Retired Judges Welcome Landmark NACC, but Lament Lack of Public Hearings

Today’s passing of legislation to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has been welcomed by the Australia Institute’s National Integrity Committee.

The National Integrity Committee congratulates the Parliament and, in particular, the Attorney-General on what is a significant achievement.  The establishment of a National Anti-Corruption Commission will change the way politics is conducted in Australia, and its impact on our systems of governance and accountability cannot be overestimated. There is no doubt this legislation is long overdue.

We note, however, that while there is much in the legislation to be welcomed, it contains a serious flaw in relation to public hearings. It precludes the holding of a public hearing unless the Commissioner not only concludes that it would be in the public interest to do so but also that “exceptional circumstances” apply. If it is in the public interest that a particular hearing be held in public, then it cannot be in the public interest to foreclose such a hearing because “exceptional circumstances” do not exist.

In making these comments, the Committee also wishes to commend the work of Dr Helen Haines and her crossbench colleagues not only in their very valuable work with the Government in the drafting of the legislation but especially in their efforts to ensure the legislation meets the design principles necessary for an effective integrity commission.

“The National Anti-Corruption Commission is a testament to the work of Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus in conjunction with crossbenchers, including Helen Haines and her predecessor Cathy McGowan, and the Greens. After five years of public debate and discussion, Australia will have a strong, independent integrity commission,” says Bill Browne, Director of the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

“With that said, the NACC should not be limited to holding public hearings in exceptional circumstances only, and we recommend that the Parliament revisit the commission once it is operational.”

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

Members of the National Integrity Committee include:

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 of the 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.

Further information on the work of the National Integrity Committee can be found here.