Australian Greens – Dissenting Report

1.1        Public trust and confidence in our democratic institutions, especially the federal parliament, is very low. It is crucial that we address both the perception of corruption and actual risk of corruption. A recent poll commissioned by the Australia Institute found that 80% of respondents were supportive of establishing a federal anti-corruption commission.[1]

1.2        Scandals continue to dog the federal parliament and public service. There are many recent examples which give rise to the perception of corruption. Investigation of these scandals, and the perception that they were investigated rigorously, could have benefitted from a federal anti-corruption commission:

1.3        Most of the existing functions of various anti-corruption bodies are concerned with individual cases of personal fraud or misconduct. Most of the inquiry was similarly concerned with such matters. However the public is also concerned with systemic corruption across political institutions and the public service, especially around political donations buying favour from ministers or influencing party policy, and indirect payments by lobby groups to ensure favourable outcomes from the incumbent government or policy decisions by a major party. These concerns are not addressed by any existing anti-corruption body.

1.4        The committee’s report notes that 'Commonwealth agencies struggled to explain to the committee how their individual roles and responsibilities inter-connect to form a seamless Commonwealth government-wide approach to integrity and corruption issues'.[2]

1.5        This was noted in a number of submissions including from the Australia Institute, who quotes Transparency International: 'the Commonwealth's present arrangements are the result of decades of largely uncoordinated developments in administrative law, criminal law and public sector management, together with political accident'.[3]

1.6        The Australia Institute concludes:

there are gaps in our current integrity system, with no body currently able to investigate systemic corruption at a parliamentary or ministerial level. Ongoing scandals at a federal level show that this systemic corruption may be happening in our federal government, but we have no way of knowing if this is the case.[4]

1.7        The government's argument is that a new commission is not required because our existing anti-corruption mechanisms are underpinned by a democratic system of representative government and the separation of powers. However, the Law Council of Australia notes:

it is well-established that corruption has the potential to undermine democratic institutions. Therefore it cannot be assumed that democratic institutions alone will insulate Australia from the impact of corruption in the absence of a national strategy for addressing corruption.[5] 

1.8        There are legitimate concerns regarding balancing civil liberties with extraordinary powers, the likes of which are held by state-based anti-corruption bodies. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties considered this balance and argued that:

the balance between greater public good and greater public harm has shifted. In this evolving context, if the public interest is to be protected against corruption, NSWCCL acknowledges that the establishment of anti-corruption agencies equipped with extraordinary investigative powers—with proper constraints and safeguards—is necessary and proportionate.[6]

Recommendation 1

1.9        The Australian Greens recommend that the government begin work immediately to establish a National Integrity Commission with broad investigative powers to oversee the entire federal public service and Members of Parliament.

Recommendation 2

1.10      The Australian Greens recommend that any new body be empowered to conduct public hearings where it is in the public's interest to do so.

Senator Lee Rhiannon
Australian Greens Democracy Spokesperson

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