Australia Why on earth is Labor dealing with Dutton on a federal ICAC?

05:11  26 september  2022
05:11  26 september  2022 Source:   crikey.com.au

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Regarding the unveiling of the government’s legislation for a federal anti-corruption body, and the possibility that Labor has done a deal with the Coalition to avoid Senate amendments, it’s wise to remember that Labor came late to the idea of a federal ICAC. It wasn’t until early 2018 that Bill Shorten finally signed Labor up for such a body, but the Greens and crossbenchers had been calling for one for years.

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As the torrent of scandals, abuse of power, misconduct and rorting that characterised the Morrison years went by, Labor’s support hardened — especially in the face of the deliberately weak, secretive model that Morrison and Christian Porter wanted, which would actually have helped the corrupt cover up their crimes.

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But it pays to remember that the transition from opposition to government can perform an almost alchemical transformation in attitudes to transparency, integrity and accountability.

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According to Peter Dutton, Labor has been busy discussing a federal ICAC model with the Coalition, despite the deep antipathy toward accountability and integrity modelled by the Liberals and Nationals when in government. Dutton says that public hearings for an anti-corruption body are “problematic” and “the government concedes that point”.

The opposition may be verballing Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, but if true, it could represent a major watering-down of the power of a federal ICAC.

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Put simply, public hearings are crucial to the effectiveness of an anti-corruption body. It is terror of the “perp walk” in the minds of politicians, public officials and those who have tried to suborn them that will focus officials on whether particular conduct might lead to a trip in for a public hearing. And taxpayers have an absolute right to find out what their officials — elected and otherwise — have been doing.

The only people who don’t think public hearings are a good idea are politicians themselves, crooks who’ve been exposed, and News Corp, which hates the NSW ICAC with a passion.

Dutton also claims “we’re working constructively with the government” on the “breadth” of the body, suggesting it will be narrower than needed.

The idea of Labor working “constructively” with the Coalition on a federal ICAC should be ringing loud alarm bells about the prospect of a major party stitch-up. Certainly the crossbenchers suspect one is afoot.

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This morning, all the House of Reps crossbenchers, including Bob Katter, the Greens and David Pocock released a statement noting that “we have been raising our detailed concerns with the government for many months now in a good faith attempt to have them addressed in a timely way”.

They want whistleblower protections, oversight mechanisms that will protect the independence of the body, including secure funding, and the ability to self-initiate investigations, including into “grey” corruption — pork-barrelling, rorting, appointments of mates and other abuses of office that might not amount to criminal conduct.

The statement also calls for “jurisdiction over third parties who seek to improperly influence government decisions and funding”.

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The word “improperly” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. Arguably, anyone who pays a political donation to get access to decision-makers is “improperly” trying to influence decisions, because the great bulk of us don’t have that kind of access.

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A lobbyist who is a former MP, party powerbroker or political strategist who knows her calls will be returned and her meeting requests promptly acknowledged is “improperly” trying to influence decisions. But these kinds of influence are legal under our current, woefully inadequate donation and lobbying laws. Far better to regulate the problem at the source rather than wait for an egregious case to appear before a federal body.

Labor will argue that an anti-corruption body that isn’t supported by the opposition risks charges of illegitimacy and abolition at the next change of government. Well and good — if the Coalition wants to go to the next election promising to abolish a federal ICAC, let them knock themselves out. Labor would do far better to be seen to negotiate with the teal independents and David Pocock, strengthening their case to voters at the next election to keep their seats.

Tomorrow has become a significant test for Labor: once unveiled, we can see whether Labor is serious about integrity, or has indeed been preparing a major party stitch-up.

Are you concerned Labor is losing its enthusiasm for a strong federal ICAC now it’s in government? Let us know your thoughts by writing to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

The post Why on earth is Labor dealing with Dutton on a federal ICAC? appeared first on Crikey.

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usr: 1
This is interesting!