The bill before the House, the Criminal Code Amendment (Impersonating a Commonwealth Body) Bill 2017, creates a new offence. I want to say at the outset that the bill is not necessary. It creates a new offence of impersonating a Commonwealth office or agency. We'll support the bill, but we argue quite strenuously that it is not necessary. There are already sufficient powers and offences within the Commonwealth Criminal Code to cover the offences, if they could be proved, that the member for Fairfax
complains so bitterly about.
I will join the member for Fairfax in debate on this particular issue because his contribution to this debate made it absolutely clear that there is not a scintilla of public interest in the bill before the House. It is all about the private political interests of the Prime Minister and the woeful performance of his party in the 2016 election. They only just managed to fall across the line in the 2016 election, so they are now attempting to change the rules to make it harder for their opponents to campaign against them.
Let's join the member for Fairfax in his hyperbole about what the bill and the debate are really about. The member for Fairfax is trying to convince this chamber and the Australian people that we were not joined in an argument about the future of Medicare in the 2016 election. You would have to have been residing on another planet if you did not understand that Medicare and the woeful performance of the Abbott and Turnbull governments in relation to health care were not a central issue of concern to voters in the 2016 election.
Labor is rightfully very proud of the contribution of Medicare. February 1st marked the 33rd anniversary of the start of Medicare, a historic Hawke government achievement, following on from the landmark efforts of the Whitlam Labor government to introduce Medibank a decade earlier. It took two Labor governments more that two decades to embed what is now seen by all Australians as a birthright: the ability to access affordable, worldclass health care in a GP, in a public hospital and also by accessing drugs that are listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Today the coalition like to paint themselves as friends of Medicare, but we know that, for the entirety of the period between May 2014 and that terrible election performance and the closure of polls in 2016, the government were doing everything within their power to dismantle and defund Medicare and its associated organisations.
They claim that what Labor was saying about Medicare is not true. This is what Labor was saying about Medicare. We told people that the GP tax, the Medicare rebate freeze, was going to lead to GP practices around the country stopping bulk billing. We told people the GP tax and the Medicare rebate freeze was going to lead to an increase in GP fees. Both of these things were happening at the very same time that the Prime Minister was standing up and talking to any TV camera that he could stick his head in front of and saying it was a lie.
Even when we took photos to the Prime Minister, taken in my electorate, of GP surgeries that had signs on their windows saying and I hear the member for Franklin, who is here with me today, saying they were in her electorate as well—'This practice will no longer be bulk-billing, because of the government's GP Medicare rebate freeze,' still they said it was a lie. When it was discovered there was a secret process in train to privatise some of the billing functions, some of the IT functions and claim processing systems, and we brought this to the attention of the Australian people, still they said it was a lie. What the member for Fairfax, the minister and the member for Bradfield are trying to do today is use this elaborate legislative and parliamentary process to tell the people of Australia that they are mugs, that they cannot see the truth when it is clearly presented to them. That's what the member for Fairfax is saying: the people of Australia are mugs. We do not think the people of Australia are mugs. We think they know that they see in the Australian Labor Party a friend of Medicare and they see in the coalition a party which, since 1972, has taken every single opportunity available to it to try to dismantle and undermine the universality of Medicare. Australian people are not mugs, Sunshine; they get it and they found you out.
The coalition are attempting, by the introduction of this bill today, to detract attention from the fact that they do not have a plausible, credible, cohesive policy agenda when it comes to fighting corruption in government and in politics. Last week the Leader of the Opposition took the opportunity of an address to the National Press Club to announce that a future Shorten Labor government would introduce a National Integrity Commission. He made the observation that at every state level there is a broad based anti-corruption investigative body which is charged with the responsibility of weeding out and preventing corruption in public life, whether that be within the elected arm of government, the executive and administrative arm of government or even the judiciary. He made the observation that, in recent surveys of Commonwealth public servants, too many had said that they had seen misconduct, cronyism and nepotism within the administration of the Public Service: five per cent. Some might say that, compared to other countries around the world, five per cent is a pretty good result. I'm sure that any right thinking member of this place would say five per cent is five per cent too many. Is there any surprise that, when you look at Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, Australia ranks 13th of 176 countries, but has dropped six places in six years?
I can guarantee you, friend, that I have more bugs to bear and bones to pick with the former MLC from New South Wales than you ever could, but the point to make on this is that the corruption was exposed by the New South Wales ICAC. It would be naive to suggest that corruption such as this stops at a state border. It would be naive to suggest that the corruption we saw with the Australian Wheat Board, with the bribes and kickbacks to rogue dictators in the Middle East, and the corruption we saw with the Reserve Bank subsidiary Securency were isolated incidents—or the serious corruption that's being alleged and unveiled in a recent Four Corners program about the administration of water licences and the allocation of water rights in New South Wales and Queensland.
Only a fool—or perhaps the member for Fairfax or the member for Bradfield—would suggest these are isolated incidents or that the tendency to corruption stops at a state border. If the members are serious about both the perception and the reality of corruption in public life, they will put aside this unnecessary bill, which is attempting to rewrite the history of the 2016 election, and join with Labor and introduce legislation in this session of parliament to create a broad based anti-corruption body in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. That's what genuine legislation looks like. That is what a government that is truly committed to improving the tenure of public discourse, the administration of government and the conduct of politics in this country would do—not this nonsense which the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has said is unnecessary and duplicates existing offences. Quite rightly, the committee has come to these conclusions on the basis that this is nothing more than a political stunt, an attempt to rewrite the history of the 2016 election.
There was no sadder sight in Australian politics than the Prime Minister hiding behind the gilded gates of his Wentworth mansion too nervous to come out and face the media—let alone his own party, who were ropable because of his incompetent conduct of the 2016 election campaign. If the Prime Minister or the cabinet members who have approved this legislation are looking for a scapegoat, looking for an avenue through which to vent, I suggest they look at their own behaviour and not at the legitimate campaigning of Australian Labor, which has proudly campaigned on the virtues and the necessity of Medicare for over 33 years. The Australian people aren't mugs. They take offence when members opposite stand up in this place and say they were somehow conned into exercising their votes in the way they did at the 2016 election. Labor doesn't think the Australian people are mugs.
We think they've got a pretty good read on what that mob over there want to do to Medicare and the plans they have for this country. So I ask the other side to step back and have a look at what we really need to do if we're going to address corruption and the perception of corruption in the Commonwealth government and its administration. Join with Labor and work with us to draft and bring into this place, in this session, a national integrity commission bill. We will all vote for it, and Australia will be a better place as a result of it.