The Accountability Round Table welcomes the introduction of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill and acknowledges this as a breakthrough moment for integrity and accountability of our national government.
The Bill provides for the creation of a powerful independent body able to investigate corruption issues that potentially involve serious or systemic corruption.
We welcome the introduction of this very important integrity reform. To be fully effective the Commission needs to be supported by other important reforms as explicitly acknowledged by the Attorney General today.
Comments attributable to Fiona McLeod AO KC
In ART’s view, the Bill could be improved in a number of ways –
1. S73 provides that a hearing must be held in private unless the Commissioner is satisfied of two matters – that exceptional circumstances justify the hearing in public and it is in the public interest to do so.
There have been outstanding results achieved by State and Territory Commissions, as far back as the Fitzgerald inquiry into police misconduct through the conduct of public hearings. These hearings provide an important measure of accountability and encourage complainants to come forward with information. They reassure the public that corruption will be investigated and addressed. The assertions of unfair reputational damage flowing from these inquiries have been grossly exaggerated.
We believe the default setting of private hearings and the public interest threshold test are sufficient protections given the requirement for the Commissioner to already consider the confidential nature of information and any unfair prejudice to reputations, privacy, safety or wellbeing. The test of ‘exceptional circumstances’ creates an internal inconsistency that will bog down and potentially prejudice the Commission’s internal processes in inevitable Court challenges requiring disclosure of sensitive internal materials under consideration by the Commission or law enforcement agencies.
S 73(2)(a) should be deleted.
2. Judicial officers and their staff are expressly excluded from the operation of the Commission –
It is appropriate to exclude judicial officers from the operation of this Bill. This necessitates the development of a separate Judicial Commission in due course.
3. The broad reach of the Commission appropriately extends to a wide range of corrupt conduct of any person that adversely affects or that could affect the honest, impartial exercise of public official powers and duties, breach of public trust, abuse of office, misuse of office and corruption of any kind.
We are pleased to see the inclusion in the Bill of the important concepts of breach of public trust and misuse of public office and the extension of corrupt conduct of any person that could affect the honest or impartial exercise of power or performance of public official functions.