By Tony Moore, originally published in Brisbane Times and Sydney Morning Herald 22nd August 2019
Lobbying of federal ministers must be the next anti-corruption focus, a retired Victorian Supreme Court judge has asserted in an annual speech in honour of one of the country’s most well-known corruption fighters.
Justice Stephen Charles gave the Tony Fitzgerald Lecture at Griffith University on Thursday night amid continuing debate about the shape of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, announced by the Morrison government in December 2018.
Justice Charles is a scathing critic of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission model being proposed, describing it as “too weak and too narrow” and only likely to investigate blatant “brown-paper-bag bribery”.
“The Commonwealth Integrity Commission model will not permit any investigation of electoral donations or their consequences, nor of the revolving door movement of ministers and public servants into private industry,” he said.
“In short, the Coalition only wants serious and systemic criminal activity – brown paper bags with cash – to be investigated.”
He said the influence of lobbyists had to be investigated and the lobbying of federal ministers was “out of control”.
“There is little or no control of lobbying in the federal area,” Justice Charles said.
“Ethical lobbying is a perfectly normal part of any democracy but there are few rules, and those that exist appear never to be enforced.
“Hundreds of lobbyists walk the halls of Parliament without scrutiny.”
Justice Charles’ comments came amid a Senate examination of former defence minister Christopher Pyne and former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop’s acceptance of new corporate jobs.
Mr Pyne accepted a position with prominent consulting firm EY, formerly Ernst and Young, as the firm “looks to expand its footprint in the defence industry” while Ms Bishop began working for private aid contractor Palladium.
The secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Secretary, Martin Parkinson, this week declined to give evidence to that Senate inquiry.
In his Tony Fitzgerald Lecture, Justice Charles said despite a number of agencies in the federal area, there was no overarching monitoring of influence on federal politicians.
“There is no adequate control of political donations, lobbying or ministers, members of parliament or public servants leaving a position and moving to private industry, he said.
“There is totally inadequate Freedom of Information in the federal sphere, and seriously flawed rules for protecting whistle-blowers.”
Justice Charles told the audience the risks of corruption in the federal government arena were increasing “for a variety of reasons”.
“Risks of corruption have also increased in recent years for a variety of reasons,” he said.
“These include the increase in governmental control of information; increased need for funding of political campaigns; methods employed by government and the use of public-private partnerships; commercialisation of government services; and the failure to stop the flow of ministers and their staffs for the private sector.”
Federal controls over lobbying began in 2008 when the Rudd government introduced measures preventing ministers or parliamentary secretaries working in areas their portfolios covered for 18 months after resignation.
Justice Charles said the proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission deserved much broader scrutiny.
“The CIC model is so framed to prevent anything short of flagrant criminal activity being investigated, because the Coalition, many public servants, and some in the opposition see no impropriety in returning favour for favour, or the revolving door producing a lucrative retirement,” he said.
“Ministers, members of Parliament and public servants are intended to remain free from investigation by the CIC, so long as they don’t embark on brown-paper-bag bribery.”
Justice Charles’ speech summarised the impact of various corruption bodies including New South Wales’ Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), The National Crime Commission (1980), Western Australia’s 1992 Royal Commission into the “WA Inc” allegations, the Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987) and, most recently, Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.
He said there were genuine grounds for a national integrity commission.
“Every state now has an anti-corruption commission,” he said.
“The federal government does not, even though the vast bulk of money, power and influence in Australia is to be found in Canberra.”
Justice Charles said questions remained over Australia’s $40 billion submarine construction contract, Manus Island’s security contracts, Helloworld, “uncontrolled” electoral donations and more recent questions about the allegations of Chinese triad gang influence at Crown Casino.
He proposed a different structure for a national integrity commission, consistent with Tony Fitzgerald’s reforms.
Officers would be appointed by a bipartisan parliamentary committee for five-year terms.
It would have independent investigators and not employ police officers, a criticism of Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission raised last month by the original whistleblowers and prominent lawyer Terry O’Gorman.
Justice Charles was educated at Geelong Grammar and in 1975 was appointed Queen’s Counsel in Victoria.
He lectured at Melbourne and Monash universities, the Council of Legal Education Law Course, becoming president of the Australian Bar Association.
In 1995, he was appointed a Judge of Appeal in the Supreme Court of Victoria, a position he held until he retired in 2006.