National Integrity Commission - Address to the Australian Parliament

By David Smith

17 February 2021

Address to the Federation Chamber, House of Representatives, Australian Parliament House

Constituency Statements

Wednesday 17 February 2021


Mr DAVID SMITH (Bean) (10:41): Integrity in government and post-government life matters for the people of Bean and people across the country. It has been a guiding principle for any of my constituents in the conduct of their careers. Trust in government is essential to a functioning, healthy democracy. To ensure this, it's vital that the public trusts the process and trusts those who handle the levers of power. This requires not only a national integrity commission with teeth but a ministerial code of conduct with serious consequence, along with a code of
conduct that properly binds ex-ministers and senior public servants from misusing their knowledge and access
for pecuniary advantage.

The Corruption Perceptions Index, reported by Transparency International, has seen Australia slide down the ranking order over the past seven years. Since 2010, there has been a 13 per cent drop in Australian satisfaction
with democracy. When this trust crumbles, institutions suffer and government becomes less stable. What we are now seeing is our current institutions being tested like never before. At present, there is no institution with the ability to properly investigate allegations of misconduct that are levelled against parliamentarians or those in the public service. At the state level, we see strong anticorruption bodies, yet, at the federal level, the highest and most important officers lack credible oversight.

Two years ago, this government claimed that there was no persuasive evidence for such a body, yet every week another story emerges that leads to a further loss of faith in government, whether it be one of secrecy, nepotism, corruption or sleaze. We are seeing community safety rorts, sports rorts, the dodgy Sydney Airport deal, the Great Barrier Reef fund sham, the stacking of boards and the politicisation and erosion of the public services, and we are seeing a 22 per cent cut to the Auditor-General's budget. After all of this, the government have brought forward a proposed anticorruption model that is a toothless watchdog—unable to look retrospectively at the litany of scandals that have plagued this government. They have wheeled out a chihuahua, a dog that, much like this government, is all noise and no bite.

Just this week, the revelation that a recently departed agency head had resurfaced in a role as a consultant with PM&C and, at the same time, in a role with a lobbying firm re-enforced how ineffectual existing codes of conduct are in relation to post-political and senior public service life. We must and can do better. But we know that this government have no interest in cleaning out their fetid stables.