Launching QED: The case for a federal ICAC

by | Jun 26, 2020 | QED Featured

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, trust in government had reached its lowest level on record, according to a major study conducted by The Australian National University. Just 25% of Australians said they had confidence in their political leaders and institutions. The study of the 2019 federal election also found Australians’ satisfaction with democracy was at its lowest since the constitutional crisis of the 1970s. A huge 56% believe democracy is not working – that government is run for a “few big interests”. Just 12% believe the government is run for “all the people”.

It is not just the big scandals, such as the sports rorts and travel rorts, that eat away at our trust and faith in politicians and the system. It is the near daily stories of appalling behaviour – be it broken promises, the grants that don’t comply with the rules, the cavalier and unaccountable spending of taxpayers’ money, the ex-politicians who take up jobs in apparent defiance of the rules, the conflicts of interest and the jobs for the boys – that constantly chip away at our trust in politicians.

While trust in government has rebounded somewhat because of the government’s response to the pandemic, the underlying conduct has not changed. And with every story published about rorting of the system, the calls for a federal integrity commission get louder and louder. The Coalition government promised in December 2018 to establish a federal integrity commission, and published an overview of the proposed reforms, but is yet to release draft legislation.

As Stephen Charles QC, a former Victorian court of appeal judge and board member of the Centre for Public Integrity, noted last week, many have called out the sports rorts in particular as political corruption. Yet Porter’s proposed integrity commission “would have no jurisdiction to investigate the sports rorts, any inquiry would be conducted in secret, and there would be no public report of any investigation”.

Charles said a proper federal integrity commission was the key to solving issues of integrity and restoring confidence in government. “All of the states have now got integrity commissions; plainly the commonwealth should have one too. And the only party that’s opposing it is the Coalition.”

On these pages we will be calling out all behaviour dating back for at least 10 years that fails the pub test. It is important to highlight all examples of poor conduct in public life because they paint a powerful picture of the apparent contempt in which many politicians hold their employers, the Australian public, the very people who pay their salaries.

We’ll keep adding to the list. And if you have something, to add, please get in touch.

We have branded the list of scandal, rorts and questionable behaviour QED, which translates from the Latin, quod erat demonstrandum, as “so it has been proved”. Click on the box “Q.E.D: The case for a federal ICAC” below to start …

Q.E.D: The case for a federal ICAC

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.

19 Comments

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    I don’t know what to think, there was nothing to read!

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      Click on the box “Q.E.D: The case for a federal ICAC”. The link will open onto the first page.

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    Should you include practices of political parties ?
    Fascinating that the review in Victoria is being conducted by 2 parties who could be considered compromised yet you have not commented on this.You need to develop some consistency on these issues

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    All the states have an ICAC-equivalent, yet the ACT does not. Is it coincidence that both the territory and Commonwealth governments are located in Canberra?

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      I agree with you, but, looking back, the NSW ICAC had little or no effect on the activities of Eddie Obeid until he was publicly outed as a “CROOK”

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        I was involved in the Auburn Public Inquiry and all the issues referred to the NSW ICAC have been shelved never to be found again and I suspect on the orders of the NSW State Government. A lot of inconvenient truths.

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        Yes. We’re told Obeid is in Jail and I suppose he is. The MSM have been as quiet as a Nun’s F**t on Obeid’s crimes, and anyone else associated with him. He could be back in Lebanon for all we know??

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    Expecting Federal Politicians to subject themselves to an “Integrity Commission”, is like asking Al Capone to stop selling Booze. The Governor General sacked a Prime Minister in 1975, why can’t the current GG “Cattle Prod” these Federal Sleeze Bags into a Federal ICAC, God knows, they won’t voluntarily introduce one.

    As Sam Kekovich would say…..”You know I’m Right”!!

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    Bravo! Can you also have a leaderboard for rorts by MP?

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    The big problem is that we are not only dealing with individuals who are corrupt but institutional corruption which is within the law, we need a Federal ICAC with proper resources and a real shake up of our ethical standards. Your revolving doors articles shine a light on this problem of conflict of interest and the lack of ethics in our public and private institutions.

