For governments of a long duration, probity in office can often seep away and its members find themselves accused of a lack of integrity or mired in political scandal. It often doesn’t manifest itself in large rackets or kickbacks and bribes – it could also be a culture of spending public money for political ends or misusing taxpayer-funded positions for cronies and pals.
How do I know that? Because as a member of the New South Wales Labor Party I have seen with my own eyes – inside my own party – what happens when a government loses the will to place integrity at the center of everything they do.
I have seen the drift and the grift, the dramas and the scandals, the self-obsession and self-aggrandising that consumes a government from within when they decide to put their own political hopes and dreams ahead of the public good.
If I have learned anything about integrity from my time in politics, it’s that even though integrity is a noun, as a politician – and as the leader of a party – you are better off thinking of it as a verb. It’s not an outcome you reach, it is a continuous and relentless determination to place integrity at the heart of all your decisions and actions, and that’s precisely what all sides of politics in New South Wales need to do.
That’s why from opposition we have introduced a private members bill that makes the grants process fairer and more accountable by imposing new reporting requirements on ministers and agencies; conferring new powers on the auditor-general to follow the money; and introducing new grant guidelines.
We can’t afford to wait for the next election to start acting on integrity. We need to begin that work today. I have not hesitated to back Gladys Berejiklian or Dom Perrottet when I thought they were on the right path, and I called on the premier to do the same thing and back this important, considered, and urgently needed bill.
At the end of the day, public funds are not the government’s own piggy bank. We want to work with the premier and the government to carry out these reforms now.
We all know this money could be better spent and the public has the right to know that if Labor does form government we won’t turn around and appoint our own former MPs to jobs that pay more than the premier.
I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying it – NSW Labor supports the Independent Commission Against Corruption not because it investigates our opponents but because it investigates us. Knowing ICAC is watching helps people have faith and trust in their government and political leaders. I believe in many cases its presence stops corruption before it even begins.