National Integrity Commission Bill 2013 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:53): My contempt knows no end for parliamentarians who use this cowards' castle to play the populous game to further their own careers by innuendo, making claims against individual Australians, corporations and colleagues in this place. We have just heard such a speech. It would be very easy for me to join the populist bandwagon and refer, as some of the lazy media did, to Senator Siewert's travel expenses. I was the first to defend Senator Siewert because she, after me, is one of the hardest-working parliamentarians in this place. She is the chair or the deputy chair of several committees. Her travel expenses are large, but, hang on, she happens to live in Perth and represent Western Australia. Of course, to get to Canberra she has to fly a lot. I know I rarely agree with Senator Siewert, but I do acknowledge she is one of the most committed and hardworking politicians here.

One of the others who were attacked by the populist press—and supported by people like Senator Ludlam, no doubt—was the member for Lingiari. His travel expenses are high. Well, what a surprise. He lives in Darwin. He represents the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. He comes to Canberra half of the year to do what he is paid to do. Of course his travel expenses are high.

It is easy for politicians and lazy journalists to make these complaints by innuendo. I challenge Senator Ludlam. He spent 20 minutes denigrating Australian citizens, Australian corporations and politicians. If he has one skerrick, one iota, one little bit, of evidence, please refer it to the existing watchdog. Jason Clare, a Labor member of parliament, said in 2012:

ACLEI has the powers of a standing Royal Commission. It has the power to coerce people to give evidence, to hold public hearings, to execute search warrants, to tap phones and to conduct digital and physical surveillance and it has used these powers in this case—

in the case he was talking about. If Senator Ludlam has just one skerrick of evidence to back up the disgraceful, dishonest speech that he has just made, he should go and see ACLEI. If he is too stupid to find their phone number, I will give it to him. I will text it to him.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, it is not very pleasant to refer to Senator Ludlam in that way. If you could withdraw, thank you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I withdraw 'stupid'. If he is so base that he cannot find the phone number of ACLEI, I will text it to him. Australia already has zero tolerance to corruption in all of its forms and so does particularly this government. We do not support the Craig Thomsons of this world. We are determined to have zero tolerance to corruption.

We have strong laws and a robust, multiagency approach to combating corruption. A range of agencies play a role in preventing, detecting and responding to corruption. We have ACLEI, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which I have already mentioned. The AFP-hosted fraud and anticorruption centre brings together a range of Commonwealth agencies to respond to serious fraud and corruption matters, including government services, programs and employees. The Commonwealth provided an additional $15 million to that centre in April last year under the coalition government. This framework provides significant coverage of fraud and corruption across Australian government agencies, with particular focus on areas of high corruption risk.

I do not cast aspersions or innuendos on anyone, but in the exchange I had with Senator Siewert earlier I raised the issue of the missing bundle of votes in Western Australia from the last Senate election. What happened to them? I know you do not know, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, neither, unfortunately, do the Australian Federal Police, although in their evidence to the electoral matters committee—

Senator Siewert: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Macdonald is going into I think very dangerous territory. He is about to make certain accusations. It is unparliamentary and I ask you to ask him not to go there.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Senator Siewert, I have just walked in and sat in the chair. I have heard about two sentences from Senator Macdonald. I can consult with the clerks, but at this stage I am not going to. I am going to give Senator Macdonald the call and I will take it from there.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That was the most curious point of order I have ever heard. Senator Siewert was interpreting what I am going to say next.

Senator Siewert interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are making a point of order on something that you think, in your funny mind, I might be about to say. I had finished my comments on the 2013 election. All I will say is that the Federal Police indicated to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that there was certainly something wrong but they were unable to find out why. I might say, Senator Siewert, after defending you—and I will continue to defend you because I know you are honest and I know you work incredibly hard—that you will never find me taking a cheap shot at you over that. I will take a shot at some of your hypocritical policies, yes, but not—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, I ask that you direct your comments through the chair. Senator Ludlam, on a point of order?

Senator Ludlam: That was my point of order. Senator Macdonald has been in here for hundreds of years. He knows that he needs to direct his comments through you, Mr Acting Deputy President.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You always know when you are making a point that the Greens are embarrassed about, because they will make those ridiculous points of order simply to curtail me. I will not go into the matter of the largest single donation to any political party in the history of Australia.

Senator Cash: Please do.

Senator Ludlam interjecting

Senator Siewert interjecting

Senator Jacinta Collins: Malcolm's is bigger now.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Hang on—Malcolm Turnbull puts his own money in his own re-election. I did not want to mention Mr Wood's name, but the biggest single donation to a political party ever in Australian history went to the Greens political party. I happen to be on a committee where the then Greens leader sought to get an exemption from some form of Commonwealth tax for those who might want to set up an online newspaper. I am not going to join the dots together on which person it was that was trying to do that. I will just say that I wish ACLEI had been around at the time.

So we have these holier-than-thou people come here, casting aspersions by innuendo, but can I tell them I have good news for them. The government has announced a bill coming forward shortly to set up an authority to oversee parliamentary allowances. I am sure the Greens will support the amendment that I will be moving to that bill. I, not the government, will be moving the amendment to that bill to include public servants in the same authority.

