Retired Judges Welcome Landmark Integrity Bill, but Public Interest & Hearings Require Protection

The Federal Government’s tabling of legislation to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has been welcomed by the Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee of Former Judges. However, they warn that the exceptionally restrictive prerequisite for public hearings would undermine the public interest without further amendments to the Bill.

“The overwhelming majority of Australians have shown support for a strong integrity commission at the national level, and we welcome today’s announcement that legislation has been drafted and will now be presented to the Parliament,” said The Hon Margaret White AO, former judge of the Queensland Supreme Court of Appeal.

“The National Integrity Committee has been advocating for a national integrity commission since 2017. This legislation is long overdue, and the establishment of a strong independent Commission will help restore trust in government and our democracy,” said The Hon Stephen Charles AO KC, former judge of the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal.

“The National Integrity Committee has been deeply involved in establishing the basic principles necessary for the design of a successful and effective integrity commission,” said Mr Charles.

“This legislation provides for a Commission, independent of government, with broad powers and the ability to receive referrals from the public and hold public hearings.  However, we have always emphasised the importance of public hearings and will consider further how the draft legislation deals with these,” said The Hon David Harper AM KC, former judge Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal.

“The draft legislation released today is a vital step towards improving integrity in the public sector,” concluded Mr Harper.

Quotes from Bill Browne, Democracy & Accountability Program Director at the Australia Institute:

“We welcome this legislation to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission, which fills a big gap in Australia’s federal integrity system.

“This Bill is a strong start in restoring trust in our democracy.

“However, there are concerns that the threshold for holding public hearings is unreasonably high. Public hearings should be permitted when they are in the public interest. An additional hurdle that there must be “exceptional circumstances” is too restrictive.

“The Parliament could amend the draft laws to protect the public’s right to know and deliver a Commission with all the powers it needs to uncover potential corruption.

“This legislation is a long time coming – our research has shown popular support for this overdue reform since 2016. The Attorney-General should be congratulated for tabling legislation in Parliament so swiftly after taking office in May,” concluded Mr Browne.

The National Integrity Committee, auspiced by the Australia Institute, are a group of retired judges who have been advocating for a National Integrity Commission since 2017. Members:

The Hon Mary Gaudron KC, former judge of the High Court of Australia; The Hon Stephen Charles AO KC, former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal; The Hon David Harper AM KC, former judge Victorian Court of Appeal; The Hon Paul Stein AM KC, former judge of the NSW Court of Appeal, former President of the Anti-Discrimination Board; The Hon Anthony Whealy KC, former judge of the NSW Court of Appeal; The Hon Margaret White AO, former judge of the Queensland Court of Appeal; The Hon Carmel McLure AC KC, former President of the Western Australian Court of Appeal.

General Enquiries

Tanya Martin Executive Assistant

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mail@australiainstitute.org.au

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