Cat Barker, Foreign
Affairs, Defence and Security
Corruption and integrity issues remained in the spotlight during the last two parliaments amid continued revelations of corrupt conduct and misconduct across various sectors.
Issues for the new parliament will include continued consideration of a national integrity commission and other potential agencies, improvements to foreign bribery and public interest disclosure laws, and Australia’s international obligations.
Australia continues to be perceived as one of the
least corrupt countries in the world. Its score of 79/100 in Transparency
International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index gave it a ranking of 13 out
of 168 countries. However, its decline on this index in recent years (from a
score of 85 and a rank of seven in 2012), and continued revelations of corrupt
conduct in the public and private sectors and some unions, highlight the need
for continued attention to Australia’s anti-corruption and integrity framework.
Public sector and parliamentary
Unlike each of the Australian states, which have
established dedicated standing anti-corruption agencies, the Commonwealth has
taken a multi-agency
approach to combating corruption within or affecting the public sector. Within
this system, a range of agencies have complementary roles. These include
promoting integrity across the public service and investigating misconduct
(Australian Public Service Commission), detecting and investigating law
enforcement-related corruption issues (Australian Commission for Law
Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI)) and preventing, detecting and investigating serious
corruption that may constitute an offence under Commonwealth law (Australian
Federal Police (AFP)).
Recent measures to improve public sector integrity
have tended to focus on law enforcement, border protection and immigration
agencies, which face particular corruption risks due to the nature of their
work. ACLEI’s jurisdiction has gradually expanded since it began operations in
2007, most recently to include the Department of Immigration and Border Protection
(DIBP) from July 2015. The Australian Customs and Border Protection
Service (now the Australian Border Force, part of the DIBP) commenced reforms in
2013 to improve integrity and better combat corruption that have since been
rolled out across the DIBP as part of its professional standards framework.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the ACLEI recommended
in May 2016 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-chaired committee considered it
preferable for ACLEI to retain its law enforcement focus instead of being
expanded into an agency with anti-corruption oversight of the whole public
sector. However, it was open to ‘further examination of the advantages and
disadvantages of a broad-based federal anti-corruption agency’.
The Senate Select Committee on the Establishment of
a National Integrity Commission was established in February 2016 to consider
that very issue. However, it was only able to produce an interim
report ahead of the dissolution of the Senate in May 2016. Citing
shortcomings in the existing framework in addition to risks and challenges, the
majority recommended in that report that the Government support research into
potential anti-corruption systems appropriate for Australia. In additional
comments, Coalition Senators disagreed that any shortcomings had been
demonstrated. Shortly before the election, the Leader of the Opposition stated
that the Australian Labor Party would reconvene the Committee if it won
The proposal to establish a national integrity
commission along the lines of those operating in the states have resurfaced
periodically since the 1980s. While it does not have unanimous support, it has been
backed by several prominent anti-corruption experts and organisations. The
Australian Greens introduced legislation to establish such a commission in
2010, 2012 and 2013. The 2013
Bill was the first to be debated, in 2014 and 2015, but it was not voted
Debate on a possible national integrity commission has included
discussion of parliamentary standards and ethics. There are currently codes of
conduct covering ministers and parliamentary secretaries, ministerial staff and
lobbyists, but no code covering Members of Parliament. At the end of the 43rd
Parliament, the House of Representatives endorsed a draft code of conduct, but did not
consider the proposed changes to Standing Orders and resolutions required to
give effect to the code before the House was dissolved in August 2013. The
Senate did not endorse a code of conduct as ‘a meaningful
and workable method of addressing parliamentary standards’. The issue was not
considered during the 44th Parliament. Recent proposals by legal
academics, the Greens and other crossbenchers have included a
code of conduct covering all Members of Parliament, an independent
parliamentary ethics adviser, and a Parliamentary Integrity
Commissioner to investigate breaches of the code.
Australia moved relatively
quickly to ratify the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public
Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention) and
implement it domestically through legislation. However, Australia has lagged
behind other countries in its enforcement of the Convention. Increased priority
and resources given to foreign bribery investigations since 2013 appear to be
having some impact. However, the issue has been of continued interest to the
Parliament. An inquiry commenced by the Senate Economics References Committee in
June 2015 had not yet reported at the time of the dissolution of the
Senate in May 2016.
Australia’s first prosecutions for foreign bribery
were initiated in July 2011. In 2012, the OECD expressed serious concern
at the low level of enforcement action in Australia and included a long list of
recommendations in an evaluation
of Australia’s compliance with the Anti-Bribery Convention. Australia has since
stepped up its efforts. This has included the AFP reopening several previously
finalised investigations, entering into a memorandum of understanding with the
Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and establishing the
interagency Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre. Legislation has also been
enhanced with the Parliament passing amendments in 2015 and 2016 to clarify the
scope of foreign bribery offences and create new false accounting offences,
As at April 2016, there were 18
active foreign bribery cases, including two before the courts and four with
the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. Foreign bribery cases tend to
be complex and lengthy, so increased enforcement can take some time to produce
The Senate Economics References Committee was
considering, amongst other things, whether alternative or additional
enforcement options such as those used in the United Kingdom and United States
should be adopted in Australia. These include, for example, deferred
prosecution agreements (on which the Government also released a consultation
paper in March 2016) and suspension or exclusion from eligibility for
government contracts on the basis of corrupt conduct.
