Sky News AM Agenda 13-10-20

October 13, 2020



SUBJECTS: National Integrity Commission; LNP Senator threatens to cross floor to stop NIC; investigation into possible illegal LNP fundraising; Deb Frecklington’s & Peter Dutton dinner with property developers; Gladys Berejiklian’s ICAC evidence.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Liberal Senator Gerard Rennick, from the Labor Party Murray Watt. Gentlemen, thanks both for your time. We're talking New South Wales ICAC, which leads us to National Integrity Commission. I'm trying to think when this discussion started and the Government said it was on board for something here Gerard Rennick, it's been years. It's not a priority, is it?

GERARD RENNICK, QUEENSLAND LIBERAL SENATOR: Sorry, Tom, what's that? What's not a priority?

CONNELL: A National Integrity Commission for the Coalition.

RENNICK: No, we don't support a National Integrity Commission. We've got a judicial system in this country and we believe in separation of powers. And if obviously there's any evidence of wrongdoing, then by all means, it should be sorted out through the judicial system.

MURRAY WATT, QUEENSLAND LABOR SENATOR: Tom, that's very interesting. At least we've finally had someone from the Liberal Party admit that they don't want to have a federal corruption commission.

CONNELL: So the Government does have a policy to have one. It's been delayed and they're looking at models and so on. You're saying just scrap it, Gerard Rennick?

RENNICK: Yeah, I'm not...look, I mean, I don't know why we would have another quasi-judicial system next to a judicial system. It doesn't make any sense. I mean, we've set up - Australia was set up - with three separate bodies, judiciary, parliament, executive. So why do we have a corruption commission with bureaucrats who aren't necessarily held to the same standards as what the courts are?

CONNELL: But Christian Porter had a bill ready to go before COVID-19. Do many people share your view? You're essentially going against the party line and saying, just get rid of this.

RENNICK: Well, I haven't seen the bill yet. I haven't seen the bill yet. So, you know, if there's a bill that comes forward, we'll discuss it in the party room. But my view has always been that we have a judicial system in this country, that any issues of wrongdoing should be sorted out by the judicial system.

CONNELL: Okay, so just to clarify, you might support it, you want to see the bill, you're inclined not to. Is that where you're at?

RENNICK: Well, at this stage, I haven't seen the bill, it hasn't been put forward, we haven't discussed it in the party room. So at this stage, no, I mean, unless they can give me a good reason why we should support it. I'll look at it, you know, on the evidence, you know, on the facts when they present it to me.

CONNELL: Would you cross the floor?

RENNICK: Well, I haven't read the bill yet. I can't make that comment.

CONNELL: No, but if...the Government's, you know, seemingly still moving ahead with it, if you don't like it, if you see it as something that goes against the principle you just spoke about, do you feel strongly enough to cross the floor at?

RENNICK: Well, depending on what's in it, yeah maybe I will, yeah. But I'm not saying that I will. I haven't looked at the detail, you're asking a hypothetical here, Tom.

CONNELL: Well, some of it's been fleshed out. But look we'll see where that issue goes.

RENNICK: Yeah and that's fine. But you know, that's not what I ran for.

CONNELL: OK, Murray Watt, Labor's view on this? We know there was, as I said, a delay before COVID and the Government saying other things have taken the priority, which I suppose is fair enough initially. This is obviously Labor's chance to say ‘get this going now’?

WATT: Yeah. Look, I think that's an extraordinary admission from Gerard this morning, Tom. And it reveals why we are still waiting for this Government to move on setting up a National Integrity Commission. They committed to do so more than two years ago. Federal Labor committed to do so well before that. And now we understand why it is, why the Government hasn't done anything about a National Integrity Commission. It's because people like Gerard are in their party room and say it shouldn't happen. And, you know, it makes me wonder why day after day, we hear people like Christian Porter and the Prime Minister say that it is a priority when they just keep delaying on introducing a really important anti-corruption measure. And now we know it's because they don't have support in their party room.

CONNELL: Is it important to really look at having something that doesn't take the form of some sort of kangaroo court? Right now Gladys Berejiklian hasn't been found to have done anything wrong yet there's a clamour of calls from the Labor Opposition in New South Wales for her to resign. And it's the nature of this public hearing whereby anything can be put to her, any sort of allegation, and that's what runs on the evening news. Do we need to be careful about that?

WATT: Of course, you have to be careful about the design of a corruption commission. I was actually a member of the Senate committee that looked into this and made some recommendations about how you can design a corruption commission that does respect the rule of law, does respect people's rights, but also gets to the bottom of ingrained corruption within governments. The problem at the federal level is that there is no overarching corruption commission with the powers to investigate politicians and all bureaucrats. The only anti-corruption commission that exists in the federal sphere has a very limited scope. And that's why matters like the Western Sydney Airport deal, sports rorts, a whole lot of other rorts and apparent corruption involving this Government never get resolved - because there's no body that can actually get to the bottom of it-

CONNELL: -well they're all uncovered by the Audit Office though?

