SECTION 2. ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS – PROBLEMS & OPPORTUNITIES FOR REFORM
9. COMMONWEALTH INTEGRITY COMMISSION
A CIC is a major, essential feature of an effective integrity system and good governance. A CIC must have the powers of a standing royal commission, subject to checks and balances to prevent it abusing its powers.
All public officers (MPs, public servants, contractors to government, etc.) would be liable to investigation of alleged unethical or illegal actions. These include the power to conduct public hearings into either specific allegations or general corruption issues, if the CIC it determines that that is in the public interest. It would balance the seriousness of allegations with any unfair prejudice to an accused’s reputation or unfair invasion of her/his privacy. Public trust would be enhanced through public hearings, subject to legitimate concerns about damage to an accused’s reputation.
It would be empowered to make findings of fact (including that a complaint was baseless or not established) and recommendations in a public report. Matters involving criminality could be referred to law enforcement authorities. Standing royal commissions (like the usual single issues royal commission) are structured to give priority to finding the facts about big issues of public importance. This is why witnesses can be compelled to give evidence but the evidence they give cannot be used against them. This may reduce the chances of ultimately getting convictions but the point is to understand the problem and recommend solutions.
The Integrity Commissioner would be a statutory officer of the Parliament, appointed by a bi-partisan processes independent of government (e.g. similar to the Queensland equivalent). One or more assistant commissioners would allow for internal checks and balances.
The integrity commission would be responsible for whistleblower protection and provide greater protection for whistleblowers and those who want to participate in political discourse but are afraid of repercussions. Australia should consider compensation for whistleblowers, as in certain circumstances in France, Ireland, Japan, UK and USA.
“Watch the watchdog” functions would operate via parliament and the courts. A parliamentary joint committee would ensure the CIC’s compliance with statutory provisions, due process and other standards. CIC’s decisions could be challenged in the courts.
Some of that feedback should include existing anti-corruption legislation. It is common for anti-corruption laws to be restated and strengthened in advance of the establishment of an anti-corruption commission. In Australia’s case these should include the common law offence of misconduct in public office (including conspiring to commit misconduct). Prosecutions under strengthened laws are only possible for future conduct; past conduct can be prosecuted under pre-existing laws. Furthermore, CIC’s experiences with each are relevant inputs to Parliamentary decisions for ongoing improvement of legislation
Note that although an effective CIC and adequate anti-corruption laws are important parts of the integrity system, they are not sufficient by themselves. National Integrity Systems require a range of other laws, norms and institutions complementing and mutually supporting each other. These are set out in the rest of this Policy Paper but should be considered along with a standing Governance Reform Commission to recommend and oversee reforms.
Commonwealth Integrity Commission: A ‘beyond best practice’ commission should be created as a major, essential feature of an effective integrity system and good governance. It must have the powers of a standing royal commission, subject to ‘watch the watchdog’ similar to those adopted in Queensland.
All public officers (MPs, public servants, contractors to government, etc.) should be liable to CIC investigation of alleged unethical or illegal actions. These include the power to conduct public hearings into either specific allegations or general corruption issues, if it determines that that is in the public interest. It would be empowered to make findings of fact and recommendations in a public report. Matters involving potential criminal prosecutions could be referred to law enforcement authorities.