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National Anti-Corruption Commission

Speeches in Parliament
Richard Di Natale 20 Apr 2016

My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. The government and the opposition both claim that no national independent anti-corruption commission is required because there is no widespread evidence of wrongdoing and misconduct in the federal parliament or the Public Service.

Given recent examples—the member for Fisher, Mal Brough, and the James Ashby affair; the member for Fadden, Stuart Robert, shoring up his own commercial interests at taxpayer expense; and the secretary of your own department, Mr Chris Moraitis, allegedly offering Professor Gillian Triggs an inducement to leave her position as chair of the Human Rights Commission—how can you be so sure that an independent anti-corruption commission is not required because there is no 'widespread evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct'?

Senator BRANDIS

Senator Di Natale, that is an extremely inappropriate question. Each of the cases you instance is either demonstrated to be false or is the subject of a current investigation. Let me start with the last of the examples you gave. In the case of Mr Moraitis, a very greatly respected and experienced public servant with a peerless career-long reputation in the Australian Public Service, a scurrilous allegation was made against him. A reference was made to the Australian Federal Police, who evaluated the complaint and found there was nothing in it. There was nothing to warrant an inquiry, nothing whatsoever. So that aspersion against Mr Moraitis you should be ashamed of, Senator.

In relation to Mr Brough, there is an Australian Federal Police inquiry ongoing. That inquiry, because it is ongoing, has not reached any conclusion nor is it a matter for Australian Federal Police to arbitrate on guilt or innocence—something which you and those who sit behind you have very frequently pointed out in this chamber, Senator Di Natale. And the same goes for Mr Stuart Robert.

Before you start throwing people's names around—people who occupy honourable and senior positions in Australian government and politics—please do not cast an innuendo against people in respect of whom it has been established that there is nothing to be investigated or in respect of whom an investigation is ongoing and has not been concluded.

Senator DI NATALE

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Since 2013, fossil fuel interests have donated $3.7 million to the coalition and the ALP. Attorney-General, does the government object to a national independent commission against corruption because it is concerned that it will uncover evidence of inappropriate practices?

Senator BRANDIS

Once again, Senator Di Natale, you really disappoint me. That is a disgraceful innuendo. To suggest that because a political party accepts a donation from a donor—whether it be an individual or a corporate donor—there is somehow a taint of corruption involved is disgraceful. As the High Court of Australia has said, offering and accepting political donations is an aspect of the implied right of freedom of political communication.

The Liberal Party and the National Party accept donations from corporations and persons. So does the Australian Labor Party. We on my side always comply with our declaration obligations under the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I am sure the Australian Labor Party does. Whether you, the Greens, do or not, I do not know, but you are not the hind hand in accepting very large donations yourselves.

Senator DI NATALE

Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The Attorney-General often reminds us of his legal expertise, so I am sure he is familiar with Lord Sumner, who characterised the legal concept of wilful blindness by saying: 'A man is said not to know because he does not want to know. The full details or precise proofs may be dangerous because they may embarrass his denials or compromise this protests. He flatters himself while his ignorance is safe.' Attorney-General, does this summarise your position?

Senator BRANDIS

No, it does not—because this is not a matter of wilful blindness or blindness at all. Let us be very clear. We have a very thorough system, under the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which requires the disclosure of donations. The purpose of that measure is that it is an integrity measure, so the public can inspect the record and be satisfied that who gives money to which political parties is a matter of transparency. My side of politics complies scrupulously with those obligations.

Senator Di Natale, you seems to be implying that a political party that accepts donations in accordance with the law—from people who, under the law, are entitled to make them—and declares them in accordance with the law and is otherwise compliant with all of its obligations is, somehow, nevertheless subject to a taint of corruption. That is a disgraceful and foolish thing to say.

 

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