Australia must have a strong corruption watchdog, but the Coalition shows little interest.

Nov 2, 2020

It is now obvious that Australia needs, and most of the community is demanding, a strong national integrity commission. Not, however, the Coalition.

Christian Porter, the Attorney-General , was recently quoted as saying that although the government is committed to establishing the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC), it will only release the draft legislation for it after the management of the COVID-19 crisis has been dealt with.

The draft legislation was completed more than six months ago. Porter’s statement must be carefully scrutinised. In our last public debate on the ABC on this subject, Porter said three times that his model for a CIC had been endorsed by the Law Council of Australia. The Law Council of Australia has not endorsed his model at all; in fact it subjected it to vigorous criticism.

Whenever a Coalition cabinet member is asked about an integrity commission, they attempt to ignore or distract from the question. No one, from the Prime Minister down, dares to answer such a question. The Coalition is clearly terrified of an integrity commission.

Porter’s comment should therefore be read as saying that his draft legislation, although ready, will not be released until the COVID-19 crisis has been dealt with; that is, not before the next election.

Since the sports rorts affair was so effectively examined by the Auditor-General’s office , we have learnt that the sports program was not only a good example of political corruption approved by anyone from the cabinet who spoke about it, but was also both invalid and unconstitutional in performance because it lacked statutory authority.

The Auditor-General has also examined the government’s 2018 purchase of land for the new Sydney airport, from the Leppington Pastoral Company, for nearly $30 million, when the land was worth $3 million.

The government has now taken the inevitably punitive action against the Auditor-General’s office (which exposed both matters) by cutting the Australian National Audit Office’s funding.

Furthermore, new light was thrown on the government’s 2015 contract with the French Naval Group to build 12 submarines for our defences. The French Naval Group has been involved in at least five major corruption scandals since 1997, but the corruption risk appears to have been ignored by the government and the Defence Department.

The contract was for an uncapped $50 billion, and competing bids by Krupp and Mitsubishi were put to one side. The Defence Department has admitted that the real cost was known in 2015 to be almost $80 billion, a figure kept secret until now.

Porter knew from the

moment he released his draft proposal in December 2018 that his proposal would be derided as completely defective in: being divided into halves, the much weaker part covering most of the public sector, including parliamentarians and their staff; having a very narrow jurisdiction and definition of ‘‘ corrupt conduct’’ ; having a threshold preventing full early investigation and thus inhibiting the integrity commission’s ability to decide whether to continue the investigation; denying individuals any right to complain directly to the CIC; and explicitly providing there would be no public hearings, and no public reports of investigations.

Porter’s CIC would have the most limited ability to start an investigation, and no publicity would be given to it unless and until a prosecution was actually started. What use would the Hayne commission have been if it had been kept secret from start to finish ?

Porter’s CIC model is so framed as to prevent anything short of flagrant criminal activity being investigated. As the sports rorts showed, and comments by cabinet ministers afterwards underlined, the Coalition was content to tolerate the political corruption that had been exposed.

The Coalition clearly sees no impropriety in returning favour for favour, nor in benefits being granted to those making substantial donations to the party. The CIC model is intended to protect ministers, parliamentarians and public servants, preventing them from being investigated so long as they don’t embark on ‘‘ brown paper bag’ ’ bribery.

After all the other scandals that have surrounded the Coalition in their past seven years in office , this government is now embarking on the largest expenditure of taxpayers’ money in the history of this country. This government has shown that taxpayers cannot trust it to spend all this money in their real interests, rather than in the interests of and for the political benefit of the Coalition.

We need a really effective national integrity commission, able to hold public hearings, to safeguard the interests of the community, above all at this particular time. We do not need Porter’s feather duster. Porter’s CIC would be a body with little or no ability to investigate or discover public sector corruption, and no corruption would be exposed by it.

This country needs a strong national integrity commission and it needs it now.

This article appeared first in the Sydney Morning Healr on October 28 2020

Link here.

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