Cathy Madden, Politics and Public Administration
There has been increasing momentum to establish a dedicated federal anti-corruption agency, as has occurred in every state and territory. Labor has promised to introduce legislation by the end of 2022 to establish such a commission; an aim strongly supported by the Australian Greens and incoming ‘teal’ independents. Although Labor and the independents support Helen Haines’s existing implementation Bill, the specific details are yet to be finalised.
of a national integrity commission (NIC) was a significant issue during the
2022 election campaign and highlighted a key difference between the major
parties. Labor identified establishing a NIC as a key legislative priority, an
supported by the ‘teal’ independents and Greens. During
the last 2 parliaments there has been growing political and public advocacy
for an anti-corruption commission, in conjunction with efforts to improve
parliamentary standards and ethics (see the article in this Briefing book on Parliamentary Workplace Reform).
implementing an effective operational structure will be critical to a NIC’s
success and encompass questions of jurisdiction, independence, powers and accountability. Over
the recent months debate has focused on a few key areas, including:
- how corruption is defined, which will determine
the NIC’s jurisdiction. Existing state agencies vary from NSW’s very
broad definition (any conduct of any person that
adversely affects, or could adversely affect the honest or impartial exercise
of official functions of a public official), to South Australia’s more limited definition.
- the ability to hold public hearings, which can promote
transparency and understanding of the anti-corruption process. However,
examinations can help avoid undue prejudice to a
person’s reputation, and are a legislated requirement in SA.
- investigative powers,
such as those ordinarily associated with royal
commissions. This includes the ability to compel the production of
documents and witness testimony and the power to search, seize and use
- the ability for the NIC to decide to begin
investigations based on complaints, referrals from other agencies, and own-motion investigations.
- the ability to retrospectively look into
behaviour that occurred before the Act is passed. Most of the state
integrity models allow for some level of retrospectivity.
December 2018 the Morrison Coalition Government committed to establishing a ‘Commonwealth Integrity Commission’ (CIC), released
a consultation paper on its proposed
model and subsequently promised to
introduce legislation during the 46th Parliament. However, in February 2022 the
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash confirmed
that the Government would not progress the CIC before the election.
Unlike the states
and territories, each of which has a dedicated anti-corruption agency, the
Commonwealth uses a multi-agency approach to combat corruption within the public service and Parliament. This includes the Australian Commission for Law
Enforcement Integrity, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Australian National Audit Office, the Australian Public Service Commission, and the Independent Parliamentary ExpensesAuthority.
This multi-agency approach, focusing on strengthening existing anti-corruption measures, has
been adopted in a number of countries, including the US. Other countries such
as Botswana, Hong
Kong, Korea and Thailand use a single-agency model, which centralises
the primary responsibility of implementing an anti-corruption program. The NSW
Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was modelled on the Hong Kong
ICAC. Comparable overseas parliaments such a Canada and the UK have also established
specific agencies to deal with parliamentary ethics and standards. Brief
summaries of these overseas agencies are set out in a recent Parliamentary Library research paper.
In 2018 two-thirds
of Australians strongly supported a federal anti-corruption commission. More recently, in April
2022, 75% of respondents to an Australia Institute poll supported a NIC.
This aligns with the April 2022 ABC Vote Compass survey that found just under half of respondents
said corruption was a big problem, 36% thought it was ‘somewhat’ of a problem, and
only 1% said it is not a problem at all.
Transparency International’s Corruption perceptions index- recognised as a key indicator of Australia’s integrity
performance- shows Australia’s declining global standing. Over the past decade
Australia’s ranking has dropped from 7 to 18, while regional neighbours, such
as Papua New Guinea, have been trending up and New Zealand is consistently
This decline comes
against a backdrop of continued allegations of corrupt conduct in the public
and private sectors and some unions. The federal government’s inaction on an
integrity commission Bill, despite controversies including community sports grants, commuter carparks, the Leppington Triangle land purchase,
parliamentary workplace accountability and sexual harassment issues and alleged ministerial misconduct, has strengthened
the calls for establishing a NIC.
Commentators on a NIC
anti-corruption experts and organisations support a NIC and have published
options for proposed models.
researchers, including Professor AJ Brown, published the options paper, A national integrity commission: options for Australia, in August 2018. Based on the existing design’s strengths
and weaknesses, the researchers identified 3 options to strengthen the
federal public integrity framework:
- establish an integrity and anti-corruption
- establish an ICAC based on current state ICACs
- establish a custom-built federal integrity
commission drawing on the state’s experiences but with ‘a broader range’ of relevant
The think tank, the Australia Institute established the National Integrity Committee to ‘advise on specific accountability reforms, including the
establishment of a National Integrity Commission’. The committee published several briefing papers that included
recommendations on a NIC design, based on comparable state agencies.
