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Speech: Corruption in Parliament

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 19 Oct 2021

It's true: a day can be a long time in politics. Friday 1 October was a long day for the then Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who resigned from her position as the first woman ever elected Premier of New South Wales when it was revealed that the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption would investigate her. We've had similar days before in New South Wales politics. Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell resigned a day after giving evidence to ICAC in April 2014 about that bottle of Grange. Almost 30 years ago, ICAC's concerns over the then Liberal Premier Nick Greiner's appointment of a former education minister to a new public service post led to his resignation.

The Labor Party doesn't have clean hands, either. Disgraced former ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald were recently found guilty of corruption over the allocation of coal licences. Previously, New South Wales Labor ministers Tony Kelly, Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid had engaged in serious corrupt conduct and were found by the ICAC to have misused their positions as MPs.

Politicians come and go, yet this disgraceful, corrupt behaviour goes on right under our noses In my first year in the New South Wales parliament a staggering 10 state Liberal MPs resigned from the party or from their positions under the shadow of corruption. I was pretty shattered by these revelations, especially since one of the reasons I had left Pakistan was the political corruption that had set in over there. I was hoping for things to be different in Australia. Now I know that power corrupts no matter where you are.

New South Wales politics is notoriously well known for its fair share of corruption scandals and dirty deals. It seems the culture of corruption is embedded within the politics of my state, but corruption is not confined within the borders of New South Wales. The longer I spend in politics, the more I see the omnipresence of corruption. Even worse, it is denied, covered up and even defended. Some of the outright corruption is largely legal. The very concept of political donations is about buying influence, which ultimately results in the abuse of taxpayer money. Donations to the Liberals, Nationals and Labor from the horse-betting companies allowed the cruelty of horseracing to continue in COVID-19, even when everything else was locked down. Donations from the fossil fuel lobby to the major parties have made them so beholden to the lobby that, embarrassingly, now Australia has been ranked dead last out of 193 companies for lack of action on climate. Then there is the major parties' use of public money to shore up their chances of winning elections. We are all familiar with the sports rorts, the car park rorts and the regional grants rorts. Immoral and corrupt pork-barrelling goes on with little recrimination for governments. Even under intense public pressure, Prime Minister Morrison is not willing to set up a proper federal ICAC. When ministers leave parliament they often swing straight into lucrative positions in companies they once regulated, or they swing right back into politics as lobbyists and are paid obscene amounts of money by corporations to influence decisions using their well-established political networks. I remain astounded by the depth and breadth of this corruption. It is so normalised that it goes on right under our noses. If it ever gets brought to light then there have been occasional repercussions—resignations and even jail for some—but so much of it is sanctioned by our lax laws and the well-established web of privileged connections that no-one is held accountable.

It's no wonder that public trust in politics and politicians is so low. It's our job to re-establish that trust. An independent corruption watchdog with teeth at the federal level, like the one in New South Wales, will be a big step towards this, but there is much more to do. Let's ban dirty donations from industries like gambling, fossil fuels, alcohol and tobacco. Let's stop the revolving door between politics and industry lobbyists. To rebuild trust we need to overhaul the corrupt political system, but we also need to change the faces within the system so it actually reflects the lived experiences and the diversity of the Australia that lives and breathes in our streets and suburbs, not a whitewashed version of it.

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