Published 31st July 2019 by David Crowe in the Sydney Morning Herald
Federal crossbenchers have lashed out at “morally corrupt” politicians who are not heeding calls for a more powerful commission to investigate corruption amid concerns a new inquiry into Crown Resorts will be too weak.
Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie declared she might not back the Morrison government’s bills unless she saw action to create a stronger corruption watchdog in the wake of the revelations about the casino operator.
“I would consider telling them where to stick their bills until they put some law and discipline on themselves, because I’ve had a gutful of it,” Senator Lambie said.
Seven crossbenchers including Senator Lambie joined Mr Harper on Wednesday in calling for a national integrity commission “with teeth” compared to a more limited body planned by the Morrison government.
A former Victorian Supreme Court judge, David Harper, said there was a “real problem” with the fact that the Commonwealth’s existing integrity agency could not examine ministers if it chose to investigate the allegations swirling around Crown.
Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie accused the two major parties of attempting a “snow job” with a limited inquiry into Crown when Australians believed there was a “stink” in federal politics that required tougher sanctions.
Mr Wilkie said he believed individual politicians were corrupt and that too many were reluctant to use “the C word” about the links between donors and parties, a verdict backed by Senator Lambie.
“They’re morally corrupt, there’s no doubt about that,” she said.
“I have no doubts about that, because they don’t get any disciplinary action, nothing happens to them.
“Until we put some laws in order to make sure that they are penalised, or locked away for their actions, then we’re going to continue going over the same ground year after year after year.”
Senator Lambie issued a direct plea to whistleblowers to take their concerns to herself or the other crossbenchers so they could air them under parliamentary privilege.
“We have no fear and we have the advantage of privilege in the chamber,” she said.
“If you’ve got documents you want to produce to us, and you don’t want to be named, I tell you what: we have no fear in standing up in the chamber and calling them out for what is going on here.
“So please, if you have evidence of any corruption that is going on then please come to one of these people.”
Senator Lambie made the call when flanked by Mr Wilkie and fellow independents Helen Haines and Zali Steggall, as well as Greens MP Adam Bandt and Centre Alliance members Rebekha Sharkie, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff.
Attorney-General Christian Porter is preparing a bill to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC), which would absorb the existing Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.
Mr Porter has separately referred the Crown revelations to the ACLEI although it is up to the commission to decide whether to investigate.
Advocates for the federal commission warned that the CIC would not be strong enough compared to similar agencies in other countries.
“If it is legislated, the CIC will be the weakest watchdog in the country and would not be able to investigate the Crown case,” said Hannah Aulby, the executive director of the Centre for Public Integrity.
Mr Harper, an advocate for the reform as a member of the Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee, said an effective watchdog had to be able to launch its own inquiries, hold public hearings and examine politicians.
“I accept that ACLEI would do the best job it possibly can with the reference it’s got, assuming that it accepts that reference – it doesn’t have to, it may decline to do anything,” Mr Harper said.
“But if it does accept the reference it won’t be able to examine the part, if any, that has been played by members of Parliament in the Crown saga.
“And that, of course, is a real problem when you’re investigating allegations that take in the activities of MPs.”