Government agrees to national anti-corruption body – with strict limits


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has given in to pressure to set up a new Commonwealth
Integrity Commission
but its operation would be strictly
circumscribed, without the ability to hold public hearings into
allegations of corruption against politicians.

While the new organisation would be the lead body in Australia’s
multi-agency anti-corruption framework, Scott Morrison stressed the
government had learned the lessons of “failed experiments” at state
level.

“I have no interest in establishing kangaroo courts that, frankly,
have been used, sadly, too often for the pursuit of political,
commercial or bureaucratic agendas in the public space”, he told a
joint news conference with Attorney-General Christian Porter.

The announcement comes after crossbench pressure in the final sitting
of parliament for a new federal anti-corruption body, which had
earlier been promised by the opposition. Morrison said the government
had been working on the issue since January.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Day One of minority government sees battle over national integrity commission


Opposition leader Bill Shorten slammed the proposed body as “not a
fair dinkum anti-corruption commission”. It would be limited in scope
and power and have no transparency.

Also – given it would not be able to investigate matters
retrospectively – “Mr Morrison should explain to the Australian people
why he wants to set up a national anti-corruption commission which
curiously exempts himself and the current government from any
scrutiny”.

Morrison and Porter said in a statement that the CIC, an independent
statutory agency, would be headed by a commissioner and two deputy
commissioners, and have public sector and law enforcement integrity
divisions.

“The public sector integrity division will cover departments, agencies
and their staff, parliamentarians, and their staff, staff of federal
judicial officers, and subject to consultation judicial officers
themselves, as well as contractors.”

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity would be
reconstituted as the law enforcement integrity division. It would have
an expanded jurisdiction to also include the Australian Competition
and Consumer Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation
Authority, the Australian Securities and Investment, the Australian
Taxation Office, and the whole of the Agriculture Department.

Both divisions would investigate allegations of criminal corruption.
The criminal law would be amended to add new corruption offences.

The CIC would have the power to conduct public hearings only through
its law enforcement division.

The public sector integrity division would not be able to make public
findings but would investigate potential criminal conduct and refer
matters to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The government outline of its proposed operation says “it will only
investigate criminal offences, and will not make findings of
corruption at large.

“It will not make findings of corruption (or other criminal
offending). Findings of corruption will be a matter for the courts to
determine, according to the relevant criminal offence. This addresses
one of the key flaws in various state anti-corruption bodies, being
that findings of corruption can be made at large without having to
follow fundamental justice processes.”

The CIC’s investigatory role is to “complement” the work of the
Australian federal Police. “The AFP will retain its role in
investigating criminal corruption outside of the public sector, and
could cooperate with or take over investigations on referral by the
CIC where appropriate”.

The public sector division “will focus on the investigation of serious
or systemic corrupt conduct, rather than looking into issues of
misconduct or non-compliance under various codes of conduct”.

Independent Andrew Wilkie said the proposal was “fundamentally flawed
and entirely unacceptable.”

“For example the public sector integrity division, which will
investigate parliamentarians and their staff, can only investigate a
specific set of criminal offences and can’t make findings of
corruption, which is just bizarre.

“Moreover an MP can only be referred by a particular agency and
there’s no way for the public to refer someone – and there’ll be no
public hearings at all meaning the Commission will operate behind
closed doors”.

Crossbencher Kerryn Phelps tweeted “I can’t speak for the entire
crossbench but I certainly won’t be supporting any proposal that fails
to result in adequate transparency and proper investigative powers”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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