WATT: Many of them are. And of course, the Government's just cut the Auditor-General's funding to try to limit their ability to uncover these kinds of things. But the problem is that the Auditor-General doesn't then have the power to take it to the next level and prosecute it as a corruption matter. That's what's missing in this federal sphere. That's what Labor has been calling for, for years now. And that's what the Government has put on the backburner because they want to hide things.

CONNELL: But the Auditor-General's office can recommend that to police and there can be criminal charges, right?

WATT: They can, but they don't have anywhere near the types of powers that a corruption body has. A corruption body, whether it be in any of the states of Australia, which have worked very successfully now for a number of years, have much deeper powers than the Auditor-General has, and that's what's missing in the federal sphere. And now we know why they don't want it, because they worry it's going to uncover their own misdeeds.

CONNELL: I want to talk Queensland election, Gerard, interesting-

RENNICK: Can I just have one rebut to that, sorry, Tom? I don't want unelected bureaucrats...I don't want unelected bureaucrats to have the right to tap my telephone in the same way they've tapped Gladys Berejiklian’s private telephone conversations. So if that's the sort of powers you want Murray, I'm not surprised because that's typical of Labor-

CONNELL: I mean, that was a tapping of Darren Maguire. Obviously, the Premier was caught up in it, but there was his phone being tapped, right?

RENNICK: Well, that's exactly right. So she had no idea she was being recorded either. I mean, what sort of world are we going to live in with Big Brother? I mean, we've seen Daniel Andrews in Melbourne basically overreach with his power and command and control techniques. I mean, this is the problem with having a kangaroo court that can just go out there and record private conversations. And, you know, I think we've all got a right to our privacy in this country. And that's why, as I've said before, I'll look at the bill as it comes forward, but I certainly don't support having another body, an unelected body, with unlimited powers that can invade other people's privacy.

WATT: I think that any member of the public would support the activities of ICAC and other corruption bodies in having uncovered what seems to be corruption involving a New South Wales Liberal MP. Without those powers, we would never have known what Daryl Maguire was up to. He would still be a member of the Liberal Party Government in New South Wales. And I just find it extraordinary that any politician in this day and age doesn't want to see a corruption body have the powers to dig these things up.

CONNELL: We'll see, the concerns that have been raised by Christian Porter in terms of, you know, whether they'd be able to launch entirely separate inquiries, around as well whether they'd be publicly held, which has been a concern by plenty of people, whether that theatre really has the best focus in terms of corruption. Anyway, that debate is ongoing, I suspect we'll talk about it again.

Get briefly to the Queensland election if we can, this interesting dinner with Deb Frecklington and a group of eight people, a rather private secret dinner. Gerard Rennick, the LNP saying nothing to see here, it wasn't a fundraiser. There were some...not donors sorry, there were some property developers invited. Five out of eight within the next few days though, Gerard, all donated the same amount of money to the party - $2,500. It sounds a bit like a fundraising dinner, doesn't it?

RENNICK: Well, I don't know the details of the dinner, Tom. I'm not sure...if people are allowed to, you know...there's a thing called freedom of association in this country. I'm a bit sceptical of anything that comes out of the ABC. I, myself have experienced false allegations against me by the ABC in the run up to last year's federal elections, where a number of mistruths were made about my background. So I think that we just need to wait and get the full facts of this case and at this stage, as far as I'm aware, the LNP has denied that they've referred Deb on at all. So, you know, there's got to be a lot more facts to be uncovered here.

WATT: Tom, these aren't allegations from the ABC, these are allegations that have come from the heart of the LNP. It's the LNP hierarchy who have referred their own Opposition Leader in Queensland to the Electoral Commission.

RENNICK: They denied that Murray.

WATT: Well, Gerard, you well know that there was a recent change in the leadership of the LNP involving Deb Frecklington and Peter Dutton, who are now caught up in this donation scandal, engineering the exit of certain leaders within the LNP. So I'll leave it to you to work out where these allegations may have come from.

CONNELL: OK, well, what allegation are you making, though? Just to reiterate as well, the LNP - the party that is - has said it hasn't made this reference.

WATT: What I'm saying is that both Deb Frecklington and Peter Dutton, as people who attended these dinners, have serious questions to answer about whether they have been involved in illegal fundraising in Queensland. Everyone in Queensland in the political scene knows that property developer donations are banned. And according to these allegations, they've got to be tested obviously, but these allegations that seem to have come from the LNP hierarchy are that those rules have been ignored. Peter Dutton is the Home Affairs Minister-

CONNELL: -there's no record of an actual developer making a donation.

WATT: Well, we'll see what the electoral watchdog has to say about that now that these matters have been referred there. But Peter Dutton, he's supposed to uphold the rule of law. He's in charge of all sorts of legal and justice measures. He, above everyone should be complying.

RENNICK: Let's not forget here, the biggest profit organisation in this country is the CFMEU. They're allowed to make donations and other property developers can't. I think these rules aren't exactly fair and equal for all.

CONNELL: All right. I'm just going to jump in, I don't sense this conversation will end otherwise. Gerard, Murray, thank you. Talk again soon.