The ninth of December is International Anti-Corruption Day. This FlagPost reviews some recent developments and commitments across the Australian anti-corruption landscape.
The Northern Territory Parliament passed the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bill 2017 on 23 November 2017, and the NT Government expects the office to be operational by mid-2018. The new Commissioner will be responsible for identifying and investigating ‘improper conduct’ (including corrupt conduct and misconduct) and preventing, detecting and responding to improper conduct. The Commissioner will be able to investigate MPs and their staff, judicial officers, police, public servants and anyone else employed or engaged by a body that receives public resources or performs a function on behalf of the NT.
In the lead-up to the October 2016 Australian Capital Territory election, the ACT Labor, Liberal and Greens parties each pledged to work towards establishing an integrity commission for the ACT. The ACT Legislative Assembly passed a resolution on 15 December 2016 establishing a select committee ‘to inquire into the most effective and efficient model of an independent integrity commission for the ACT’. The committee tabled its report on 31 October 2017, recommending that the Government establish a standing ACT Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission by the end of 2018 ‘to investigate, expose and prevent corruption and foster public confidence in the integrity of the ACT Government’. It recommended that the agency’s jurisdiction include all public officials, and parties delivering contracted work or services on behalf of government, MPs and their staff, judicial officers, and ‘policing officers funded to deliver services by and to the ACT taxpayer and community’. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) provides community policing for the ACT under an agreement between the Commonwealth and ACT governments. Due to this arrangement, the committee recommended a Memorandum of Understanding between the proposed ACT agency and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), which oversees the AFP.
If the NT and ACT agencies commence in 2018, that would leave the Commonwealth as the only Australian jurisdiction without a broad-based anti-corruption agency. The federal-level Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission tabled its report on 13 September 2017. The majority of the Committee did not recommend for or against establishing a national integrity commission. Instead, it recommended that the Government give ‘careful consideration to establishing a Commonwealth agency with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters’ and encouraged the Senate to reconsider the issue after the completion of a review in 2018 of the jurisdiction and capabilities of ACLEI and the AFP-led Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre, and the completion of research being led by Griffith University, expected to be finalised in 2019. NXT senators, Greens senators and Senator Derryn Hinch recommended establishing a national integrity commission.
ACLEI was initially set up in 2006 to prevent, detect and investigate corruption issues involving current or former employees of the AFP and the Australian Crime Commission (now the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC)) and former employees of the National Crime Authority, which the ACC (ACIC) replaced. Over time, its jurisdiction has expanded to include CrimTrac (now part of the ACIC), the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and parts of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. In May 2016, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ACLEI recommended that ACLEI’s jurisdiction be further expanded to include the whole of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, and that an independent assessment be undertaken to determine whether ACLEI should also oversee the Australian Taxation Office. The Government has not yet responded to that report.
Review of ACLEI and the Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre and the Open Government Partnership
The Government committed to reviewing the jurisdiction and capabilities of ACLEI and the Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre in early to mid-2018, in consultation with the public, in the context of developing Australia’s Open Government National Action Plan 2018–20. Australia joined the Open Government Partnership in 2013, and released its first National Action Plan (2016–18) in December 2016. The 2016–18 plan includes 15 commitments, 12 of which the Government assesses to be on track and three of which are delayed (extractive industries transparency, national integrity framework and open contracting).
Australian Research Council Linkage Project
The research referred to in the Select Committee’s report is an Australian Research Council Linkage project, Strengthening Australia’s National Integrity System: Priorities for Reform, being undertaken by a partnership between Griffith University, Flinders University, University of the Sunshine Coast, Transparency International Australia, the New South Wales Ombudsman, the Integrity Commissioner (Queensland) and the Crime and Corruption Commission Queensland. The project team released a discussion paper, A Federal Anti-corruption Agency for Australia?, in March 2017. That paper indicated that future discussion papers would be released covering strategic approaches to corruption, measuring anti-corruption effectiveness, and examining Australia’s integrity system as a whole.
Australia is currently undergoing its fourth evaluation against the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Officials in International Business Transactions. The 2012 report on the third evaluation identified some significant deficiencies in Australia’s enforcement of the Convention. Developments since that assessment include:
The OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions is due to consider a draft report of the latest evaluation at its December 2017 meeting. Separately, the Senate Economics References Committee is due to report on its inquiry into foreign bribery by 7 February 2018.