Days before the
election, the Centre for Public Integrity published an open letter addressed to all political
parties and signed by 31 retired judges arguing for a strong anti-corruption
commission. The centre previously published a discussion paper comparing Australia’s existing state and territory ICACs and advocating for a similar federal body with the ability to:
investigate conduct that affects the impartial
exercise of public administration, including those outside the public service
- begin investigations (including own
investigations) without satisfying a threshold of evidence
- hold public hearings if in the public interest
make findings and report publicly.
The report argued
that ‘comparing the features of existing state integrity commissions with the
models proposed by the [Morrison] Federal Government, the ALP and Dr Haines
reveals that the Government’s CIC would be the weakest and least effective
integrity agency in the country’.
State and territory integrity commissions
Since the state
and territory ICACs were established (see Table 1), there has been ongoing
debate about their proper role and conduct. Criticisms have
been raised, particularly in regard to the NSW ICAC, over the
reputational harm inflicted through public hearings and that findings of
corruption remain in place even if followed by acquittal in the criminal court.
Table 1: Current state and
territory anti-corruption commissions
Source: compiled by the
In recent years
the NSW ICAC, Victoria's IBAC and the Queensland CCC have faced amendments to
their structure and scope. Most recently, in October 2021, the SA Parliament
amended the Independent Commission against Corruption Act 2012 to limit the commission’s powers to investigate
corruption, misconduct or maladministration and reduce its transparency.
Greens and independents
The Australian Greens and
crossbenchers have made the most recent attempts to legislate for a federal
anti-corruption commission- strengthening the parliamentary integrity framework, believing
such major reforms
should come from them. Greens senator, Larissa Waters,
introduced the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2) which passed the Senate in September 2019 but lapsed at the end
of the 46th Parliament. In October 2020 Helen Haines introduced the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2021 (to establish a federal ICAC largely modelled on the NSW ICAC)
and Senator Rex Patrick introduced essentially the same Bill, the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2021 in October 2021. Dr
Haines also reintroduced her Bill at this time but debate was denied and it
lapsed when the House dissolved.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Standards Bill 2020, introduced by Dr Haines in 2020, sought to establish a
Parliamentary Integrity Adviser, Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and a
parliamentary code of conduct. Previous Bills introduced by the Greens,
including the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019 would have established an Independent Parliamentary Adviser.
Many current and
incoming independent parliamentarians support Dr Haines’s Bill to establish an integrity commission with broad
powers, including the scope for public hearings and a definition of corruption
to potentially cover government ‘pork barrelling’. The new Albanese Government is
also likely to negotiate with Senate crossbenchers regarding
legislation on the NIC.
former Coalition Government released its proposed model for a NIC in an exposure draft in 2018
and allocated $104.5 million over 4 years (including capital funding of $10
million) in the 2019–20 Budget.
the NIC contained in the exposure draft was widely condemned as ineffective with key stakeholders such as Transparency International Australia, the Accountability Round Table and the National Integrity Committee criticising several features. For example, its
ability to conduct public hearings was inconsistent and required a ‘reasonable
suspicion’ of criminality before it could begin an investigation. The more
limited powers proposed for the public sector integrity division (covering
parliamentarians and other public sector agencies) contrasted with more stringent
provisions that would relate to the law enforcement integrity division (LEID).
new Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, has indicated that he supports
a NIC and wants to work with the Dr Haines Bill.
Albanese Labor Government has committed to establishing ‘a powerful,
transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)’ to be legislated by the end of 2022. Attorney-General
Mark Dreyfus has indicated
that the commission is going to be independent, powerful, and have the powers
of a royal commission. The commission would: have the power to deal with
serious and systemic corruption; be able to receive allegations from a range of
sources; be able to, at its discretion, hold public hearings; and have
NACC would have broad jurisdiction to investigate serious and systemic
corruption by Commonwealth ministers and parliamentarians, ministerial
advisers, statutory office holders, government agencies and public servants. A
new departmental taskforce within
the Attorney-General’s Department will be established to develop policy options
and consult with stakeholders while working closely with the Australian
Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.
Labor’s model has also been criticised, particularly for lacking detail in the form of principles
rather than fully developed legislation. During the election campaign Labor
had indicated that when it does legislate, the Bill will be extremely similar
to the one independent Dr Haines introduced into Parliament. Dr Haines has suggested
that she co-chair a joint select committee of the Parliament to work through the
technicalities and allow various experts to make their views known. Labor is
considering this proposal. One of the challenges facing the design of a NIC is
balancing the strong powers of the body with the need to protect against
reputational harm, respect for the rights of all, a focus on serious and
systemic corruption, and ultimately the confidence of the public.
Cat Barker, What Might a National Integrity Commission Look Like?, FlagPost (blog), Parliamentary Library, 18 April 2019.
AJ Brown et al., Governing for Integrity: a Blueprint for Reform: Draft Report, (Brisbane: Griffith University and Transparency International Australia, April 2019).
Senate Select Committee on the Establishment of a National Integrity Commission, Report (Canberra: The Senate, September 2017).
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