Let’s Unpack the Government’s Anti-Corruption Watchdog Announcement

BREAKING: the government has announced it will establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission to investigate corrupt conduct at the federal level.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney General Christian Porter this morning held a press conference where they made the announcement to set up a new federal anti-corruption watchdog.

Australia Institute research has shown there are gaps in Australia’s federal accountability system and today’s announcement is a welcome admission that corruption does not end at state borders.

But the Prime Minister and Attorney General’s proposal comes up well short of best practice.

In particular: 
• the inability to take public complaints and make its own referrals
• the lack of public hearings
• the limited jurisdiction and insufficient funding, 
mean today’s announcement is not good enough.

Nevertheless, this is a BIG win. Thank you and congratulations to each and every one of you who supported the Australia Institute’s work to establish a federal anti-corruption commission.

It was just a few weeks ago we published an open letter signed by 34 eminent former judges from across Australia, calling for the urgent establishment of a National Integrity Commission.

BUT. The work is not over yet. The devil is in the details. We need to ensure the new body doesn’t become a toothless tiger.

We need to ensure this new anti-corruption body has:

  • The guaranteed ability to hold public hearings
  • Sufficient funding to exercise its duties
  • The ability to take complaints directly from the public and make its own referrals
  • A broad jurisdiction to ensure all corruption can be investigated.

With your help, we can make sure politicians from all sides know we need a proper anti-corruption body that can do the job.

After all, it will be up to the Parliament — not the Prime Minister — to make sure the details are right and that Australia will have a watchdog with teeth.

The Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee, made up of former judges and corruption fighters, has made it clear that public hearings are critical to the success of any anti-corruption body.

Former NSW ICAC Commissioner, David Ipp AO QC has said that:

“Its main function is exposing corruption, this cannot be done without public hearings.”

The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, Former NSW Court of Appeal and Supreme Court Judge, and member of The Australia Institute National Integrity Committee said of today’s announcement:

“We have serious concerns that this body will not be able to hold public hearings, and will need to reach a threshold of ‘reasonable suspicion’ of a criminal offence before it can begin. This will rule out all the sorts of corruption exposed by NSW ICAC.
“We do need a tiger as a corruption body but under this model, we may end up with a pussycat.”

The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC, Former Judge of Victorian Court of Appeal and Member of The Australia Institute National Integrity Committee said:

“The Prime Minister’s proposal brings with it the danger that the Baillieu Government fell into in 2013 when the anti-corruption commission they brought in was shown to be a paper tiger because it was afraid of what the IBAC might do if given the proper powers.”

Read the Australia Institute’s full response, including comments from The Hon Anthony Whealy QC & The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC here.

The government has released paper for consultation and submissions are due by February 1, 2019. The Australia Institute will work through the details of today’s announcement with the National Integrity Committee.

Big changes in public policy don’t happen overnight. Just a few weeks ago the Prime Minister was dismissing this as a ‘fringe issue’.

We understand that changing minds takes time, and we value the support of all our donors and supporters who have made the Australia Institute’s integrity and accountability research possible.

Here’s how it happened:

2016

January | Australia Institute works with legendary corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald AC QC to launch the ‘Fitzgerald Principles’ open letter

Campbell Newman signs Fitzgerald Principles

ABC 7:30 Report — Tony Fitzgerald fears for the future of good governance

February | Accountability and the Law conference in Brisbane, hosted by The Australia Institute in Brisbane.

March | Australia Institute’s federal ICAC Polling released

2017

January | The Australia Institute publishes an open letter signed by 41 eminent lawyers, former judges and corruption fighters’ calls for the establishment of a federal anti-corruption watchdog.

June | Tony Fitzgerald works with The Australia Institute on accountability principles (to be known as the Fitzgerald Principles) which are put to all federal members of parliament for response.

July | New research by The Australia Institute shows that a National Integrity Commission would not be effective unless it can hold public hearings.

August | National Accountability & The Law Conference held at Parliament House, where The Australia Institute brings together leading corruption-fighters, eminent former judges, and MPs to discuss integrity and accountability issues, including the case for a federal anti-corruption commission

New research by The Australia Institute shows that existing federal integrity agencies do not allow investigation of corruption allegations in Parliament or large parts of the public sector.

October | Corruption fighters and former judges come together to form The Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee

November | The Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee launches its design principles for a National ICAC

December | Polling shows public support for a Federal anti-corruption watchdog continues to grow:
• 65% support in March 2016
• 80% support in June 2017
• 88% support in Dec 2017

2018

January | New research by The Australia Institute puts the estimated cost of Australia’s slide in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index at $73 billion.

New research by The Australia Institute and The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC shows that the Victorian corruption commission is weak and should not be used as a model for a National Integrity Commission.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announces a Labor Government would establish a National Integrity Commission, following The Australia Institute National Integrity Committee design principles.

February | The Australia Institute National Integrity Committee meets with the Attorney General Christian Porter.

April | The Australia Institute National Integrity Committee launches its Design Blueprint on public hearings, jurisdiction and other integrity commission details.

May | The Australia Institute National Integrity Committee meets with the Attorney General for a second time.

June | The Australia Institute releases Victoria’s Watchdog Losing Teeth, a briefing paper on the weaknesses of the Victoria’s IBAC model.

September | The Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee launches its Implementation Plan

October | Members of The Australia Institute National Integrity Committee, The Hon David Ipp AO QC and The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC meet with independent candidate for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps, who announces her support for a National Integrity Commission during election campaign

Dr Phelps’ election and resulting minority government sees crossbench announce its intention to make establishing a National Integrity Commission a priority in minority government

New briefing paper Different Breeds of Watchdog is released

November | The Australia Institute publishes a new open letter to the Prime Minister signed by 34 eminent former judges.

Cathy McGowan MP tables a Private Members Bill in the House of Representatives, Senator Larissa Waters’ motion passes House and Senate.

December | Federal government announces it will establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission