59 eminent Australians, former Judges and members of the legal fraternity have penned an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, calling for the urgent establishment of a National Integrity Commission, citing the Government’s election promise to have such a body legislated within 12 months of taking office.
Signatories to the open letter include The Hon Mary Gaudron QC, former justice of the High Court, The Hon Tony Fitzgerald AC QC, former Federal Court judge and head of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and former Liberal opposition leader John Hewson.
The open letter states in part:
“Last election all sides of politics promised to legislate an integrity commission. In fact, the Government promised ‘it’ll be done a lot quicker than the promise those opposite made as to when they would do it; it’ll be a lot quicker than the 12 months that they promised’”
“This was one of several ‘priority reforms’ that the Government would be ‘working to achieve early in the 46th Parliament.
“In the current climate, we understand that priorities can change. However, the Government has kept the Australian public waiting for 922 days, and has found time to tackle a great number of the Government’s self-described priorities outside of the coronavirus response – but has yet to find time for this one.
“A National Integrity Commission is urgently needed to fill the gaps in our integrity system and restore trust in our democracy.”
The letter calls for a National Integrity Commission which includes a broad jurisdiction and strong investigative powers, including, subject to proper protections, the power to hold public hearings when it is in the public interest to do so, in order to adequately investigate and expose corruption and misconduct.
“After years of solid resistance to any proposal for a Federal anti-corruption body, and putting forward a proposal which is essentially designed to protect themselves and to shield the public sector from proper scrutiny, the Coalition’s continual delays in the process towards establishing a federal anti-corruption body can no longer be tolerated. Based on all available evidence, one can only conclude this Government has no interest in a genuine federal anti-corruption watchdog with teeth,” said The Hon David Harper AM QC, former Judge of the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal.
“This Government promised to legislate a federal anti-corruption body within its first 12 months of election. While in the current climate, it is understandable that priorities can change, this Government has found time to tackle a great number of the Government’s self-described priorities outside of the coronavirus response – just not this one.
“Meanwhile, with little to no transparency and even less accountability, the Government has, indeed individual Ministers have, been making major fiscal decisions, worth billions, but also setting policy which will have impacts of untold significance for the nation’s long-term future.
“In these unprecedented times, appropriate transparency and accountability of Government decisions and a National Integrity Commission with teeth, have never been more critical in restoring the public’s faith in our democracy.
“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 when it is in the public interest to do so. Without these essential elements, transparency and accountability cannot be achieved,” Mr Harper said.
“The establishment of a National Integrity Commission is an urgent matter. Breaking this election promise by failing to legislate a federal anti-corruption body to be operational before the next election, would only act to further erode public confidence in our Federal Parliament,” said Bill Browne, senior researcher at the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.
“Australia Institute research shows 88% Australians support establishing an anti-corruption watchdog. It’s time for politics to help itself – a national integrity commission is crucial to restoring public confidence in our political institutions and our democracy,” Mr Browne said.
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