Radio Interview - 2CC Canberra - 27 October 2020

By David Smith MP

27 October 2020





SUBJECTS: National Integrity Commission; Australian War Memorial.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Let's talk to a couple of politicians that on general terms don't upset me, the Labor member for Bean, David Smith. G'Day, David.


CENATIEMPO: ... and ACT Liberal Senator and Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters, Zed Seselja. G'Day, Zed


CENATIEMPO: Good, almost forgot who you were there for a moment ...

SESELJA: Fair enough.

CENATIEMPO: Moving right along ...

SMITH: That's not possible!

CENATIEMPO: … yeah, I know, I keep saying he's the, you know, the man with the second coolest name in federal politics after Mathias Cormann, of course. Now something that I am in two minds about ... independent MP Helen Haines has put forward a bill for an Australian Federal Integrity Commission. Now, I'll start with you, David, because there's been more chatter out of your side about this recently. How do we stop this from becoming nothing more than a political star chamber like the New South Wales ICAC?

SMITH: Well, Stephen, I think there's demand from right across the country, I think we had the Law Council of Australia actually coming out saying it's time for a Federal Integrity Commission. I think that is the starting point, obviously. For three years the government has been talking about the need for an integrity commission too. Let's see the exposure draft legislation for the body that they're proposing so that we can actually start to get to ensure that we actually have a functional, independent and transparent integrity commission. I think there's growing concern across the community about integrity in government. It's not just at a federal level, it's at state and territory levels as well and I think you know it's time we got on and ensured that we have that oversight.

CENATIEMPO: Zed, where is the evidence that there is any wholesale corruption at a federal level? I mean why do we need an added level of bureaucracy to handle it when we see things like Senate estimates seem to uncover the kind of stuff we're worried about anyway?

SESELJA: Well, I guess the answer to the first question is, I don't think there is any evidence of wholesale corruption. I think from time to time we do see elements of it at any level of government, it can creep in. So it's something that we've always got to be wary of and make sure that there are appropriate accountabilities. So to answer your first question, where you said how do you avoid it being a sort of star chamber? I mean, that's not the model the government's pursuing. And we're pursuing, I think, a very responsible model; we will be putting out that exposure draft. And we've already started with funding in the budget for ACLEI [Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity] which already has this integrity role, expanding it to a number of other agencies. But I wouldn't want to see a replication of the ICAC model. I think that has had a number of failings. I think what you want to do is have serious accountability, investigative powers for the right agency so where there is corruption, they can get to the bottom of it. And then they can refer it to for prosecution to the courts, which is, I think, the appropriate place rather than I think what you're referring to where, you know, you see people's private lives being dragged through the mud and all these sort of things, but not actually necessarily evidence of corruption---although the stain of corruption can hang around for a long time once people are being called corrupt, even if there is no evidence whatsoever.

CENATIEMPO: Well, David, that's a classic example. I mean, look at former New South Wales police minister, Michael Gallagher, who had his political career trashed, his reputation destroyed only for two years later to find out "Oh, well, there's actually nothing here. You didn't do anything wrong. Sorry, too late, mate, your career is over." Why don't we just give some money to the Australian Federal Police and say, set up a corruption taskforce?

SMITH: Well I think, Stephen, we've got challenges with our existing model. You know, there's challenges already in terms of funding for the National Audit Office. There's, you know, concerns about whether they actually have enough funding, which at least, you know, it's good to see some budget funding coming through. But if you're going to go into public life, you shouldn't be afraid of ensuring that there is a national integrity body. It's something that effectively all of our respected legal bodies across the country support. So, it's something we shouldn't be afraid of. In terms of concerns, I mean our corporate watchdog just in the last two weeks says there have been pretty significant concerns raised about the way funds have been used in relation to board members. Now we've got the Australia Post board effectively authorising the handing out of Cartier watches to executives. There's actually a lot more to be seen than you might think.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah, but, David, these things are being exposed without an added level of bureaucracy, which is which is what a federal ICAC or Federal Integrity Commission will be.

SMITH: But the problem is, in many cases, Stephen, is that it's taking years to uncover these issues and with the Audit Office at the moment, with the state of funding, effectively there are many inquiries that they can't pursue. But look ... as I said you know, there are good reasons to be careful about the way that the model proceeds. But at the same time, if we're going into public life where we owe it to the public to ensure that there's independent and transparent oversight of the work that people do.

CENATIEMPO: All right, David, let's talk about a positive, the War Memorial redevelopment, half a billion dollars for, I think, our most important cultural icon. You're on the Public Works Committee. I think this is interesting that tenderers are going to need to involve veterans or their families if they want to win contracts. I think that's a brilliant idea.

SMITH: Stephen, I think it's a clever idea and I think what it actually shows is too is when we use government money for big public works projects, we should think about how we might be able to achieve other public good with it ... and the idea, I think, of backing in veterans jobs as part of a development such as that one is actually is a really, really positive idea.

CENATIEMPO: Zed, I think you'd agree that it is a positive but probably difficult to achieve in practical terms, perhaps.

SESELJA: Well, look, there obviously are some challenges in terms of exactly how you prescribe that, but it's being made very clear as part of that tender process that that's the expectation and so anyone bidding will have to demonstrate how they deliver jobs for veterans, which I think is a great thing. I mean, this is a really important project for the nation, it's a great project for Canberra, and not just the jobs in construction, but, you know, the value will go well beyond that in terms of, I think, tourism. But, you know, for veterans, I was there with a friend of mine who was a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq with his family and we had a tour of the war memorial recently. And, you know, for him to be able to go there and, you know, sign, I think there's a wall they can sign for some of those more recent veterans was very, very special. But we did note that at the moment, the war memorial is, that as an amazing place as it is, is those veterans of recent conflicts are not properly honoured---and that is what this is about. So adding to that, that we'll have more veterans employed as part of it, I think is just another benefit of what is an amazing project.

CENATIEMPO: David, there has been some criticism of this redevelopment and the particularly the demolition of ANZAC Hall and the rebuilding of it. But when you look at that, I think is it two per cent of the exhibits available are on display at any one time we obviously need more room, don't we?

SMITH: Stephen, I think it's pretty clear that there's a need for more room, and as Zed said, it's particularly important so that we're able to honour the contribution of veterans of recent conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Look, where the project's at is it's still before public works, we're still waiting for a few heritage and parliamentary approval processes. But I think that it’s clear that we need to ensure that we can continue to tell all the stories of our veterans in different conflicts.

CENATIEMPO: Absolutely. Gentlemen, good to speak to you this morning. We'll catch up next week.

SESELJA: Thanks very much, guys.

SMITH: Thank you, Stephen

CENATIEMPO: That's David Smith, the member for Bean, and ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja.