A thousand days since Morrison’s promise, there’s still no anti-corruption commission

Mr Morrison has no intention of establishing an anti-corruption commission, writes Mark Dreyfus.

Mr Morrison has no intention of establishing an anti-corruption commission, writes Mark Dreyfus. Photos: Getty/AAP

John F. Kennedy’s entire time as US president lasted just over 1000 days.

Gough Whitlam’s entire time as prime minister lasted just over 1000 days.

Which just goes to show that when you’re committed to action, you can get a lot done in 1000 days.

So the only conclusion we can draw from the fact it’s now been 1000 days without the national anti-corruption commission Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised us back in 2018 is that he never had any interest in introducing one.

On December 13, 2018, Mr Morrison and his former attorney-general Christian Porter stood before the Australian people and, finally, grudgingly promised them a national anti-corruption commission.

One thousand days later nothing has happened.

Not only do we not have a national anti-corruption commission, Mr Morrison has not even brought a bill before the Parliament.

And that’s because the Prime Minister and his government are terrified of what an independent inquiry, conducted by a powerful and transparent anti-corruption commission, would reveal about what they have been up to.

They are terrified of an independent inquiry into their unlawful diversion of more than $100 million into the ‘sports rorts’ fiasco.

They are terrified of an independent inquiry into their ‘car park rorts’.

They are terrified of an independent inquiry into the payment of $30 million to a Liberal Party donor for airport land worth a tenth of that.

This is a government that lurches from scandal to scandal and survives on secrecy and cover-up.

This is a government that lives in fear of accountability.

This is a government that lives in terror of what a powerful, independent, and transparent anti-corruption commission would reveal.

Instead of an actual bill, all we’ve seen is a weak, pathetic, desultory ‘exposure draft’ that was so bad, The Centre for Public Integrity said that if it ever became law it would be “the weakest watchdog in the country”.

Stephen Charles QC, former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal, said “[i]t’s an attempt to protect ministers, politicians and senior public servants from investigations into serious corruption”.

Geoffrey Watson SC, former counsel assisting the NSW ICAC, said the government’s proposal was so secretive, so weak and so constrained that it had clearly been “designed to cover up corruption, not expose it”.

After 1000 days of yet another announcement with no delivery, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that’s precisely how Mr Morrison wants it to stay.

When Mr Morrison holds his national cabinet meetings, the other eight leaders around that table know their actions are open to scrutiny by a dedicated anti-corruption body.

That’s because every state and territory now has one.

In contrast, Mr Morrison knows he and his ministers can get away with just about anything – ‘sports rorts’, ‘car park rorts’, ‘Grassgate’, Angus Taylor’s dodgy documents, the airport land rort … and that’s just since the last election.

The only minister ever forced to resign from the Morrison government didn’t even have to wait out one term before she was invited back.

Seventeen months to the day after she was sacked by Mr Morrison for failing to disclose a conflict of interest in relation to the government’s ‘sports rorts’ program, Bridget McKenzie returned to Cabinet with a $152,000 pay rise.

Meanwhile, in his most recent budget, the biggest spending budget in Australia’s history, under ‘Commonwealth Integrity Commission’ it actually lists zero staff for 2020-21 and 2021-22.

There’s Mr Morrison’s priority right there in black and white: Hundreds of millions of dollars to rort grants for car parks and sporting clubs into Liberal target seats, but zero staff for an integrity commission.

Nothing more graphically illustrates why Australia needs a powerful and independent anti-corruption commission – and why Mr Morrison and his colleagues will do everything in their power to stop one from being established.

If Mr Morrison won’t act, Labor will.

Labor, in government, will establish a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.

Labor’s national anti-corruption commission will operate as a standing royal commission into serious and systemic corruption in the federal government.

It will have a broad jurisdiction 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.

The Morrison government’s refusal to honour its election promise is allowing corruption to go unchecked, enabling ministers to avoid being held to account for their actions, and undermining public confidence in the Australian government.

Labor will put an end to the Morrison government’s shameful inaction by establishing a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.

As Gough Whitlam famously said before starting his 1000 days, ‘‘It’s Time’’.

Mark Dreyfus has represented the seat of Isaacs for the Labor Party since 2007. He served as Attorney-General of Australia in the Gillard and Rudd governments

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