Porter’s Federal Integrity Commission Could Leave Ministers Exempt

Australia Institute

The Commonwealth Integrity Commission legislation as currently drafted could see Ministers left exempt, according to the Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee of retired judges.

The National Integrity Committee submission, made in the public consultation period for the draft legislation, outlines a number of key shortcomings of the draft legislation.

Critical shortcomings of this draft legislation include:

  • Doubt around whether the draft legislation applies to Ministers
  • The split between law enforcement and public sector corruption, effectively shielding the public sector, parliamentarians, and their staff from proper scrutiny
  • A law-enforcement official can be investigated for “corruption of any kind”, however, a politician can only be investigated if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed, thereby preventing even the most preliminary investigation from occurring
  • No public hearings, no public reports, no public findings against the public sector, parliamentarians, or their staff
  • No whistle-blower complaints against the public sector, parliamentarians, and their staff
  • A limited ability to launch an investigation on the Commission’s own initiative

“The Attorney-General’s draft Bill for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission falls disastrously short of providing an effective body to counter corruption among public servants, ministers, parliamentarians, and their staff,” said The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, former Judge of the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal.

“The Government has fought for years against any proposal for a Federal anti-corruption body. Now it has put forward a proposal essentially designed to protect themselves, and to shield the public sector from proper scrutiny.

“The Commonwealth Integrity Commission could leave Ministers exempt. If this is not by design, then the Attorney-General ought to remove any doubt that Ministers are exempted from scrutiny by the Integrity Commission.

“The Government’s Commonwealth Integrity Commission proceeds on a flawed assumption. The primary role of an anti-corruption agency is not to ensure convictions for criminal offences, nor is its task to gather evidence for a criminal prosecution. Its primary aim is to uncover serious corruption and to publicly expose it where that is appropriate and to this end, it is given wide and special coercive and investigatory powers. It is not bound by the law of evidence and does not function as a judicial body.

“The impact of these shortcomings and misunderstandings is to make the Attorney-General’s proposal worthless.

“The community will rightly see this draft legislation as a sham, designed to protect parliamentarians and public servants from proper scrutiny. It will further reduce Australia’s standing as a country genuinely attempting to stamp out corrupt practices at the Federal level.”

The members of the National Integrity Committee auspiced by the Australia Institute are:

The Hon Mary Gaudron QC, former Judge of the High Court; The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, former Judge of the NSW Court of Appeal; The Hon Paul Stein AM QC, former Judge of the NSW Court of Appeal; The Hon Stephen Charles AO QC, former Judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal; The Hon David Harper AM QC, former Judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal; The Hon Margaret White AO, former Judge of the Queensland Court Appeal; and The Hon Carmel McLure AC QC, former President of the Western Australian Court of Appeal

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