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Accountable, fair and honest: Is that really too much to ask of those paid to lead us?


The public knows what it wants, and more respect for the integrity of our political process is likely near the top of the list, writes Madonna King.

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If there’s a lesson already out of this campaign, it is that integrity matters.

Voters want promises to be kept. They want their politicians, irrespective of political affiliatiion, to be accountable for their actions, and they want their leaders to be fair and honest.

Just a touch over half of Australians say they trust government to do the right thing, and that is declining year on year.

No wonder support for independents and minor parties is up, and such a big chunk of voters remain undecided only a few days out from polling day.

And while Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison will lock heads on superannuation and wages growth and foreign policy, integrity – and how it is enforced and monitored – should sit above the political differences.

Integrity should underpin the system. It shouldn’t be up for debate – and either should a robust permanent integrity commission.

On that front, Scott Morrison has slipped as much as he has stalled. Despite a visible trail of pork barrelling, controversial car park programs and sports grant accusations, his public protestations ignore a deep electoral frustration.

Does he know what is right and what is wrong? Does he value public funds as public funds? Is it good policy or canny politics that should be rewarded?

The fact that the Coalition’s planned integrity commission – promised before the last election – is so weak, and doesn’t even allow public hearings illustrates the priority the party puts on integrity.

And the fact that, despite being promised, it was not brought to Parliament during the last term would be a good pointer to the fact that it probably won’t be if the Coalition is re-elected again on Saturday.

Labor’s promise doesn’t use much more ink, and is short on the detail needed to show it is committed absolutely to a strong independent standing commission to monitor and investigate integrity matters at the Commonwealth level.

The teal Independents are capitalising on the disappointment felt by voters across the board, and neither big party should underestimate the role of an integrity commission in voters’ support of them.

But this issue runs deeper than seeking a promise from both parties that integrity will be given a higher priority after May 21.

And that’s shown by the extraordinary letter released yesterday by 31 retired judges, who want an end to the erosion of our national democracy, and who can see the need to restore trust in the political process.

These aren’t partisan branch members. These are eminent jurists, like former Queensland Supreme Court chief justice Catherine Holmes and former Queensland Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo, amongst others.

“Where billions are to be spent and significant power is available to dispense it with little oversight, greedy people with convenient consciences and powerful connections will ensure that, with the manipulation of their influence, they will obtain illegal or unethical advantage to the detriment of the interests of the general public,’’ their open letter says.

“And they will do so by means which only a specialist anti-corruption body will have the skill and power to detect.’’

And Scott Morrison’s response? They are entitled to their own opinion, but he has a plan and that’s that. Thank you.

If we were hoping the Scott Morrison Mark II was a better listener, we might be disappointed.

The conduct of the NSW ICAC and Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission has been used by critics to push back against the the need for a federal body.

But that ignores the enormous successes they’ve had both in targeting bad and criminal behaviour and in educating politicians, public servants and the general population in the importance of public trust.

Who knows what will prompt our federal politicians to understand the importance of public trust in what they do?

Perhaps, at least some of them, will understand on Sunday morning.



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