“The legislation tabled by Senator Gallagher reveals the frustration that she and her Labor colleagues feel as more and more rorts are revealed,” writes political columnist MICHAE MOORE.
ACT senator Katy Gallagher has introduced a Bill to the Australian parliament with the aim of reducing “rorts”, “pork-barrelling” and political actions that use taxpayers’ money for political advantage. It is an important step forward.
What is really needed is an Independent Commission Against Corruption. Such bodies have been established in most jurisdictions in Australia and have proven a key element in holding wayward politicians and senior public servants to account. Attempts to establish such a body federally have failed to gain the support they need from the government despite election promises.
Labor has promised to introduce an anti-corruption commission if elected. The legislation tabled by Senator Gallagher reveals the frustration that she and her Labor colleagues feel as more and more rorts are revealed. The latest is the “park-barrelling” affair where the $660 million provided clear support for “at risk” candidates.
This follows the sports rorts affair of the previous election that saw Senator Bridget McKenzie resign as a minister and as deputy leader of the National Party. In that case, the scathing report of the Australian National Audit Office followed by an investigation by the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet revealed her breach of ministerial standards. There have been a number of other examples in recent years.
The Gallagher Bill, that seeks to amend the Public Governance Performance and Accountability Act (2013), aims to “force the Morrison government to clean up its act when it comes to the way it spends taxpayers’ money”.
Gallagher argues it “will improve the transparency and accountability of ministerial decisions within these grant programs that Scott Morrison is addicted to rorting”.
Apart from the Opposition hyperbole, the Bill really does have merit. Most importantly, it shortens the time that ministers have to report to the Finance Minister on grants that apply to their own electorates or grants that have been approved after being rejected by their department.
There will be 30 days to report to the Finance Minister who, in turn, will be required to table the information in parliament within five sitting days.
At the moment, Gallagher points out, ministers have been able to hide their “dodgy decisions” for up to 16 months. The shorter timeframe allows much more effective scrutiny from the parliament, the media and the people. It is an important step. But it is not enough.
Helen Haines, independent member for the Victorian seat of Indi, has introduced the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill to “create a strong and independent Federal Integrity Commission”.
She says: “This commission will have the power to root out corruption, expose lies and hold our politicians to account.”
Ms Haines points out that Scott Morrison promised to implement an integrity commission. The exposure draft that he released was widely condemned as totally inadequate. Haines points out that “on September 8 it will be 1000 days since the first promise” and “he is still dragging his feet”.
The Bill, introduced by Haines on October 26 last year, is “neither a star chamber nor a toothless tiger – it is a consensus way forward and has the support of judges, ethicists, legal academics, law enforcement organisations, civil society leaders, and MPs from across the parliament from all sides of politics”.
This Bill, she argues, “is fully equipped with the powers it needs to do its job. And it has appropriate checks and safeguards to protect the integrity of its work”.
The steps taken by Katy Gallagher and Helen Haines are not in conflict. However, they illustrate the frustration of non-government members of the parliament who are aware of research illustrating the growing lack of trust in all politicians and are keen to do something about it. They deserve support as every step helps.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006
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