When independent MP Andrew Wilkie moved to launch
a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of Crown’s cosy relationship with certain government departments, the major parties joined forces to crush it.
of five crossbenchers – Wilkie, Rebekah Sharkie, Adam Bandt, Zali Steggall and Helen Haines – on one side of the chamber supporting the motion, and 127 combined Coalition and Labor MPs on the other, spoke volumes.
The government instead referred the matter
to the little-known, poorly resourced and largely toothless Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, a body unable to investigate current or former parliamentarians.
Few observers expect anything to come of it.
There remains to this day no independent body with the power to properly investigate corruption among the ranks of our federal politicians and the public service. With the ACT’s newly established integrity commission
there are now corruption watchdogs in every state and territory, but misdeeds by our national leaders remain largely unexamined.
And there’s plenty to be examined. Other than the Crown affair, “Watergate”, “Grassgate” and the incredibly suspect consulting gigs taken up by former ministers Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop top the list of recent dodgy dealings that merit a closer look.
Surely this government, so eager to expose and punish alleged corruption of the union kind, would be keen to shine the cleansing light of justice in all dark and dingy corners?
Well no. Not really.
So where are we at?
The establishment of a federal anti-corruption body was first explored in the eighties, originally under Malcolm Fraser, and then by special minister of state Mick Young during the Hawke government’s second term. But the idea went nowhere.
It wasn’t until almost 15 years later in 2010 that the Greens moved a bill calling for the creation of a national integrity commission. When the 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament Greens leader Bob Brown secured an assurance from Labor leader Julia Gillard that, in return for the Greens giving her the numbers to govern, she would appoint a “parliamentary integrity commissioner
”. That never happened, despite the Greens introducing two more
integrity commission bills in 2012 and 2013.
But in the last few years the case for a federal anti-corruption entity has been building. As Australia slipped down the global corruption rankings
, a 2017 survey of Australian Public Service staff found that 1 in 20 had witnessed a colleague engaging in corruption
. Meanwhile an Australia Institute survey in the same year found that 80 per cent of Australians
favoured establishing a federal ICAC, with 63 per cent reporting a “low level of trust” in federal parliament.
Then in December last year, almost 12 months after Labor came to the party with a proposal for a corruption watchdog
, the Coalition announced
it would establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) “for the investigation of corruption in the public sector”.
But, as Minister for Adani Matt Canavan
might say, the proposal was “weak as piss”.
As Kate Griffiths and Danielle Wood from the Grattan Institute argue
, the CIC is “light on both powers and resources and is unlikely to weed out corruption and serious misconduct”. Specifically, they point to the fact that investigations are limited to activities that only reach the threshold of criminality, findings can be kept secret, and the budget would be less than the budgets of most equivalent state bodies.
The ACTU also rejected
the CIC in a February submission to the attorney general, saying it ignored "expert evidence and best practice”.
And just this week retired Victorian Supreme Court judge Stephen Charles said the CIC was “too weak and too narrow
” and ought to permit the investigation of electoral donations and the “revolving door movement of ministers and public servants into private industry”.
There’s even dissent
from within the Coalition’s own ranks with backbencher Llew O’Brien, long an advocate for an anti-corruption commission, saying the CIC needs “stronger” powers.
Where does this leave us? Well, it’s not promising. Despite Labor’s pre-election commitment to an anti-corruption body a recent report
revealed that senior leadership, including new leader Anthony Albanese, pushed back against Shorten’s plan over fears it would “make it very hard to govern”.
Given the bipartisan rejection of an inquiry into Crown corruption, it may be that both major parties are happy to keep their skeletons in the closet.
But let’s not let them.
from the Parliamentary Library blog is comprehensive but very readable summary of the parties’ and crossbenchers various positions on a federal anti-corruption body.
This ACTU submission
sets out the union movement’s position on creating a genuine national integrity commission.
And this 2012 piece
by Bob Bottom, a consultant during the establishment of NSW’s ICAC, is a thorough account of the history of a proposed national anti-corruption body.