Australia’s trust in federal politics is at an all-time low. Australians have never trusted our politicians less. To restore faith in our democracy and help politics help itself, it is time to create an independent anti-corruption watchdog to investigate and expose corruption and serious misconduct at a federal level.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission
In September 2022, the Labor Government tabled legislation that would introduce a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The legislation will go to committee for debate before it is voted upon.
In 2017, the National Integrity Committee of former judges formed under the auspices of the Australia Institute. The Committee has been a formidable advocate for an integrity commission and has done detailed work on what principles must be satisfied for an anti-corruption watchdog to have “teeth”. The NACC will:
- Have the power to hold public hearings under exceptional circumstances, when they are in the public interest
- Have a broad jurisdiction, both in terms of the definition of corrupt conduct and who it is able to investigate
- Have the power to make findings of corrupt conduct and refer findings that could constitute criminal conduct to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Australian Federal Police
- Be able to initiate its own investigations as well as in response to information from whistleblowers and the public
- Be able to investigate potential wrongdoing that occurred before it was established
- Be subject to oversight to ensure that it always acts with absolute impartiality and fairness, and within its charter.
The NACC is a welcome, significant and overdue addition to Australia’s integrity architecture which has been demanded by Australians for years. Further reforms are needed, for example better protections for whistleblowers, but the NACC must be recognised as a major step forward.