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Issue 6: We need a federal ICAC. Now

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From the editorAustralians have always had a healthy scepticism about politicians. But I think we all
 

SundayFocus

August 25 · Issue #6 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
Australians have always had a healthy scepticism about politicians. But I think we all feel that prudent distrust has, in recent years, given way to a full-blown repudiation of the political class.
Far smarter people than I have explored this subject in great detail, but transparency, or the lack thereof, is surely part of the problem. From donation obfuscation to shady lobbyists and hidden financial interests, there is a growing realisation that our elected representatives do no represent us at all.
The long-mooted independent federal anti-corruption body could be a powerful mechanism to allow true democracy to reassert itself. Read on to discover how close to reality it is.
Enjoy the issue!
Guy Mosel, Editor

We need a federal ICAC. Now.
Credit: Social Estate | Unsplash
Credit: Social Estate | Unsplash
When independent MP Andrew Wilkie moved to launch a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of Crown’s cosy relationship with certain government departments, the major parties joined forces to crush it.
The photo of five crossbenchers – Wilkie, Rebekah Sharkie, Adam Bandt, Zali Steggall and Helen Haines – on one side of the chamber supporting the motion, and 127 combined Coalition and Labor MPs on the other, spoke volumes.
The government instead referred the matter to the little-known, poorly resourced and largely toothless Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, a body unable to investigate current or former parliamentarians.
Few observers expect anything to come of it.
There remains to this day no independent body with the power to properly investigate corruption among the ranks of our federal politicians and the public service. With the ACT’s newly established integrity commission there are now corruption watchdogs in every state and territory, but misdeeds by our national leaders remain largely unexamined.
And there’s plenty to be examined. Other than the Crown affair, “Watergate”, “Grassgate” and the incredibly suspect consulting gigs taken up by former ministers Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop top the list of recent dodgy dealings that merit a closer look.
Surely this government, so eager to expose and punish alleged corruption of the union kind, would be keen to shine the cleansing light of justice in all dark and dingy corners?
Well no. Not really.
So where are we at?
The establishment of a federal anti-corruption body was first explored in the eighties, originally under Malcolm Fraser, and then by special minister of state Mick Young during the Hawke government’s second term. But the idea went nowhere.
It wasn’t until almost 15 years later in 2010 that the Greens moved a bill calling for the creation of a national integrity commission. When the 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament Greens leader Bob Brown secured an assurance from Labor leader Julia Gillard that, in return for the Greens giving her the numbers to govern, she would appoint a “parliamentary integrity commissioner”. That never happened, despite the Greens introducing two more integrity commission bills in 2012 and 2013.
But in the last few years the case for a federal anti-corruption entity has been building. As Australia slipped down the global corruption rankings, a 2017 survey of Australian Public Service staff found that 1 in 20 had witnessed a colleague engaging in corruption. Meanwhile an Australia Institute survey in the same year found that 80 per cent of Australians favoured establishing a federal ICAC, with 63 per cent reporting a “low level of trust” in federal parliament.
Then in December last year, almost 12 months after Labor came to the party with a proposal for a corruption watchdog, the Coalition announced it would establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) “for the investigation of corruption in the public sector”.
But, as Minister for Adani Matt Canavan might say, the proposal was “weak as piss”.
As Kate Griffiths and Danielle Wood from the Grattan Institute argue, the CIC is “light on both powers and resources and is unlikely to weed out corruption and serious misconduct”. Specifically, they point to the fact that investigations are limited to activities that only reach the threshold of criminality, findings can be kept secret, and the budget would be less than the budgets of most equivalent state bodies.
The ACTU also rejected the CIC in a February submission to the attorney general, saying it ignored "expert evidence and best practice”.
And just this week retired Victorian Supreme Court judge Stephen Charles said the CIC was “too weak and too narrow” and ought to permit the investigation of electoral donations and the “revolving door movement of ministers and public servants into private industry”. 
There’s even dissent from within the Coalition’s own ranks with backbencher Llew O’Brien, long an advocate for an anti-corruption commission, saying the CIC needs “stronger” powers.
Where does this leave us? Well, it’s not promising. Despite Labor’s pre-election commitment to an anti-corruption body a recent report revealed that senior leadership, including new leader Anthony Albanese, pushed back against Shorten’s plan over fears it would “make it very hard to govern”.
Given the bipartisan rejection of an inquiry into Crown corruption, it may be that both major parties are happy to keep their skeletons in the closet.
But let’s not let them.
Read more
This post from the Parliamentary Library blog is comprehensive but very readable summary of the parties’ and crossbenchers various positions on a federal anti-corruption body.
This ACTU submission sets out the union movement’s position on creating a genuine national integrity commission.
And this 2012 piece by Bob Bottom, a consultant during the establishment of NSW’s ICAC, is a thorough account of the history of a proposed national anti-corruption body.
In other news...
Queensland turns to Joh-era suppression… The Queensland government is cracking down on free speech with new anti-protest laws [$] in the wake of rolling climate change demonstrations. This came in the same week Queensland Resource Council boss Ian Macfarlane warned activists they were risking their lives.
…because activism works Engineering firm Aurecon has cut ties with Adani after a sustained campaign by environmental activists. Meanwhile in the US, banks are abandoning the private prison industry under pressure from prison divestment and immigrants rights groups. This is how we win, folks!
Black lives protest Largely ignored by the media, hundred of demonstrators marched in Sydney on Wednesday, protesting police brutality and demanding justice for Indigenous deaths in custody. More than 400 Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in police custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in Custody ended in 1991.
Fighting wage theft The ACT has introduced new laws that will make it easier for workers to pursue employers for wage theft, while will also making businesses criminally responsible for health and safety breaches. Meanwhile, new federal Labor senator Tony Sheldon has proposed an “ensuring company integrity bill” which would enable unions to inspect firms’ books to investigate wage and superannuation theft .
It’ll be all white With the University of Queensland becoming the second tertiary institution to accept a bucket of cash from the Ramsay Centre for offering a “Western studies” program, an Indigenous student from Griffith University explains how white norms and perspectives are baked into university curriculums.
NSW abortion vote delay NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has surrendered to pressure from within and without her party, delaying a vote on a historical bill that would decriminalise abortion in the state.
Morrison’s pep talk On Monday the PM addressed the senior leadership of the Australian Public Service. Paddy Manning’s take on it is pretty good, although, as he points out, all of Morrison’s pretty words might mean nothing if the Thodey review leads to more APS cuts.
Amazon’s zombie Twitter army A new investigation reveals Amazon’s hilariously transparent attempts to use social media to spread propaganda about how working in the company’s fulfilment centres is really great. It is, of course, not great.
Coming up this week
Debating democracy Andrew Charlton, Amanda Vanstone, Daisy Jeffrey and Craig Reucassel debate the topic “Democracy Is Failing the People” for The Ethics Centre in Sydney on Tuesday.
Dan Tehan at the Press Club The federal education minister will address the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday on the topic of “Higher Education for the Future: Balancing economic growth, excellence and autonomy”.
Longreads
Want to reduce the power of the finance sector? Start by looking at climate change
How Australia’s coal madness led to Adani: The real reasons keeping the Carmichael mine alive
For your bookshelf
The Prosperity Gospel by Erik Jensen
Banking Bad by Adele Ferguson
Australia Day by Stan Grant
Frida Kahlo, An Illustrated Life by Maria Hesse
Cardinal, The Rise and Fall of George Pell
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