2SM WITH MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 3 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECT: Commonwealth Integrity Commission.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. He's on the program. Andrew, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Marcus.
PAUL: You've campaigned long and hard for a federal ICAC. Are you at all surprised by the fact that this is a kind of watered down ICAC, if you like?
LEIGH: This is more a cover up commission than a corruption commission, Marcus. I mean, you've been on the case as much as anyone and I think the government is only acting because of the strong public pressure that has been on your program and from Labor, from independents like Helen Haines. What’s been delivered is just like Mike Carlton said - a corruption commission which can't initiate its own hearings, which doesn't have the power to sit in public, which wouldn't have the power to look back through so many of the scandals that have emerged under the Morrison Government.
PAUL: Yeah, the Attorney General Christian Porter detailed the CIC - the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, we'll call it CIC. He's detailed the framework yesterday, calling it complicated because it would capture the conduct of more than 150,000 public servants and many thousands more people employed in the government sector. The CIC would have quote ‘greater investigatory powers than a royal commission’, Mr Porter said. Is that right?
LEIGH: Well, it'll have substantially less powers in some cases. So for example, royal commissions can investigate matters that don't reach the standard of criminal conduct. This integrity commission wouldn't be able to do that, for example, and I think there would be many instances in which we would expect public servants to be held to a higher standard than simply not committing crimes. The model that's being put forward is nowhere near as powerful, for example, as the one that independent Helen Haines brought forward. Labor has been calling for a much more powerful integrity commission since the start of 2018, and the government's known about these criticisms, Marcus. When its original proposal was first raised a couple of years ago, these criticisms were mentioned. And they seem to have done absolutely nothing to address them.
PAUL: Alright. Well, I mean, the CIC would include the power to tap phones, carry out search warrants, compel witnesses to testify at hearings and force people to surrender documents and other evidence. The government was handed an exposure draft - as you said - by Helen Haines. At the same time, the Prime Minister defended any delay by invoking the COVID pandemic, saying it was complex legislation and it required detailed consultation. Well, I mean, he summed it in Parliament, ‘I was not going to have one public servant diverted from the task of focusing on our whole of government approach dealing with this pandemic’. Alright, well, we've done very well with the pandemic - it's now time to shift focus not entirely away from dealing with COVID-19, but to get this important piece of legislation passed. But I mean, if it's a toothless lap dog, what’s the point?
LEIGH: It's interesting, isn't it, Marcus? The pandemic didn't seem to stop Scott Morrison spending a week up in Queensland campaigning for Deb Frecklington’s state election campaign, but it's been his go to dog-ate-my-homework excuse for not going ahead with the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. They don’t seem to have done much work over the past year. This model is similar to the model that they were talking about a year ago. The government’s simply been sitting on their draft bill, prompted into action only now because of so much discussion around the Leppington triangle, around sports rorts, around regional rorts, the stacking of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the stacking of the Australia Post board by Liberal Party mates. There are more scandals than you can poke an Auditor General at, and that's why they've brought forward this model, which is frankly inadequate and needs to be strengthened.
PAUL: Well yesterday, just two weeks after saying he couldn't divert public servants to the task, the Attorney General said the process is now underway, but it would be out for public consultation until February. So that means it could be mid 2021 or later before the CIC actually comes into force.
LEIGH: They’re kicking the can as far down the road as they can, desperately trying to avoid any integrity commission unless they have to have one, opting for that quiet little lapdog. They don’t want an integrity commission, because they know exactly what it would do. It would go after the sort of misconduct we've seen from the Morrison Government - the regional grants going 90 per cent to coalition electorates, the sports rorts being sorted out on color-coded spreadsheets with political pork barrelling rather than focusing on the most needy clubs. And these are people who are missing out at a time when we're facing a global pandemic and a recession. This is no time to be wasting public money. It's absolutely vital that we have the integrity commission. It's also vital that we boost the funding for the Auditor General, whose funding has been cut by a fifth over the course of the coalition government.
PAUL: Yeah. So for those who know ICAC - I mean, there were really this year some incredible scenes in the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales, where we had a premier basically reveal some, you know, very personal aspects of her life. And we know where that's all led to, but the CIC will not hold public hearings for politicians, unlike Gladys Berejiklian’s appearance at the ICAC in New South Wales. I mean, a separate public sector branch of the CIC will focus on public sector, intelligence agency and ADF employees, the staff and federal judicial officers, and some higher education providers and research bodies. But of most interest to many will be the CIC's power to investigate parliamentarians and their staff. But if we're looking for, you know, the Prime Minister or a Federal Minister to be publicly held accountable on television screens inside a room like we saw the Premier at ICAC, that's just not going to happen, is it?
LEIGH: That’s right. As my colleague Mike Dreyfus has pointed out, when you hold public hearings, you carry out one of the core functions of an integrity commission, which is to build public confidence in government and in administration. David Ipp, the late Commissioner of ICAC in New South Wales, talked about the importance of public hearings in encouraging other witnesses to come forward. They serve a vital part of the work of an integrity commission. It does seem pretty strange to me, Marcus, that the Prime Minister was happy to castigate Christine Holgate for her role over the Cartier watches very publicly in Parliament, but now wants the integrity issues of his own government to be scrutinised privately behind closed doors.
PAUL: Well, it's a little hypocritical, isn't it?
LEIGH: It’s extraordinary.
PAUL: All right, then. Good to have you on the program, as always, Andrew.
LEIGH: Likewise, Marcus. Thank you.
PAUL: Talk soon. There he is, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury, Andrew Leigh.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.