The Government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission would be the weakest watchdog in the country if implemented, according to new research by the Centre for Public Integrity.
It is an independent think-tank dedicated to preventing corruption, protecting the integrity of accountability institutions, and eliminating the undue influence of money in politics in Australia.
The centre’s analysis of State and Territory integrity commissions concludes that the strongest and most effective integrity commissions in New South Wales and Queensland share several critical powers.
Investigate people outside public service
Among these is the ability to investigate any conduct of any person that affects the impartial exercise of public administration. This includes investigation of those outside the public service who seek to unduly influence public decision making, and does not limit investigations to criminal conduct.
Also key is the ability to begin investigations without satisfying a threshold of evidence, meaning that investigations are used in their appropriate function of finding out whether any misconduct has occurred.
Other critical powers include the ability to hold public hearings if in the public interest, as well as the ability to make findings and report publicly.
These powers feature in both independent MP Helen Haines’ Bill, and the model proposed by the ALP. In contrast, none of them is a feature of the Government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC).
The ‘weakest watchdog in the country’
“The Government’s proposed CIC would be the weakest watchdog in the country,” said Anthony Whealy QC, former judge and Chair of the Centre for Public Integrity.
“It would not be able to begin investigations into the majority of cases, as it is limited to only investigating a specific list of criminal offences,” added Whealy.
“It would hide corruption, not expose it. The inability to hold public hearings and table reports would mean the public is left in the dark,” noted Stephen Charles QC, former judge and director of the Centre for Public Integrity.
“The CIC falls short of its state counterparts on almost every level. It is a breed of its own and does not deserve to be a called a watchdog,” said Charles.