By Julie Owens MP

24 September 2021

Now more than ever we need a strong federal anti-corruption commission.

In my 17 years as Member for Parramatta I’ve spent a lot of time chatting to people in the local community. Over the past few years I’ve noticed a growing suspicion about the ways governments make decisions. People don’t usually call this ‘corruption’, but they tell me they’re concerned that wealth, power, and sheer political self-interest is influencing the way that taxpayer money is spent. Trust in the motives of Government is at an all time low. 

In recent weeks we’ve seen a Federal Minister, Christian Porter accept an undisclosed amount up to $1 million dollars from secret benefactors with unknown motives to fund his personal legal action against the ABC. And we’ve seen our Prime Minister describe his resignation as the action of a man who is upholding Ministerial standards.

When the Prime Minister tells us his government’s latest scandal is evidence that it’s members are upholding the highest standards, it’s clear that we need a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.

There are already anti-corruption bodies in every state and territory with the power to hold their local enforcement agencies, public sector and members of parliament to account and in NSW, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has held several Premiers up to scrutiny – most recently Gladys Berejiklian.

Under intense pressure from Labor, leading up to the last election, the Morrison Government promised to establish and anti-corruption commission but more than 1,000 days later, all they’ve done is release an “exposure draft” for a Bill – that is, a proposal – that has been panned by experts including the Centre for Public Integrity, which said it would create “the weakest watchdog in the country”.

Instead the Government has proposed a ‘Commonwealth Integrity Commission’ (CIC) that it claims will have more “more powers than a Royal Commission”. That’s true, so long as it has an invitation from the government to investigate…the government. It won’t be allowed to hold public hearings, respond to complaints and may be prevented from investigating past allegations of corruption against the Government.

Labor has committed to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission that will operate as a standing Royal Commission into serious and systemic corruption in the Federal Government, with the power to investigate and hold to account Commonwealth ministers, public servants, statutory office holders, government agencies, parliamentarians, personal staff of politicians and other Commonwealth public officials.

You don’t have to look far to find examples that point to the need for a strong federal corruption watchdog. In the lead up to the last election the Morrison Government handed out $100 million in grants to sports clubs in marginal electorates – the now infamous ‘sports rorts’. Parramatta Pool was one of the top 20 recommended projects that missed out, while in another grant program, the open and functioning North Sydney Pool was approved for a $10 million upgrade from a fund meant to help women in rural and regional areas. Now Parramatta is entering its fifth summer without a pool and Bridget McKenzie, who resigned as a Cabinet Minister over the scandal, has been promoted back to the Cabinet with a $152,000 pay rise.

For democracy to work, people need to have faith that they can vote for a Government that will make decisions in their interests. As a politician myself, I’ve always believed we should be held to a higher standard – not just because we are spending taxpayer money, but because we hold the reputation of democracy in our hands. 

It really is time for us to stand up and create a genuine national anti-corruption commission that can hold the rule makers to account and work in the interests of the people we represent.