Budget missing integrity

by Bill Browne

Last year’s Budget included the welcome news that $100 million had been allocated to establish the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC). This Budget contains no update to that funding – although a related integrity body, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, receives an additional $700,000 to assist it with its funding until it is absorbed into the CIC.

Predicted average staff for the CIC in 2020–21 is 76 people … for a body that does not yet exist, which will be brought into existence by legislation that no one has seen. By contrast, NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption had 114 full-time equivalent staff in 2018–19, and likely many more than 114 employees overall given some would be casual or part-time.

It is 21 months since the consultation paper for the CIC was released and 10 months since Attorney-General Christian Porter said that the legislation for the CIC would be released “shortly”.

Australia Institute polling shows that three in four Australians want a CIC this year.

Hopefully they’re not holding their breath.

News is just as disappointing for a key integrity body that we already have, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO). The ANAO – which exposed the “sports rorts” affair, payment over the fair price for land near where the Western Sydney airport will be built, and many other issues – is already falling behind its yearly audit target. Even the Coalition-controlled committee overseeing the office recommended funding be restored.

Instead, the ANAO stands to lose about $14 million in funding next year, a 12 per cent cut that will mean the ANAO misses its target of 48 performance audits. By 2023–24, it will only have the resources to conduct 38 performance audits. This is bad news for the taxpayer who ultimately foots the bill for rorts, poor government performance and dodgy contracting.

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