Integrity is the foundation of a good Government: its central to the proper functioning of every aspect of our society. What could be more important than integrity among our leaders?

That’s why my Integrity Policy will call for a National Integrity Commision (NIC) to ensure transparency and stamp out corruption, along with the integration of an ‘Integrity system’.

What does my Integrity Policy include?

If elected, I intend to propose an NIC that is workable and effective. Its vital components would comprise the following:

  • It must be a fully independent statutory body, headed by a Chief Commissioner appointed on the recommendation of a bipartisan parliamentary committee.
  • It must be properly funded.
  • The NIC must have all the powers of a Royal Commission.
  • Its jurisdiction must be broad, as must the definition of ‘corrupt conduct’.
  • It must be able to hold public hearings
  • It must have broad jurisdiction to investigate not only criminal corruption, but misconduct that could impact the honest or impartial exercise of public administration.
  • It must be required to act fairly and have proper oversight: there should be an inspectorate, be under the purview of a bipartisan parliamentary committee, be overseen by the Federal Court, and there should be rights of appeal against incorrect findings of fact.
  • There must be a public and prominent clearance mechanism for those who are investigated and cleared of wrongdoing.

In addition to the NIC, I would be a strong advocate for the recommendations delivered by The Human Rights Law Centre, which has recently released an important paper on how powerful interests are corrupting our democracy. In this context, I favour an ‘Integrity system’ that goes beyond the workings of the NIC with legislated measures to hold our elected representatives accountable.

These would include:

  • A code of conduct for elected representatives
  • The requirement of timely disclosure of all contributions over $1000 to politicians.
  • A ban on large, corrupting financial contributions to politicians altogether.
  • The requirement that all lobbyists register and disclose their meetings with politicians and advisers and that ministers publish their diaries.
  • The introduction of an enforceable 3 year cooling off period for ministers, staff, and bureaucrats seeking employment in private sector industries over which they had legislative or regulatory influence while in Government or the public service.
  • The introduction of caps on spending by candidates, political parties, and entities that campaign in elections, to even the playing field.
  • Whistleblower protection
  • Truth in political advertising

Why is my Integrity Policy so important?

Without strong systems to ensure integrity, everything from the economy to social cohesion suffers. In 2018, The United Nations estimated that corruption costs at least 5% of world gross domestic product. In Australia, the cost of corruption is significant. We have plummeted in world rankings for integrity. In 2012, Australia received a score of 85 out of 100 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. By 2021, that score was drastically reduced to 73. This corruption has a material impact on our prosperity, with Australia losing an estimated 60,000 jobs as a result.

Beyond the economic costs, there is also the grave moral issue that hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being squandered for party political gain, and that deserving Australians are missing out on critical services as a result.

We have seen the results of unchecked corruption elsewhere in the world. Everything from dire economic consequences to tears in the social fabric are the unfortunate, inevitable results. Integrity and transparency are not amorphous, lofty goals: they are what stand between us and a material deterioration in our quality of life. Australians deserve politicians who are held accountable. We must elect people who will ensure this takes place in the next Parliament.

Because our Constitution vests revenue-raising heavily in favour of the Commonwealth, it is at this level that the risk of corruption is highest, simply because corruption follows money (the Federal Government collects over 80% of taxes in Australia [ABS, Taxation Revenue, 2012-13]).

This danger is exacerbated by a system, completely lacking in transparency. This creates an ideal environment in which shady deals – and problematic behaviour – can thrive.

To make matters worse, there is no adequate control of political donations or campaign expenditure; nor is there any requirement for immediate disclosure of donations. Myriad loopholes exist to conceal major party donors.

There is growing consensus that Federal politics urgently requires the establishment of a strong NIC. Its absence in Canberra, unlike Victoria’s IBAC, NSW’s ICAC, and various other state anti-corruption bodies, allows politicians to behave with impunity – at our expense. Under pressure from various stakeholders and commentators, the Liberal-National Coalition, has promised such a body, but has failed to deliver one.

The Coalition has taken every opportunity to stymie the establishment of any NIC – and seems especially determined to prevent one with the powers to implement genuine oversight. It has argued it can’t move forward because Labor refuses to support the package. This argument is transparently dubious.

The Coalition’s shelved proposal for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC), was launched over 3 years ago by then Attorney-General Christian Porter – himself the beneficiary of a million dollar blind trust to pay his private legal fees in a defamation case against the ABC.

The Liberal-National CIC is proposed as two parts, one comprising law enforcement and the other, covering parliamentarians and their staff, and public servants. While proposed powers in relation to the first group are very strong, powers for the CIC in relation to the second group are very weak and would make uncovering corruption very difficult. The proposals serious weaknesses include:

If elected, I would join with fellow cross-bench colleagues to insist on the establishment of a strong NIC to support my policy on integrity. Given the likelihood, after the coming election, of either a hung Parliament or a slim majority, and consensus among independents on this matter, it is highly likely that we will achieve this aim.

I do not agree with PM Morrison’s view that the NSW hearing of the Berejiklian matters was a ’kangaroo court’ – on the contrary, I saw it as a healthy shining of light on a subject of important public interest.

For these reasons, I am running on a platform that places integrity, and stamping out corruption and rorts, at the very centre of my candidacy.

We are grateful to Stephen Charles AO QC for his contribution and insights.

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