Sunday morning’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation political journalist panel show ‘Insiders’1 was unusual in that it was hosted by Patricia Karvelas2. It is usually hosted by the answer interrupter David Speers. It was also unusual in that it did not have a Murdoch or Sevenwest hack on the panel. On the panel were Narelda Jacobs (Channel 10), Shane Wright (Sydney Morning Herald/The Age) and Sarah Martin (The Guardian). In addition, Karvelas did not interview a politician from either of the major parties, but the newly minted independent senator from the Australian Capital Territory, David Pocock3.
In the recent federal election, Pocock effectively unseated the appalling religious nutter Zed Seselja4. Indeed, it is the first time that there has not been a Liberal member from the ACT in either the Senate or House of Representatives since the ACT had representation in federal parliament5.
During the interview with Pocock, Patricia Karvelas moved the topic onto an integrity commission [at 24.59]2, something the Coalition government under Scott Morrison’s prime ministership promised but failed to deliver. Each of the states and territories has its own integrity commission. They share the following:
- They each have jurisdiction over the public but not the private sector (although the extent of jurisdiction across the public sector varies);
- All, with the exception of the Qld Crime and Corruption Commission, have investigative, preventative and educational functions;
- They all possess coercive powers similar to those of Royal Commissions; and
- Each is overseen by a Parliamentary committee6.
None of them can convict anyone of a crime, and the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption is the only one that can make a finding of “corrupt conduct”7. All the various integrity commissions do is refer anyone suspected of criminal behaviour for prosecution, because they do not prosecute anyone themselves7.
So, for Karvelas to ask the question: “There has been a suggestion that the integrity commission should be empowered to sack politicians if necessary through a code of conduct and a structure around that. Is that something you support?”[at 25.37]2 is just silly. It was an extraordinarily ignorant question. Pocock answered correctly when he said: “I think people want an integrity commission that can hold politicians to account, [and] that can expose corruption. I’ve got real concerns about an unelected body being able to dismiss elected representatives. I wouldn’t support that. What I would support is an integrity commission that can actually shine a light on what’s happening and then voters can make their decisions…” The last phrase of the answer was inaudible as Karvelas interrupted [at 26.19] with the following, even sillier question: “And why do you think it is important not to allow such a body to sack politicians? I mean, they might be accused of some very, very, very horrendous things. Why do you think they shouldn’t be allowed to do it? To this, Pocock replied: “I’m not a lawyer, but I’m guessing there would be some constitutional hurdles with that one, but can certainly look more into it. It wouldn’t be an elected body; it’s an independent commission, and I think being able to shine a light on corruption, to deal with it and refer it to the police where needed.”2
Given the Constitution clearly lays out what could make a politician ineligible to sit in the houses of parliament, the concept of an investigative body sacking someone because they have been accused of some “very, very, very horrendous things” is ludicrous. Karvelas doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the presumption of innocence, nor does she seem to understand what Section 44 of the constitution states. It states, in part, that any person who “Is attainted of treason, or has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”8
So even under an extreme case where a politician had been found to have indulged in corrupt conduct, much of which is not criminal in nature (although it should be), to try to prevent such a corrupt person sitting in parliament would likely be unconstitutional, as any criminal whose punishment amounts to less than one year of imprisonment is eligible to sit in parliament. While I don’t pretend to be a constitutional scholar, I have some experience in interpreting legislation for my organisation such that I can, on occasion, spot bullshit like this from Karvelas.
I cannot know what was going through Karvelas’ mind when she asked these questions. However there seem to be two options. The first is that she does not understand the concept of the presumption of innocence, nor Section 44 of the Constitution. If this is the case then she is ignorant. The second is that she does understand both of these concepts but was trying to catch out a newbie to the Senate. To be either this ignorant or this underhanded is equally reprehensible in an experienced journalist.