Public hearings key to tackling corruption and public trust

New research released today by the Australia Institute shows that the perception of corruption in Australia will continue to rise while allegations of corruption are either not investigated or are investigated entirely behind closed doors.

The report coincides with the release of the latest Transparency International Global Corruption Index which reveals Australia has again slid down the rankings.

The report, Out in the Open [See PDF below], finds that:

  • No standing national integrity agency has ever held a public investigation into allegations of corruption
  • No standing national integrity agency has the jurisdiction to investigate misconduct of parliamentarians and Ministers
  • Ongoing scandals either investigated in private, or not at all, including allegations that:
  • Defence Department staffers colluded with contracting companies to design well-paid jobs for them, and the Department awarded contracts to companies without a competitive tender process;
  • The Department of Agriculture and Water paid double the ABARE recommended value for water buy backs in the Murray Darling Basin;
  • An Australian businessman was approached by a Chinese broker who offered the Liberal Party up to $2 million in donations to assist a Chinese company to purchase a mining interest in Australia, the donation to be paid into offshore accounts;
  • Public inquiries increase public trust, with a poll showing 85 per cent thought a federal corruption watchdog with public hearings would increase public trust

“Too many allegations of public sector corruption are falling through the gaps of our Swiss cheese integrity system,” Accountability Project Officer at the Australia Institute, Hannah Aulby said.

“It is no wonder that the perception of corruption continues to rise, as the public sees scandal after scandal not being properly investigated in public view.”

“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. This would erode public trust further,” Aulby said

Hon Stephen Charles AO QC, former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal and member of the National Integrity Committee added, “The public has a right to know that investigations into public sector corruption allegations are being conducted fairly and in the public interest. This can only be done with public hearings,”

“The growing perception of corruption must be tackled by a federal corruption watchdog with the ability to expose investigations to the public through public hearings. Only then will we begin to rebuild public trust,” Mr Charles said.

The National Integrity Committee’s design principles include the need for a federal corruption 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.

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