The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance
and Corruption reported
in December 2015 and made 79 recommendations for policy and legal reforms.
The Commission identified ‘widespread misconduct’ and made 93 referrals
for possible legal proceedings against individuals, unions, companies and a
charitable organisation. Taskforce Heracles, a joint federal and state police
taskforce initially attached to the Royal Commission, was extended to the end
of 2016 to continue investigating the potential criminal matters referred by
the Commission and any related allegations.
It is likely that the new parliament will be asked
to consider legislation proposed by the Government to respond to the
Commission’s findings, in particular, Bills to re-establish the Australian
Building and Construction Commission, establish a Registered Organisations
Commission and introduce a significantly expanded penalty regime for breaches
of duties by officers of registered organisations (which include unions). The
repeated rejection of the relevant Bills by the Senate in the 44th Parliament
provided the double dissolution trigger for the 2016 federal election.
disclosure (whistleblowing) schemes
Laws to facilitate disclosure of misconduct and
other wrongdoing, and to protect those making such disclosures, are an
important component of a broader integrity framework.
The public interest disclosure scheme that applies
to the Commonwealth public sector was updated and considerably expanded in 2013,
with the changes taking effect from January 2014. The former head of
ACLEI, Philip Moss, completed a statutory review of the scheme’s
operation and provided a report to the Government in July 2016. The Public
Interest Disclosure Act 2013 requires that the Government table the report
in parliament within 15 sitting days.
Legislative protections for private sector whistleblowers
in Australia, first introduced in 2004, are much less comprehensive than the
public sector scheme and not often used. Treasury released an options paper on
the issue in 2009, but the review was discontinued in 2010.
In its June 2014 report
on the performance of ASIC, the Opposition-chaired Senate Economics References
Committee made several recommendations about improving protections for
corporate whistleblowers. They included immediate legislative amendments to
expand the scope of the whistleblower provisions in the Corporations Act
2001 and a broader review with a view to further enhancements that would bring
protections afforded to private sector employees into line with their public
sector counterparts. In its October 2014 response, the Government noted
the recommendations and stated that ASIC had agreed to set up an Office of the
Whistleblower. The Office has since been established, but the other
recommendations do not appear to have been addressed.
Perhaps due to the lack of government action, the
Senate Economics References Committee released an issues
paper in April 2016 as part of its inquiry into scrutiny of financial advice,
seeking submissions on several possible improvements to the current framework. That
inquiry lapsed upon dissolution of the Senate in May 2016.
The Anti-Corruption Working Group has been preparing the
2017–18 G20 Anti-Corruption Implementation Plan for endorsement at the
September 2016 Leaders’ Summit in Hangzhou. China has flagged
anti-corruption measures as a priority for its presidency, particularly the
development of principles on tracking down high-level fugitives and
establishing a research centre on fugitives and stolen assets. As part of its
latest anti-corruption campaign, China has pushed for greater cooperation from
other countries, including
Australia, in repatriating persons alleged to have engaged in corruption,
and their assets.
A proposed extradition
treaty between Australia and China was tabled in parliament on
2 March 2016. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties commenced
consideration of the treaty, but its inquiry lapsed upon the dissolution of parliament
in May 2016.
The Turnbull Coalition Government and the former
Labor Government both committed to
finalising Australia’s membership of the Open Government Partnership as soon as
practicable. Australia was due to finalise its membership in July 2016,
but preparation of the required National Action Plan was put on hold when the
election was called.
Assessments of compliance with the United
Nations Convention against Corruption take place over review cycles. A summary
of findings on Australia’s compliance with the chapters on criminalisation
and law enforcement and international cooperation was released in
June 2012. The findings were largely positive, but also identified several
areas for improvement, including whistleblower protections and development of a
national, anti-corruption plan (which was underway at the time, but did not
eventuate). A review of Australia’s compliance with the chapters on
preventative measures and asset recovery is due to begin in 2017–18.
C Barker, ‘Corruption and integrity issues in Australia—are we heeding the lessons from the past?’, Off the Shelf, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, March 2014.
OECD Working Group on Bribery, Australia: Follow-up to the Phase 3 report and recommendations, OECD, April 2015.
Senate Select Committee on the Establishment of a National Integrity Commission, Interim report, The Senate, Canberra, May 2016.
Transparency International Australia (TIA), ‘Australian political parties out-of-step with voters’, TIA website, 2016.
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