Gladys Berejiklian resigned as New South Wales Premier because she said it was untenable for her to remain in office while she was under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
It says everything you need to know about Scott Morrison’s approach to integrity that he wants Ms Berejiklian to stand as a candidate for his government while that same investigation is still under way.
On this issue, as in her handling of the pandemic, Ms Berejiklian’s judgment has been far superior to Mr Morrison’s.
If it was untenable for the Premier to continue in office with serious unresolved allegations of corruption hanging over her, it is equally untenable for her to seek election to the Commonwealth Parliament while those same, serious allegations remain unresolved.
And it is even worse for the Prime Minister to be seeking to influence the conduct of that inquiry by misusing his high office, seemingly to try to bully the commission into clearing the former premier because he thinks it will help his election chances.
Mr Morrison’s attack blatantly misrepresents what political corruption is and what integrity bodies do.
According to Mr Morrison, any misuse of office, misconduct, conflict of interest, bias or misuse of public funds is now acceptable as long as it’s not a criminal offence.
What sort of a standard is that setting? Surely the bar for public office has to be higher than ‘no conviction recorded’?
It certainly explains why, three years after Mr Morrison and his then Attorney-General Christian Porter made their grand announcement promising Australians a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, Mr Morrison still hasn’t even brought legislation before the Parliament, let alone passed it.
Mr Morrison says it’s all Labor’s fault because we won’t support his draft proposal.
The facts are his proposal is so bad that the Centre for Public Integrity has said if it ever became law it would be “the weakest watchdog in the country”.
It is a proposal that Stephen Charles QC, former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal, says is “an attempt to protect ministers, politicians and senior public servants from investigations into serious corruption”.
So, Labor is right not to support a commission designed not to stamp out corruption, but rather to help Mr Morrison cover it up.
No wonder Mr Morrison won’t even allow his proposal to be debated.
Morrison won’t act
This is a government that lives in fear of accountability.
This is a government that lives in terror of what a powerful, independent and transparent anti-corruption commission would reveal.
It’s now clear that if Australians want a national anti-corruption commission they have to change the government.
Mr Morrison won’t act. Labor will.
In government, Labor will, as a priority, establish a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.
Labor’s national anti-corruption commission will operate as a standing Royal Commission into serious and systemic corruption in the federal government.
It will have a broad jurisdiction to investigate and hold to account Commonwealth ministers, public servants, statutory office holders, government agencies, parliamentarians, the personal staff of politicians and other Commonwealth public officials.
Unlike the weak and secretive cover up commission concocted by Mr Morrison, Labor’s anti-corruption commission will be empowered to conduct public hearings if it determines they are in the public interest, and it won’t be restricted to only investigating existing criminal offences.
The Morrison government’s refusal to honour its election promise is allowing corruption to go unchecked, enabling ministers to avoid being held to account for their actions and undermining public and international confidence in the Australian government.
Labor will put an end to the Morrison government’s shameful inaction by establishing a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.
Mark Dreyfus has represented the seat of Isaacs for the Labor Party since 2007. He served as Attorney-General of Australia in the Gillard and Rudd governments
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