4 November 2020
Zali Steggall OAM MP has long been advocating for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. While welcoming release of the Government’s draft legislation, Ms Steggall calls on the Government to accelerate the consultation timeline and immediately incorporate provisions to enable public hearings, greater avenues for referrals from whistleblowers and broaden the definition of corrupt conduct.
The Attorney General released the Commonwealth Integrity Commission draft for a six-month consultation period. While consultation is necessary, this timeline will delay the implementation of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission.
The proposed model is very similar to the model that was proposed by the Government in 2018 and which was widely condemned as not being strong enough. The Government has now opened a long period of consultation without listening to the commentary already publicly available on their initial draft.
Zali Steggall continues to support Helen Haines MP’s Bill presented to Parliament last to create an Australian Federal Integrity Commission, that Bill has already been through significant consultation and has support from a wide variety of judges and experts in integrity. The Australian Federal Integrity Commission is significantly stronger than the model proposed by the Government and addresses the concerns outlined above.
The Government model presents two commissions, one for the public sector and another for law enforcement.
The Government model embeds a double standard where parliamentarians and other public servants are held to less scrutiny than law enforcement officials. Law enforcement have a lower threshold for corruption and may be exposed through a public hearing, while parliamentarians and public servants are not.
Key concerns with the proposed legislation are:
- The lack of public hearings for the Public sector integrity division – meaning that only law enforcement integrity division will have the power to have public hearings. Parliamentarians and other public servants will not appear publicly.
- The definition of corruption differs depending on whether it was conducted by law enforcement or parliamentarians. Corruption should be defined consistently and the broad definition of ‘corrupt conduct’ should apply.
- Greater avenues for referral need to be permitted and protections for whistleblowers created to generate true public accountability and transparency.
Based on the current definition of corruption and the referral pathways, this body would not be able to investigate sports rorts, the Leppington land sale or the forgery of documents by Minister Taylor. The definition restricts the commission from investigating unless there is “reasonable suspicion” a criminal offence. This sets a different standard to public expectations and would preclude investigation into these incidents that clearly fail the reasonable persons test.
It is important that the Government pursues avenues to create oversight for the judiciary through a separate body and maintains the separation of powers.
These are important Bills, all interested parties are encouraged to engage with the process and make submissions to the Attorney-General. Please send submissions to [email protected] using the submission template. Submissions are due by 5pm AEDT on 12 February 2021.