National Integrity Commission

National Integrity Commission Main Image

By Kristy McBain

16 February 2022

Yesterday the Attorney-General confirmed what we had all known for many month, if not years, now: that the Morrison-Joyce government has no plans to introduce a Commonwealth integrity commission. I've come from the local government sector and the private sector before that. Codes of conduct and corruption watchdogs are there to ensure that people in positions of power are responsible with it. That is not a difficult concept.

The Prime Minister made a promise to the Australian public and has absolutely no intention of keeping it. To be honest, it's actually not the first of his broken promises. It's just another one of the countless promises made by this government and not kept. But at least this one makes sense, because it doesn't really take a focus group to work out the reason this government doesn't want a watchdog with teeth: they're frightened they might be bitten. All you have to do is ask yourself: why is this government fighting so hard against corruption being exposed? What are they scared of?

Australians want their parliamentarians to be held accountable, and this government should be accountable for its endless rorts and scandals. Here's a list of them, but by no means is it exhaustive, because it's hard to keep up. We've had the car park rorts, the sports rorts, the airport land rorts, the Minister for Defence's community safety rorts and the minister for energy's use of forged documents. We've had robodebt and the appointment of dozens of former Liberal Party members and staffers to highly paid government jobs without proper process. And the one that was a huge insult to regional communities across the country, including my own, was the Building Better Regions Fund. We've all become accustomed to this government using colour coded spreadsheets and treating taxpayer funds as a coalition re-election slush fund. With an election looming, I wonder if the government will find another $10 million in regional funding to divert to a Sydney pool.

The fact is that the Building Better Regions Fund, which is supposed to build stronger regional communities, has been a pork-barrelling exercise. Since 2018, 90 per cent of the Building Better Regions Fund has gone to coalition held or targeted seats, when Labor holds one-third of the eligible seats. Newsflash: apparently Eden-Monaro is no longer a target seat for the Liberal government. Bizarre! Coalition MPs are constantly given the opportunity to lobby for projects that don't meet grant criteria. Ten million dollars of regional funding went to the North Sydney pool, yet the Bega War Memorial Pool, which is 65 years old, got nothing—a BBR application made, a regional pool that needs updating, a pool well used by our community, but an application knocked back. And I wasn't able to lobby, like members opposite. Tell me: why does my community deserve less?

There needs to be greater transparency in decision-making and there needs to be greater transparency in grant funding. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and, sometimes, money to comply with grant processes that are becoming more and more complicated. Volunteers, not-for-profit organisations and community groups deserve to know that they are on a level playing field. Our communities deserve to know that grant applications are not in vain purely because the member representing them doesn't sit with the government of the day. The Australian public deserves to know that decisions over grant funding are made based on merit, rather than the political interests of those in power. And the only way to truly get the transparency that our communities want and need and to stop the rorts is for the government to implement an independent watchdog.

Every single non-government member and senator in the parliament is demanding a powerful, independent integrity commission, and the only people preventing this are the Prime Minister and his colleagues. They have the numbers in the House. They could introduce the bill and pass the legislation at any point. Yet they won't. Why? Why is this piece of legislation the only one that they want bipartisan support for? Every community I visit in Eden-Monaro says the same thing: people don't trust the government. The government has undermined people's confidence in our democratic institutions because of the lack of transparency over grant funding and decision-making which impacts our communities.

It is time to restore faith in our democratic institutions and in our government. An Albanese Labor government will put an end to this government's shameful tolerance for scandals and rorting and help restore the Australian people's trust in their government. A Labor government will establish the powerful, transparent and independent national anticorruption body that this country deserves.