One Year On, Why Are We Still Waiting For A Federal Corruption Commission?

The Morrison government has been lying to you.

Scott Morrison

The federal government has been lying to you. I know; shocker. I understand if you need to sit down. Since coming into power, the Coalition has relied on three poorly-crafted myths to justify its opposition to a national corruption watchdog. But it doesn’t take much to show that they don’t have a leg to stand on.

Australia has no national agency with the investigative powers or jurisdiction to expose corrupt conduct of federal politicians, despite multiple attempts from the Greens and independents to introduce once.

What better a day to unpick the government’s excuses for why we don’t have a federal anti-corruption body (ICAC) than today, exactly a year since the Senate passed the Greens bill to establish one; a whole year that the government could have called that bill on for a vote in the lower house, but still hasn’t.

Myth one: Australia already has a free and transparent democracy.

At first, the Coalition argued that a corruption watchdog isn’t necessary because we don’t have any corruption on a federal level. You only have to look at the Coalition’s sideshow of scandals to see the massive influence of big money and election ambitions on government decision-making.

In the last year alone, we’ve learnt that the government directed community sports grants, and funding to ease congestion on regional roads, towards key seats it needed to win in the 2019 federal election. We’ve learnt that, after Shine Energy couldn’t win any existing grants for a feasibility study into its coal power plant, that the government created one just for them and asked them to apply three days after Minister Angus Taylor announced them the winners.

We’ve seen Scott Morrison stack the National Covid Commission with mining magnates and gas sector executives. We’ve seen headlines revealing he rang up the NSW Police Commissioner investigating Angus Taylor over forged documents about Mayor Clover Moore. We’ve seen Liberal donors awarded contracts for Covid-testing in aged care.

We’ve seen too much.

Australians’ faith in democracy is at an all-time low. A study from the Australian National University last December found that just one in four Australians are confident in their political leaders and institutions. The Australia Institute found that 85% of Australians believe there is corruption in federal politics, and 82% support the establishment of a national corruption watchdog.

The government realised the jig was up. A month after calling it a “fringe issue”, Morrison proposed a corruption watchdog of his own. It had some bark, but no bite; the commission would only investigate “the worst of the worst” instances of criminal corruption, not dodgy conflicts of interests or breaches of ministerial standards.

And so came myth two: that the Coalition was working on improving its pathetically weak proposal. That was December 2018. We are still waiting.

Almost a year later, on 9 September 2019, the Greens bill for a federal watchdog with teeth passed the Senate, and was sent to the House. Nothing happened. In February this year, the Senate voted to compel Scott Morrison to call it on for a vote in the House of Representatives. Nothing happened.

Coronavirus hit, and with it myth three: we don’t have time to deal with a federal ICAC because we’re too busy dealing with a pandemic.

And yet, the Coalition has had the time to quietly push through legislation to further its own agenda. They’ve found the time to create a backdoor for dodgy donors to bypass strict state donations laws. They’ve found the time to try and cut university funding and hike up student fees. They’ve found the time to try and scrap environmental protections, and try to have gas reclassified as a low-emission fuel so those projects can get more government funding.

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we need a watchdog with the power to independently investigate, report and take action against our federal politicians. We are living under the least transparent government in our country’s history, that cares more about working the system for themselves and their mining mates, than helping Australians through this crisis.

Larissa Waters is a federal Greens Senator for Queensland, and the party’s leader in the Senate.