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    To be or not To be …

    By
    John Hawkins
    Posted December 16, 2018 on Tasmanian Times

    Executive summary of the Integrity Commission …

    The powers that be in Tasmania have had their attention drawn to the deficiencies within the Tasmanian Integrity Commission and have done absolutely nothing about them.

    In his 2016 Independent Review of the Integrity Commission Act the Hon William Cox AC RFD ED QC noted:
    “The Commission is concerned that there are misconceptions about its role in dealing with corruption in the public sector. As it stands, the Commission deals with misconduct and serious misconduct, both of which have the potential to relate to corrupt conduct; however, ‘corruption’ and ‘corrupt conduct’ are not mentioned in the Integrity Commission Act. The Commission believes that there needs to be detailed consideration of whether and how corruption and corrupt conduct should be dealt with in relation to the Commission’s functions, particularly in relation to its investigative powers and resourcing. This would include consideration of the interrelationships between the term ‘misconduct’ in the Integrity Commission Act with the terms ‘corrupt conduct’ and ‘improper conduct’ in the Public Interest Disclosures Act 2002 (‘PID Act’).
    The Commission takes no further position on whether it should, or should not, have the powers and resourcing to investigate systemic or institutionalised corruption. Ultimately it is for the Government of the day and the Tasmanian community as a whole to debate the issue, and to subsequently ensure that the Commission has the appropriate legislation and resources to achieve the objectives of the Integrity Commission Act.”
    In other words the Act as created protects those that govern and rule in Tasmania from prosecution or for that matter investigation in all matters relating to corruption.
    This was I suggest done with both purpose and intent when the Act was drafted by colluding Pollies be they Liberal or Labor to protect their own skin if they had the misfortune to be found out when acting corruptly.
    It has resulted in the protection of those involved in corrupt acts relating to the Pulp Mill.
    Their cases were dismissed as being outside the remit of the Act and therefore incapable of investigation. How can this be so?
    In October 2014, the Tasmanian Integrity Commission released a report highlighting what it believed to be a significant weakness in the legislative regime under which it operates—that is, the lack of a ‘misconduct in public office’ offence in the Tasmanian criminal code.
    Those that govern us in Tasmania are not interested in being caught out by an Integrity Commission and the Liberal Party under SCO MO will be no different.
    They will recreate a Tasmanian Lite Corruption Commission given half the chance.
    We are dealing with bad people who only act out of self- interest and we must not forget it.
    With this in mind I would like to think the proposed new Federal Act will embrace this scenario as detailed in Hansard:
    The following important speech by Senator Whish – Wilson regarding the need for a Federal ICAC was made in the Senate Tuesday, 20 June 2017. This matter is now coming to a head as the Liberals move to take the high moral ground in an effort to win an election,
    We do not need window dressing we need proper legislation with real teeth.
    I would like to think that under any new legislation this case of blatant corruption over due process will be the first cab off the Tasmanian rank.
    Hansard Page: 4430
    Senator WHISH-WILSON(Tasmania) (20:23):
    Now to my adjournment speech that I gave last week. I would like to put a little case study together and refer directly to an article in the Tasmanian Times I referred to—in the last paragraph. The article is by Mr John Hawkins from Chudleigh, and you can download it on http://www.tasmaniantimes.com.au. The article is termed ‘Why …?’ and was written on 20 April 2017. In this article, John Hawkins outlines that on 27 January 2006, Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz became the federal Minister for Forestry in the John Howard Liberal government. Hawkins then states:
    On the 16th March 2006, some 6 weeks later, Abetz lunched with Ian Blanden, CEO of Gunns Plantation Schemes, and discussed the Gunns Pulp mill, MIS plantations and the 12 month pre-payment rule with no sunset provision.
