Commonwealth Integrity Commission

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (16:04): It's a privilege to rise and speak on this important issue affecting integrity in Australia, and I want to start where the minister for communications left off in examining some of the issues that have in recent years pertained to public sector corruption in Australia. I think it is true that, as the minister said, matters before corruption bodies in Australia in recent years have been more prevalent on the Labor side of politics. And that's the convictions—that's the conviction rate. That's the record, certainly, in New South Wales. In Victoria we're seeing similar issues arise. But that doesn't mean it is confined to any side of politics or to any part of a government, federal, state or local, or otherwise.

The issue at stake in this matter of public importance, and what we've been talking about as a parliament, is the proper construction of an integrity body in 2022 that deals with corruption—that allows for corruption to be dealt with—but also takes into account the mistakes that have been made in public-sector corruption bodies over periods of time. Labor is fond of quoting Geoffrey Watson, and the shadow Attorney-General did. But I have to note again that the experience in New South Wales, when he worked with the public sector integrity body, the ICAC in New South Wales, when he was counsel assisting, was one of great learning for any member of parliament in this House. Some of the sanctimony that we see from the other side, I think, has to be tempered against the fact that people who have been put in front of public sector integrity bodies have had to stand aside from their positions, have been accused—without right of response, without right to defence, without right to reply—and later been completely cleared and exonerated by those bodies, years after those accusations have been made. People without any allegations to answer have had to go through that experience. And I think, in the design of these things, the government 's model has been put forward. It's true to say Labor doesn't have one yet. I'm sure they're working on it—we'll see how that goes: maybe they'll produce one, maybe they won't.

But, in our design, we must take into account the mistakes that have been made in other jurisdictions. And the process of trial by media without response by a person alleged to have engaged in some sort of corruption, to later be exonerated—years later—of those same corruption claims is, I think, to any fair-minded or reasonable person in this place, a concern. It's something that should be addressed in the design of a body. We've seen even the Victorian government take measures, in relation to IBAC, to wind back some of the errors that were made in the original legislation for IBAC. We've seen the South Australian government do the same. So it's nonsensical for the Labor Party to get on a high moral horse and pretend that this is about some kind of Star Chamber where, out of this place, they want to refer every political matter of the day—every single political matter of the day. And that was the experience with the New South Wales ICAC when the ICAC legislation first came out. You had every local government area, every councillor in every chamber pathetically throwing the accusation they had referred every single matter—a debate that came in every single council in every part of Sydney—to the New South Wales ICAC, which made headlines for the first year or two. It was pathetic, it was a waste of time, nothing was ever investigated and a lot of copy got written. Mistakes have been made in public integrity bodies. They should be addressed in the model that's put forward by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has attempted to do so.

The public has also noticed, where these public trials have occurred into some public figures, they have been very unfair and very unbalanced and haven't produced any result or finding of corruption by people—again, destroying lives, destroying reputations, but not getting the bottom of corruption. We all await with interest the outcome of the accusations in relation to the former premier Gladys Berejiklian, because there are matters there that have been raised, in relation to the ICAC, that have been in the public domain over and over, and it is not appropriate for me to go to them. But who polices the ICACs and the integrity bodies is an important question, and how they're constructed is an important question. And that's why the government has put forward a bill that is sensible and is reasonable. Mr Speaker, you can remember that, when the investigation into Gladys Berejiklian came out, the ICAC released accidentally information that they had been taping and recording of a very private and personal nature in relation to Gladys Berejiklian. Who lost their job in relation to that, out of that integrity body? Is that an inappropriate use of the powers that were given to them by the state—the unfettered power? These are valid questions to be asked. And, when reputations are actually lost, when people are innocent, what right of recourse do people have?

So the government has put forward a very balanced model, taking into account the reality of public sector corruption in Australia. And the opposition is critical, yet the opposition has no policy alternative, no response, nothing but, 'yours is not good enough but we have nothing in return'. Well, I think the public see through that, and we'll keep pursuing our model.