POTENTIAL TO RUIN LIVES: A standing royal commission, while intended to root out corruption, has become a political plaything.
POTENTIAL TO RUIN LIVES: A standing royal commission, while intended to root out corruption, has become a political plaything. iStock

Beware new cop on the beat

WHEN Parliament gets back in a couple of weeks the Government faces a huge test. Not just of its numbers, but also of giving into demands that could change our politics for the worse for decades to come.

After losing the by-election in Wentworth, the Liberals lost their majority and need to go begging to a largely left leaning band of independents to get anything done.

But before we can deal with bigger tax cuts or, frankly, anything else that can help normal people, they will push for the establishment of a new national corruption commission. Similar to the state bodies, it would be a permanent Royal Commission to investigate improprieties or potential illegalities in almost all areas of the federal bureaucracy.

The idea always polls well, with a recent opinion poll showing more than 80% of people support the proposal. But it's not that easy, and in reality, the body would have all the failings the state bodies have.

Sure, they have nabbed some big names over the years, but they have also ruined plenty of lives, ultimately to produce few criminal charges and, in many cases, no case to answer despite reputations destroyed. The state-based bodies originated from genuine examples of corruption over the years. The problem with the federal body is none of the people pushing it can point to a single example of that sort of corruption at the national level.

This isn't a small thing because a standing royal commission, while intended to root out corruption, has become a political plaything. In recent years there has been a disgraceful attempt by politicians on all sides to elevate political scandals into crisis by asking the Federal Police to investigate their claims.

There was the spectacle of Malcolm Turnbull calling in the police on election night after Labor's dishonest, but not illegal Medicare campaign. While Labor's Linda Burney asked the police to investigate the Government over the release of a person's information at the height of the Centrelink call centre mess earlier this year. In both cases there was no case to answer, but the act of getting the police to confirm they were looking into it was used to step up campaigns in the media.

It is no small thing to claim a political opponent has broken the law but make no mistake, a federal corruption body would be used to smear political opponents.

As for public servants, there are no examples of corrupt behaviour that can't be handled by existing laws and oversight bodies.

I am not arguing against going after people who do the wrong thing, but a standing royal commission into a problem that doesn't seem to exist is a gross overreach.

It reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Homer starts a bear patrol despite no evidence of bears in Springfield. When questioned by Lisa why there needs to be a bear patrol Homer says, "Well, do you see any bears about? See it's working.”

If there is corruption that lurks below the surface I'm happy to be corrected. But not one of the MPs who want this have used their parliamentary privilege to make such claims free of being sued for defamation.

In many ways all we have is our reputation. Bad people deserve punishment, but good people don't deserve their lives trashed for the sake of politicians and the media chasing a scandal.

Paul Murray is a broadcaster with Sky News. He can be seen on Paul Murray LIVE from 9pm AEDT Sunday to Thursday on Foxtel channel 600 and Sky News on WIN.



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