Corruption experts welcome corruption commission

Centre for Public Integrity

Press conference 1.30pm at the Mural Hall with Stephen Charles AO KC, Michael Barker KC and Geoffrey Watson SC.

The Centre for Public Integrity today welcomed the tabling of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill (2022).

The experts’ analysis of the bill found that it contains strong investigative powers and a broad jurisdiction, and is able to investigate retrospectively. However, it lacks the ability to properly expose corruption through public hearings, and is limited in investigating third parties. Third parties acting to corrupt public officials, where the officials themselves are innocent, will not be covered by the bill.

“This bill has all the necessary investigative powers for an effective integrity commission. We congratulate the Government on swiftly tabling this bill which will increase public trust and allow for the investigation of corruption,” said the Hon Michael Barker KC, a member of the Centre for Public Integrity.

“Unfortunately, it limits public hearings. Public hearings bring new information forward that can be key to investigations. Importantly they increase public trust and expose corruption. This bill limits public hearings to cases involving exceptional circumstances – a term which is not defined and will be hard to prove,” said Geoffrey Watson SC, a director of the Centre for Public Integrity.

“For example, in the Obeid inquiry people came forward with information that contradicted important parts of the evidence that they heard in a public hearing. This was crucial in finding out the truth in this investigation,” said Mr Watson.

“The decision to hold public hearings will inevitably be challenged in court, which will both cause delays and mean that the Commission’s information is given prematurely to those it is investigating. Furthermore, without a public hearing the Commission will not be able to report publicly,” said Mr Watson.

“The bill lacks the necessary jurisdiction to properly investigate third parties. For example, companies colluding to corrupt a procurement process, or apply for a mining permit with false information, will not be covered by the bill in its current form,” said Stephen Charles AO KC, a director of the Centre for Public Integrity.

“All state agencies, except WA and Tasmania, have this power to investigate third parties. The Commonwealth bill would have one of the narrowest jurisdictions in the country if it is enacted without amendments,” said Mr Charles.

Comparison of third party jurisdictions

GreensHelen HainesNSWQLDNTACTVICSAWATas
Can investigate third parties corruptly influencing public sectorY (s 9)Y (s 9)Y (s 8)Y (s 15)Y (s 10)Y (s 9)Y (s 4)Y (s 5)N (s 4)N (s 4)

What the bill provides for:

● Strong investigative powers of a Royal Commission, with coercive powers to compel documents and witnesses

● Hearings to be in private, unless the Commissioner is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist and it is in the public interest for a public hearing to be held

● Public reporting where a public hearing has been held

● Ability to begin investigations based on referrals, public complaints (including anonymous complaints) and own motion

● Ability to search public premises without a warrant

● Search and surveillance powers

● Low threshold to begin investigations, without need for any evidence of a criminal offence

● Ability to investigate MPs and the public sector

● Ability to investigate third parties when the honesty or impartiality of a public official’s conduct is, or could be, adversely affected

● Ability to investigate retrospectively

● An Inspector to oversee the Commission’s work

What the bill does not provide for

A strong public hearings power

● A strong public hearings power

● The power to investigate fraud on an innocent public official

● Independent Committee scrutiny, insofar as the Committee must be chaired by a Government member

● Public reporting where no public hearing has been held

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