    ‘These matters’, at the time were, ‘vital to the future solvency of both Gunns’s business’ and many in the MIS forestry plantation industry. Hawkins notes:
    This conversation was documented by the Chairman of Gunns Ltd John Gay in a letter to Abetz dated 29 March 2006 on Gunns Ltd company letterhead and sent to the Minister. (Document 1).
    Hawkins also notes:
    Three weeks later on 21 April 2006, Gunns gave the Liberal Party—
    a donation of—
    $50,000 … which was accepted.
    Hawkins asks: why? He then asks:
    Was this a donation made in an attempt to influence the thinking of the Minister to act in favour of the company—
    Gunns Ltd. He says:
    A large political donation made outside the electoral cycle is unusual. It was, I suggest, made with the sole aim of gaining the ear of the Minister for Forests, one Senator Eric Abetz.
    He then goes on to say:
    Abetz was in a position to protect and promote the highly-profitable Ponzi Nitens Woodlot Managed Investment Scheme … that were at this time keeping Gunns Ltd solvent. The demise of these schemes through ATO action caused their promoters to finally call in the liquidators.
    I went into this in significant detail in the first half of this speech.
    At the time, Senator Abetz was negotiating with Minister Peter Dutton, then Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, on changes to managed investment schemes. I just note that the $50,000 donation to the Liberal Party was authorised by Mr John Gay, the CEO at the time, who was subsequently convicted of insider trading but who was then chairman of Gunns Ltd. Mr Hawkins further states:
    By 22 June at the latest … Abetz reports to Gay—
    This refers to document 3, a letter from Senator Abetz to Mr Gay. Mr Hawkins continues:
    Unaware of this $50,000 … donation, I wrote to the Financial Review expressing my concerns.
    Mr Hawkins also comments on a letter he wrote to The Ageregarding Bob Brown. Mr Hawkins says that Senator Abetz threatened to sue him for defamation over his comments in these two letters but that Senator Abetz then withdrew. This particularly annoyed Mr Hawkins, who dug in deeper and went through FOIs to uncover more documents. In the end, he claims:
    Abetz then sent two goons to my front door to threaten me. I informed them that the days of the Third Reich and jackboots were over and that they should return to their master and tell him that I would pursue him to the grave.
    This is a public document on a public website and available for anyone who wants to read it.
    Mr Hawkins claims that these political donations, which were made to the Liberal Party—as I outlined last week—and also to the Labor Party, were unduly influencing policy, which later turned out to be a total catastrophe for so many investors around this country, not to mention rural communities. I would note for anyone interested to read document 7, which is Mr Hawkins’ letter to Mr Abetz, where he says: ‘I am not saying anything about personal corruption. I am just saying that it looks really bad that you took donations of $120,000 after you became forestry minister and after you changed MIS policy which favoured these companies. His letter states:
    I have no problem with corporate gifts to political parties during election campaigns, but when you back a winner after the race and the bet is accepted this is easily misconstrued and can have sinister connotations.
    Your thoughts would oblige.
    John Hawkins
    This is very important, as I stated last week, because the current matter of public interest is significant around political donations. It is not just a national issue; it very much applies to my home state of Tasmania. There is legitimate concern in the community that not everyone has the same opportunity to lobby decision-makers or to donate to political parties, and that those with the deepest pockets and the most power and connection are better able to influence policy making. The secretive way most lobbyists and donors currently operate means that the public cannot be confident that decisions are being made in the public interest and on merit, after considering a broad range of views. The Greens have before this chamber three private senators’ bills for an independent ICAC, an integrity commission and donation lobbying reform. It is time that we actually got on with it. (Time expired)

