Corruption fighters and former judges design national corruption watchdog

The Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee of corruption fighters and retired judges is in Canberra today to launch a blueprint of design principles which will be used to advise policy makers on the best model for a federal anti-corruption watchdog.

Former NSW ICAC Commissioner David Ipp AO QC, former President of the Queensland Court of Appeal Margaret McMurdo AC, and Chair of Transparency International Anthony Whealy QC established the National Integrity Committee to design specific accountability measures, including a national integrity commission. Other members include former Judge of the NSW Court of Appeal Paul Stein AM QC, former Judges of the Victorian Court of Appeal Stephen Charles AO QC and David Harper AM QC.

The National Integrity Committee has prepared a benchmark for a national body based on best-practices from state anti-corruption bodies which have proven themselves effective. The design principles include the need for the commission to be an independent and well-resourced agency, with a broad jurisdiction and the strong investigative powers of a Royal Commission, including the ability to hold public hearings.

“The only outcome worse than a failure to establish a national anti-corruption body would be the creation of poorly designed anti-corruption body with insufficient powers and no ability to hold public hearings,” Executive Director of the Australia Institute, Ben Oquist said today.

“Our research, and the recent Accountability and the Law Conference, reviewed the lessons from different anti-corruption models. We know works, and what doesn’t,” Mr Oquist said.

“The National Integrity Committee has established a benchmark for an effective federal anti-corruption body. It must have a broad jurisdiction, strong investigative powers and the ability to hold public hearings. It’s now time to get on with the job of investigating and exposing corruption to restore public trust in government,” said former President of the Queensland Court of Appeal, the Hon Margaret McMurdo AC.

“Corruption does not stop at state borders, but right now the types of corruption being revealed by NSW ICAC are currently falling through the gaps of our Swiss-cheese federal anti-corruption measures. We have designed a National Integrity Commission to fill these gaps and provide oversight of federal public administration.” said former Court of Appeal judge and NSW Assistant Commissioner, the Hon Anthony Whealy QC.

The National Integrity Committee’s Principles for Designing a National Integrity Commission are:

  1. That the Commission is an independent statutory body that is provided with the required resourcing to enable it to promote integrity and accountability and to enable it to prevent, investigate and expose corruption.
  2. That the Commission has a broad jurisdiction, including the ability to investigate any conduct of any person that adversely affects or could adversely affect, directly or indirectly, the honest or impartial exercise of public administration, if the Commissioner deems the conduct to be serious or systemic.
  3. That the Commission be granted the investigative powers of a Royal Commission to undertake its work, to be executed at the discretion of the Commissioner.
  4. That the Commission may hold a public inquiry providing it is satisfied that opening the inquiry to the public will make the investigation to which the inquiry relates more effective, and would be in the public interest.
  5. That the Commission be governed by one Chief Commissioner and two Deputy Commissioners, appointed by the Minister on recommendations from a bipartisan Parliamentary committee. The Chief Commissioner is to be appointed for fixed non-renewable 5 year terms, and must be a judge or a retired judge or be qualified for appointment as a judge.
  6. That the Commission be empowered to make findings of fact, to be referred to a well-resourced and specialised unit within the DPP for consideration for prosecution.

The committee is also supported by 41 of Australia’s top corruption fighters and eminent lawyers, who signed a recent open letter recommending a national integrity commission have statutory independence and resourcing, broad jurisdiction, and strong investigative powers including the ability to hold public hearings.

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