National Integrity Commission

Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (15:53): Anybody who thinks corruption doesn’t exist here, who thinks that corruption doesn’t exist at a federal level is just naive. Of course it exists. We need the right sort of body with the right sort of powers to find it and weed it out.

A government member interjecting

Mr CLARE: We have a member here saying it’s the police. It’s not just the police. You need corruption watchdogs to make sure that people in every government agency and, for that matter, here in parliament are not acting corruptly. Let me give you just one example. When I was Minister for Home Affairs, one of the first things I was briefed on was a corruption investigation at Sydney airport. Customs officials were using their powers to get drugs into the country. It was an investigation headed by ACLEI, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

Some members here know who ACLEI is; most members of the Australian public won’t. It is a little-known corruption watchdog that looks over the Federal Police and looks over Customs and other organisations. It did a good job—a damn good job there—that led to the arrest of two people and the establishment of the Customs Reform Board. I set that up at the time. It was headed by Justice James Wood, the man whom many people here would know was the royal commissioner into the New South Wales Police Force. It also involved the doubling of the number of the organisations that ACLEI oversees. But even that’s not enough.

I think everybody in this House now knows that we need a national integrity commission—the sort of organisation that looks across the board, oversights every government agency and every government department, and looks over us. One that covers the board—and we don’t have one at the moment. We’ve been calling for that for 2½ years. We’ve called on the government to do that countless times. The government finally agreed to do it in December 2018. That was a year and a half ago, and we’re still waiting. We still don’t have a bill. We still don’t even have a draft bill. If there is a year that shows why we need a national integrity commission, it’s this year.

Let me give you just two examples. The first one is the sports rorts scandal—do you remember that? Mums and dads, on behalf of sporting clubs, put together applications for funds for their local club. They were all independently assessed. And then the government just ripped them up. We had an Auditor-General report that showed that 73 per cent of the projects approved by the minister weren’t recommended by the independent assessor. We got a colour-coded spreadsheet leaked to the media that showed the money was allocated based on marginal seats. We had more smoking guns than a Clint Eastwood movie, and still the minister wasn’t sacked. The only reason the minister eventually resigned was that, apparently, she was a member of a club that she gave money to and she hadn’t declared that. Still not one member on the other side has had the decency to admit that they did anything wrong there. If that’s not an example of why we need a national integrity commission, then I don’t know what is.

The second example is the scandal that was revealed on 60 Minutes last Sunday night. It’s very, very rare that you get written evidence of a minister approving the misuse of taxpayers’ money. But that’s what we got on Sunday night. We saw evidence of a document setting out the whole plan about stacking branches and using electorate staff to do it, and then an email from the minister saying, ‘Good summary.’ Today there was another document, where the minister signed off by saying: ‘Good stuff. Well done.’ It shows that the minister knew what was happening and endorsed it. If that’s not the sort of thing—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Llew O’Brien ): I will just get the member to pause for a moment. These matters have not been tested. The statement that you just made then—that it shows that the minister knows— needs to be withdrawn.

Mr CLARE: To assist the House, I withdraw. But I make this point: this shows we need a national integrity commission. But it doesn’t take a national integrity commission for the Prime Minister to act. All he needs to do is apply the same standards he set for the Labor Party back in June. All he needs to do is apply the same standards that John Howard applied to himself when he was Prime Minister back in 1996, when he sacked three ministers for the same thing—misusing taxpayers’ money. All he needs to do is apply those standards today; he only needs to apply his own ministerial code. If he doesn’t, and if he doesn’t sack Minister Sukkar, then he is just treating the Australian public like suckers.