    John Hawkins born and educated in England. He has lived in Tasmania for 13 years. He is the author of “Australian Silver 1800–1900” and “Thomas Cole and Victorian Clockmaking” and “The Hawkins Zoomorphic Collection” as well as “The Al Tajir Collection of Silver and Gold” and nearly 100 articles on the Australian Decorative Arts. He is a Past President and Life Member of The Australian Art & Antique Dealers Association. John has lived in Australia for 50 years and is 75 this year. In two of the world’s longest endurance marathons and in the only teams to ever complete these two events, he drove his four-in-hand team from Melbourne to Sydney in 1985 and from Sydney to Brisbane in 1988.

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    Let’s take two recent federal examples – Home Insulation, and the much worse (in death toll) Robo Debt. I always jest that ministers and officials egregiously at fault were severely punished by way of promotion. Although it is true that one of them (the real victim, surely!) had to make do with a military, rather than civil, promotion.

    Sports Rorts was a bit different. The official who whitewashed Morrison had already been promoted.

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    Michael, I feel like a broken record but I wish to throw in to the discussion a simple reform which may assist in getting an ICAC, We need a more representative House of Representatives. I think I am correct in believing that this could be done by the Parliament changing the electoral system for the H of R by replacing SINGLE MEMBER ELECTORATES with MULTI MEMBER ELECTORATES.
    No constitutional change is necessary. It is within the remit of Parliament to make this change.
    Currently it is absurd that THE GREENS only have one member in the H of R with a national vote of around 1.7 million!
    Many of us, like me a SOCIALIST ALLIANCE member have little chance of seeing a real socialist elected to to the Federal Parliament. In Australia we are in the same league as the UK, that has “first past the post” voting. Antedeluvian, but cosy for the Lib/Nats/ALP Oligarchy. E U democracies have multi-member electorates so we have plenty of evidence of the efficacy of the system.
    At least the cross-benches should be vigorously and ad nauseam pursuing this REFORM.
    The bureaucracy and the pollies and their mates are TERRIFIED of an ICAC. Try dealing with WINE AUSTRALIA and see how far you get in the mire of its bureaucracy!

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    We need to expose the legitimized crime family who turns up for work at the Federal Parliament on sittings day, the Liberal National Party. The drum must beat relentlessly on this subject matter because the LNP don’t even bother to hide their grievous, illegal actions anymore.

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    I’ve got one older, but ongoing one, and something that is a more recent phenomenon that is no doubt perfectly within the rules.

    One of the worst rorts is the Job Network (now called Jobactive), started by Howard, when he shut down the Commonwealth Employment Service at the behest of his friend Patrick McClure, whose Mission Australia did very nicely indeed out of this privatisation.

    Jobactive (and DES) have been out of control for years. Their performance in actually placing people in work is, to put it kindly, underwhelming, not remotely worth its $7.3 billion price tag. It relies on people finding their own jobs, at which point they and their new employers are hounded to death, so that the JSA can claim outcome payments it did not earn. People have lost their new jobs because of this harassment.

    Others set up dodgy training courses, delivered by people totally unqualified to do it, or worse, set up a dodgy Registered Training Organisation and force their hapless victims into courses whose certification is not worth the paper it’s written on.

    Their major function now appears to be compliance, and the government has given these barely trained incompetents unprecedented powers over people’s income support.

    And now the crunch has come. Centrelink was overwhelmed by the numbers of people suddenly unemployed. We had the deserving unemployed and the undeserving unemployed.

    ‘Mutual Obligation’ was suspended, slowly coming back online now. The newly unemployed will find themselves forced onto the Jobactive treadmill. Those operators who have friends in government will be pleased. Their staff, and the entire network, is going to collapse under the sheer numbers.

    But over the years, what’s the cost/benefit of this privatisation? What is the cost/benefit of the privatisation of Centrelunk (to Serco and the like. Your most private medical and financial information is in their gands now).

    The CES did far, far more with far, far less.

    ********************************

    My second grievance is about parliamentary debate is shut down by the government, day in day out, with Christian Porter jumping up like a demented jack in the box demanding that ‘the member no longer be heard’. While this may be within the rules, it was Lord Deakin who said that it was a measure to be used ‘only as a last resort’.

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      Learn something every day. Remember trying and failing, to write papers for Wayne Gibbons, on why this was a magnificent idea. Always it knew it was for god squad. Never knew it was for McClure.

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    Just STOP voting these crooks in ! And toss them out at the next election !

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      Wish it was that simple, Roger.

      Problem is a high percentage of those who voted LNP are not interested in politics, and are actually unfit to offer a political opinion about what is good for the nation.

      Likewise those voting Labor. You pretty soon see why we are in this mess.

      A high percentage of Australians should not be voting, as harsh as that may sound.

      Pork-barrelling – the modern equivalent of coloured beads and ribbons – is the only thing Australians respond to.
      It must be – the LNP spent $millions of our own money doing it, resulting in the unwinnable election miracle.

      Finally, a quote, if I may:

      “In a society where the majority choose charisma over character, democracy does more harm than good to the actual progress of that society”
      ― Abhijit Naskar

      I may be wrong in my views of my compatriots, but at least I have considered the facts well, before saying it.

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    Shit Michael, QED (quod erat demonstrandum) means ‘which was to be proved’.

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