I very rarely read The Canberra Times, but I saw an editorial in The Canberra Times. It was published just the other day, but it was referring to editorial from last month. It is called 'Time to expose bureaucrats' wayward spending, too?' and it has the subheading 'Transparency'. I make the point that I have found every Commonwealth bureaucrat that I have ever had dealings with—and I had some very close dealings when I was a minister, and in estimates since—to be incredibly dedicated, incredibly honest, very transparent and great servants of the Australian people. But the bureaucracy is enormous, and you only have to read this article in The Canberra Times to realise that there should be, perhaps, the same accountability and openness for the hundreds of thousands, certainly tens of thousands, of Commonwealth bureaucrats who help govern Australia. There are infinitely more than there are politicians in this chamber, most of whom have infinitely more power and spending capability than anyone in Parliament House. So I would think that it is time to widen the net—perhaps to the judiciary as well, perhaps to some of these tribunals and perhaps to institutions and statutory authorities like the Human Rights Commission. Maybe we should have the same transparency from them, but we never hear from the Greens. We never hear that too often from the Labor Party either, I might say, but what a good idea.

I am quite certain, after hearing Senator Ludlam, that he will be seconding my amendment when I bring it to this chamber. I suspect there are not going to be too many on my side to second it, but I am sure after that rousing speech by Senator Ludlam that he and his party will be supporting the extension of this parliamentarians oversight committee to the Public Service. I notice Senator Ludlam and the Greens are all of a sudden finding something very important to talk about and will not listen to this, but let me have your assurance that I will have your support in moving this amendment.

Australia has consistently been ranked by Transparency International‎ as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. That is because we have these institutions. We have accountability and openness among parliamentarians that, quite frankly, is beyond understanding. There is even this great battle, which the shadow Attorney-General seems to be fixated on, about wanting parliamentarians to indicate to the world who they see, what they see, when they see them, where they are going to be and where they have been. It is great news for a would-be criminal or someone who is intent on criminal activity against parliamentarians, under the guise of accountability. This parliament is where you call ministers to account. This parliament is where you ask them what they have been doing or where they have been doing it. The shadow Attorney-General seems fixated—dare I use that terminology—on exposing the activities of the Attorney-General. Mind you, the Attorney-General is the minister in charge of security in this nation, and the shadow Attorney-General wants his diary to be made public. I guess it will not be long before mine is asked for too—although you do not have to worry about mine; I put on Facebook where I am going to be all the time. That is no secret.

This Greens bill is again an action by a party that is falling in the polls. Those of us who have been around a long time have seen the Democrats come and go; we have seen One Nation come and go and come back, and it will go again; and we have seen the Greens come and I predicted sometime ago that they would go in Europe, and they are going, and I predicted sometime ago that they would go in Australia, and they are on the downward climb now. They used to attract a bit of a protest vote from those who did not like the government, who did not like the Labor Party, but I am sorry, guys in the Greens—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—that protest vote is now going to One Nation and we will, fortunately, see the end of the hypocrisy in a policy sense of the Greens political party. Australia will be a better place for that.

The Greens are trying to maintain what little support they hold around Australia—around eight per cent at last call, and going southwards—by jumping on the populist bandwagon: every politician, and particularly the Liberal politicians in the Western Australian government, are all bad. Senator Ludlam, who is really the far left extension of the Labor Party—I pity the Labor Party for that; I am sorry you have to bow to their wishes—forgot to mention all the Labor politicians in jail for very serious offences. But that is the Greens way. You will never hear Senator Rhiannon attack Labor Party politicians, even though in her state there are enormous numbers she could be attacking. Your own political leaning, and your own populist approach to matters, prevents you from doing that, and it shows the dishonesty of the argument of the Greens political party.

Senator Ludlam: You're on broadcast.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Good heavens, I would not have guessed that without hearing Senator Ludlam's first speech—always there for broadcast day, always there when he thinks he might be able to resurrect or retain some of the few people who vote for the Greens political party. I think Australians are waking up to the absolute hypocrisy of the Greens, and they now see the Greens under pressure. The Labor Party I think are at last understanding that they really have to separate themselves from the Greens, otherwise the Greens will take over their dwindling support on the left—it still will not save the Greens; it will just take the Greens and the Labor Party down at the same time. These populist parties, who do extract people who say 'a pox on all your houses', have left the Greens and gone elsewhere.

As I said in our party room the other day—I do not want to indicate what was said in the party room but these are my own thoughts, not the party room's thoughts especially—it is about time our leaders—all of our leaders, and Senator Di Natale would be a good start—started emphasising how much work politicians do, how much commitment most of the people who sit in this parliament—most, I might add—have. They are here because they believe in Australia and they believe that they can make a contribution to Australia. By the standards in the community they do not get particularly well-paid, and there are hundreds of examples of that. Someone has to stand up, rather than just Senator Ludlam joining the populist theme and denigrating by innuendo everybody in this chamber and the other chamber, and start arguing for politicians, arguing for parliamentarians, saying why they are there. Most parliamentarians—or those on this side—would have done infinitely better financially staying in their legal practice, staying in their business, staying in their veterinary practice, staying in the jobs they had before. That is not why they have come into this chamber. I will be talking on this again in another bill coming up, and I will be opposing my government and again moving amendments. If the Greens were true to their cause, they would be supporting me too. They might on the authority one, but they will not on the other one. They are without value, without any semblance of directness and honesty, when it comes to policy matters.

We do in Australia at the moment have all of the elements to ensure that Australia, its government, its institutions and its businesses are as corruption free as possible, and certainly we are as good as anyone else in the world. In December last year the government released its first National Action Plan under the Open Government Partnership. This consisted of a number of commitments to advanced transparency, accountability, public participation and technical innovation in Australia over the next two years. As I have foreshadowed, I have a couple of amendments to government bills that, if adopted by the parliament, would add to the role of that plan. I will be seeking the support of other senators—not with a great deal of confidence, I might say, but I will seek that support—and we will see then the rhetoric of the Greens, their nontransparency, their appeal to the populists—those who are leaving the Greens in droves. We will see how they carry on. Australia is not perfect, but we are as good as any other country in the world. We are as good as you possibly can be in a democracy and in a large business operation like the governance of Australia. I will certainly oppose this bill.

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