to be, we seem to be a higher bar for your people than for the rest.

Troy Roberts That’s correct. We have to wonder why, why there is that high bar. It should be the same rule for everybody. We’ve got nothing to hide  and we certainly think that no one in this building has anything to hide either, or should have anything to do. It should be the same rules for everbody.

Question: This is a question for the politicians. If the choice is between the bill as it stands or no Integrity Commission, would you vote for the bill?

Bob Katter MP:  It’s very hard to hear, there’s background noise…

Senator Larissa Waters I think the question was, are we going to vote for a bad bill because it’s better than nothing? No, I think the consensus is, and I’ll let my colleagues speak for themselves, that if we have a sham corruption watchdog that is a protection racket for politicians, that is worse than not having one. And we here hope for a change of government in years to come. And I think the Australian population does as well. We want to get this right.

There is a version of a corruption watchdog in the bill in my name, which passed the Senate in September of last year. If the Morrison government had any integrity that would bring on that bill for a vote in the House and do the job properly.

Alternatively, they could bring on Helen’s Bill for a vote in the House and that would probably pass the Senate. We want a decent corruption watchdog that can have public hearings, that can take public tip-offs, that can do a proper job to clean up the festering mess that is the corruption on this building and the level of ministerial conduct and standards that this place has stooped to would make former politicians turn in their grave. The need for a corruption watchdog has never been stronger, and it is not acceptable to have a weak version that won’t do the job and that will actually perpetuate and cover up corrupt conduct.

Helen Haines MP  I think I just want to add to Larissa’s words that we don’t care whose name the bill is and what we want is a Federal Integrity Commission that is designed to fix the problem that we face. So we’re calling on the Government to step up to the mark. We put the benchmark there. We’ve got clear principles around what it needs to contain. You’ve heard from many people today about the fundamental aspects that are missing in the Government’s bill. So we’re putting the challenge out to the Government to make that bill fit for purpose. And we’d be happy we would be happy to vote for it and pass it through. But right now, it’s certainly wouldn’t pass the Senate based on the principles that it doesn’t contain. And so our call is it doesn’t matter who’s bill it is, so long as it’s the right thing.

Question: Here’s another question for the parliamentarians. There are a lot of you here. You represent a lot of different interests. How prepared would you be to tell the Government that you will hold up all the legislation until you get what you want on an integrity commission. Who’s going to take that?

Rebekha Sharkie MP  Look, I’m happy to take that from the point of view that, look, we don’t do that. We don’t do that. And I do remember many years ago when Nick Xenophon downed tools, I think for all of about 24 hours and David Littleproud, then backbencher, called Nick Xenophon a terrorist for doing that. Look, we as a party Centre Alliance look at each piece of legislation. But this would be a missed opportunity of government if they don’t step up and improve their legislation and make it the kind of integrity commission that Australia wants to see. It’s not just all of us here. This is what Australia wants to see, and I think when the Australian public find out what the government’s proposing, has one set of rules for the rest of Australia and one set of rules for politicians, they will be deeply disappointed.

Question: Let me put the question another way. What leverage do you have as a group beyond making public statements like this to achieve what you’re after?

Senator Rex Patrick I think the answer to your question is to look around, see how many people are here, all of the parties of the parliament other than the government. So one of the prospects we’ve got is to work together, if necessary, to to make significant amendments to the Government’s bill — that will pass the Senate, and we’ll put it back on the Government in the House to agree to an amended bill that is much, much stronger and not the sham bill that is currently in exposure draft form.

Andrew Wilkie MP  Well, can I turn the turn the question around a little and remind everyone here that the government has 77 seats in a 150 member House of Representatives. With the speaker out, the government has effectively a one seat majority 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.

Bob Katter MP  In the banking inquiry, we had one of the Liberals, George Christensen, who was prepared to cross the floor, and that was the only reason we were able to get banking inquiry, because he had the courage of his convictions to stand up and on the inquiry to the University of Queensland, so very relevant today, we had three Liberals break ranks and say that was second ny motion and that’s the only way we got a fair dinkum inquiry into what’s been going on at University of Queensland. So two examples to back up what Andrew Wilkie just said.

Question: May I pose a question to Justice Gaudron? Justice Gaudron, you were an officer of the highest court in the land, why do you– why do you think we need a better version of an integrity commission than the one that’s been proposed by the Government?

The Hon Mary Gaudron QC  Because the one that’s been proposed by the Government is in many respects, something like a post-modern joke. The only way a parliamentarian can be brought before the proposed commission, for example, is either the Attorney-General refers him or her on the basis that the Attorney-General, and indeed the parliamentarian, reasonably suspect that the parliamentarian has committed on of a number of crimes. It’s unlikely, let me tell you, that a parliamentarian is going to front up and say, ‘I think on reasonable grounds, that I’ve committed a crime.’.

If, on the other hand, the Attorney-General reasonably suspects that a parliamentarian has committed a crime, what is the commission to do? If it thinks otherwise, if it doesn’t think the suspicion is reasonable, it won’t conduct a hearing. If it does think its reasonably suspicious, presumably it will proceed on a matter which really the police should have been involved. It seems to me that in many respects this is going to sideline the work of the police. The Integrity Commission is going to conduct an investigation into the crimes and then refer it to the DPP. It’s not going to work within the normal range as they have existed for decades.

The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC And if you want the best possible example–.

INTERJECT  Just step forward so we can hear you.

The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC  If you want the best possible example of what this bill is doing, read section 239, subsection 7: ‘any reports coming out of the integrity commissioner shall not include any criticism of the conduct of a parliamentarian or the member of the parliamentarian’s staff expressed or implied.’

Question: Are they trying to hide behind the Constitution there? Could they do that?

The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC What on earth could this be doing other than protecting parliamentarians and their staff from investigation and public criticism?

Question: Could the integrity commission do anything in the case of sports rorts through some of the other–.

The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC No.

Question: Why not?

The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC Because there wouldn’t be any reasonable suspicion of a crime.

Zali Steggall MP : To clarify, sports rorts would be investigated under the Act of the model bills, but would not be investigated under the model proposed by the Government. I think what’s very important is there are a few key takeaways that people need to be aware of. The government’s proposing a double standard, which I can’t see how they could possibly pass the pub test in all those electorates. So when you talk about what pressure, it is up to each and every voice out there, each and every individual to put pressure on their local member, on what their expectations of the standard of representation and standard of integrity and anti-corruption.

We need that public referral pathway and there needs to be a safe and secure way in which an investigation may become public. It does not have to start in public. It must meet a public interest test to be able to be a public hearing. And I strongly support that there be strong precautions, such as, for example, in the Queensland ICAC.

But it’s clear that there is a nexus at some point, where public interest requires a public aspect to inquiry and findings. We’ve seen that with the recent Brereton Report, there’s been a process. And clearly that is the expectation of the public is that there is a strong anti-corruption element.

To the question of what can we all do. I think as an Independent, speaking for myself, it’s very important for me that all legislation is assessed on its merits. So it is not a question of compounding different things into one or anything like that. I feel very strongly that to represent my community, is to represent each individual piece of legislation on its merits.

Question: Senator Lambie?

Senator Jacqui Lambie It’s pretty simple, actually, if you’re not corrupt and you’ve got nothing to hide, why wouldn’t you have an integrity commission on you that’s full of teeth.

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.

Everyone: Thanks very much, everybody. Thanks very much.

Media Enquiries

Anna Chang Communications Director

0422 775 161

anna@tai.org.au