The discussion about the proposed federal integrity commission has been distorted by the fears and prejudices of the parties that formed the previous government. Those parties refused to introduce legislation to set up a commission to deal with corruption that was acceptable to those calling for it.
The shyness of those parties apparently got to the editor of the AFR yesterday. He thought that the commission should not look into matters that were ‘political.’ It would be unfair to suggest that the editor thinks that a war can de dismissed as a ‘special military operation’ – which is entailed in any participation in a war – but this is a case of an attempt to dismiss an argument merely by putting a label on it. It is hard to imagine such a commission lawfully investigating anything that could not in some way be called ‘political.’
A clear example of conduct that most regard as both ‘corrupt’ and ‘political’ is the practice known as pork-barrelling. It has become a blatantly pursued political practice that diminishes public faith in the whole political system. As does the practice known as ‘jobs for the boys’ – like the dreadful performance of Michaelia Cash’s trashing the federal AAT by loading it up with her crony mates on her way out of office. Most in the public would want the commission to investigate these forms of corruption.
But the editor of the AFR apparently thinks that pork barrelling is such a regular part of political life that the commission should not be called on to deal with it – unless a condition is met. One suggested limitation is that the commission should not look at this form of misconduct unless that conduct can be shown to be ‘systemic’. That is a weasel word, but if it means something that pervades a system, pork-barrelling is a definitive example. This contention shows how boundless most of this discussion is.
As does the shyness of some MPs about public hearings. Most of them go out of their way to catch the limelight. But only if it shows them off to advantage. And not where it shows them off to disadvantage.
So, they wheel out another label – ‘show trials’. It is remarkable that people who live in an institution called ‘cowards’ castle’ are so sensitive about the need to ensure due process so that people do not get hurt in their names by the ordinary working of a public institution.
They cite the case of Gladys Berejiklian (whom I like). The previous Prime Minister was livid about the way she was treated. And he can speak with authority on the way innocent people – as it happens, here, both women – can be smeared by a political process. He stepped into Christine Holgate without notifying her first, and on grounds which had no foundation, and in circumstances where a public apology was out of the question for a man of his illustrious faith and standing.
Now, I know that those comments can be said to be ad hominem. But they also show, in my view, that these grounds of opposition are bullshit.
It is like the suggestion that hearings should not be in public unless the circumstances are ‘special.’ What is not ‘special’ about a person holding an office of public trust being called on to respond to evidence suggesting that that person has been in some way involved in or able to throw light on corruption in our public life. Why should not matters of public life be examined in public? How often does parliament go in camera?
And there is one matter the Nervous Nellies must surely know. Every fetter that this parliament imposes on this commission gives the crooks another chance to walk away. And sometimes with the help of lawyers who are, sadly, about as unattractive as the malefactors.
Federal integrity commission – Liberal Party – Morrison – Holgate – Berejiklian.