Subjects: Federal ICAC; religious freedom.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: I’m joined by Anthony Albanese and Christopher Pyne who is in Adelaide with us this morning. Gentlemen, good morning to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning, Deb. Nice to be with you.
KNIGHT: Why the change of heart, Christopher?
PYNE: Well there hasn’t been a change of heart. The reality is that we haven’t adopted Labor’s Salem witch trials model for an Independent Commission Against Corruption. And that’s what I and Scott Morrison were being asked about when we both said that we weren’t going to go down that track. We’ve been working for months on a Commonwealth Integrity Commissioner. I was part of the Cabinet when Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister where we initiated that work, and we announced yesterday the result of that, which is bringing together, really, what exists now within the Commonwealth but very disparate, in groups like ACLEI (Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity) and IPEA (Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority): creating an integrity commission which fills in the gaps and makes sure that we can ensure that our law enforcement agencies and our public service, including our politicians and their staff, are all behaving with integrity.
KNIGHT: Well, why not then ensure that if the politicians and the bureaucrats, because that division as part of this investigative unit, there won’t be public hearings, there won’t be public rulings. Why not, surely, sunlight is the best disinfectant here?
PYNE: Well, not necessarily. I mean we’ve seen what ICAC in New South Wales has become in many respects, which is a star chamber.
KNIGHT: It’s been very effective at rooting out corruption.
PYNE: Well, in some cases it has. In other cases its ruined people’s reputations who’ve turned out to have not been guilty of anything whatsoever. And yet ICAC has such extensive powers and public hearings that their reputations are ruined just by being investigated by ICAC. So there is a better way of doing it. There are other models in Australia besides ICAC, by the way. There’s one here in South Australia, which operates effectively, which doesn’t have public hearings. And we propose to do the work that needs to be done to fill in any gaps that exist now without trashing and traducing people’s public reputations through public hearings where they are ruined from the first moment they are accused of wrongdoing.
KNIGHT: Albo, this is something Labor and the Greens have long campaigned for. There must be an election wind if you’re seeing parties stealing each other’s ideas, hey?
ALBANESE: What we’re seeing, once again, is Labor leading from Opposition. We’ve been arguing for a National Integrity Commission for some time in the Parliament, and Christopher himself just weeks ago described this as a distraction. Scott Morrison did the same thing. We’ve continued to put our case. Who knows, maybe they’ll adopt our policy on housing affordability next week the way that it’s going.
KNIGHT: Will you be supporting then this body the way it is in this form?
ALBANESE: We’ll have a close look at the model that’s been put forward. We want to make sure that we get the balance right, between ensuring that it’s a strong body that can achieve its objectives without any consequences which aren’t intended. So we’ll look at the detail of what the Government puts forward. But the fact is, we do need a National Integrity Commission because we do need to shore up that public support. I don’t believe there’s a great deal of corruption in Australia …
PYNE: I’m not aware of a lot of corruption either, quite frankly.
ALBANESE: But what you’d need to have is a body that gives the public the confidence it can have in its elected officials and importantly in its bureaucracy and in its public service more widely.
KNIGHT: No argument from the public there. We need to root it out and ensure it doesn’t occur if it is there in the first place. Now in another announcement from the Prime Minister, the Coalition plans to make it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s religious beliefs. Christopher, are there any cases that you are aware of, of people who have been discriminated against based on their religious beliefs?
PYNE: This is not an issue that I’ve been closely following, I have to say. But we asked Philip Ruddock to conduct a review of whether the laws in Australia protected people’s religious freedoms. He has made 20 recommendations, 15 of them seem very obvious to us to repair old legislation, if you like, that is out of date. We would also like to remove any exemption for religious schools or for institutions on the basis of people’s sexuality. But it’s quite complicated, because we also want to make sure religious institutions can maintain their religiosity and so we’ve asked the Australian Law Reform Commission how to draft that. I think we could have resolved it in the last few weeks in Parliament but unfortunately Bill Shorten wanted to weaponise the issue for the election. I think that’s a great pity. We have a conscience vote on our side of the House over issues to do with sexuality. And I would like, and most of my colleagues would like, to remove the issues to do with the school students and teachers being discriminated against. An exemption, by the way, that was introduced by Labor when they were last in office, but that wasn’t able to be done and Labor doesn’t have a conscience vote on it, which I think is very unfair on their members.
ALBANESE: It’s an absolute nonsense what Christopher has just said. We had marriage equality delayed because they didn’t have a conscience vote on marriage equality. They bound everyone on that issue. When it comes to freedom of religion, of course we need freedom of religion. I think, frankly, we have it in this country. What we’ve seen is the Government dealing with their internal differences by establishing these inquiries because the Abbott forces and the Turnbull forces continue to be at war.
PYNE: Try and be nice, Anthony. It’s Christmas time.
ALBANESE: I am. I’ve even got my Christmas tie on.
PYNE: I know, I’ve heard.
ALBANESE: Which might resemble the South Sydney tie, but it’s a Christmas tie, I’ve made an effort.
KNIGHT: Well, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and thank you very much for your contribution over the course of the year.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.