A National Integrity Commission

A healthier and fairer democracy is possible.
We can build it – with a strong National Integrity Commission that holds our politicians to account for the common good.

Australia, we have a problem

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index shows Australia’s ranking on the global corruption scale has been steadily falling steadily since 2012.

As TIA CEO, Serena Lillywhite said “Australia used to rank among the top ten least-corrupt countries. We fell out of the league of world-leading nations back in 2014 and continuously fail to lift our game.”

This year’s CPI report has put Australia in 12th place, scoring 77 points on the 100-point scale. Since 2012, Australia has slid 8 points in Transparency International’s global corruption ranking.

Corruption Perceptions Index 2019. Read more

Countless political scandals – from ‘sports rorts’ to travel rorts, questionable political donations, revolving doors, conflicts of interest and undue influence – have all demonstrated the weaknesses of our national integrity system, the looseness of our parliamentary standards, and the reason for the public’s falling trust in politicians.
Australians want a federal ICAC

85% of Australians believe that at least some federal members of parliament are corrupt. TIA’s Global Corruption Barometer survey results.

  • – We found 85% of Australians believe that at least some federal members of parliament are corrupt.
  • – Australians’ faith in democracy has been plummeting: trust in democracy in Australia has fallen from 86% in 2007 to 41% in 2018.
  • – Twenty years ago, 70% of Australians felt their vote made a difference. Now, only 58% do.
  • – The Museum of Australian Democracy’s research finds that if nothing is done by 2025 and current trends continue, ‘fewer than 10% of Australians will trust their politicians and political institutions – resulting in ineffective and illegitimate government and declining social and economic wellbeing.
Democracy is not the problem. The decline of our democracy is the problem.
 

Australians want a fairer democracy

Most Australians have zero tolerance for corruption. The public have consistently stated that they want a strong anti-corruption watchdog.

We found more than two-thirds of Australians wanted a federal anti-corruption agency.

Essential’s poll found an even higher number: more than 80% of its respondents across the political spectrum – Coalition, Labor and the Greens, want an independent federal anti-corruption body, with broad scope and powers.

As participants said in a roundtable hosted by the Centre for Public Integrity, “people do want to participate but they think the system is rigged and they don’t want to participate in a rigged system.”

People do want to participate but they think the system is rigged and they don’t want to participate in a rigged system.

We can fix this

Australians are loudly demanding that our parliament and public institutions act with honesty, transparency and integrity. Australians want to be able to hold our government to account.

To do this we need to establish a strong national anti-corruption watchdog to prevent, detect and stop corruption. It must be well-designed, well-coordinated, and given the powers it needs to hold the powerful to account.

A fit-for-purpose anti-corruption agency needs these six key criteria.

1. Broad jurisdiction

Everyone employed by the federal public service should be subject to independent scrutiny.

The Integrity Commission should have the power to investigate federal public servants as well as federal politicians and their staff, and any organisation carrying out public functions.

It should have the power to investigate allegations of corruption and misconduct – whether it be criminal or non-criminal conduct – such as the misuse of taxpayer funds for personal or political reasons.

“Not holding politicians to the highest possible standard when someone else is held to a higher ethical standard is wrong. It’s just fundamentally wrong.” – Llew O’Brien MP, Liberal National Party.

2. Strong, independent powers

The commission should be able to conduct its own investigations with the same powers as a royal commission, where needed.

It should be able to make findings of fact, to be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions or other enforcement agencies for consideration for prosecution in criminal cases.

It should be able to make other findings of fact and issue enforceable recommendations, including through a public report, in relation to non-criminal corruption issues, prevention and other areas of integrity reform.

“What is needed is a National Integrity Commission with all the independence, powers and resources of a standing royal commission into corruption in the federal sphere, able to hold public hearings whenever the commissioner believes it is in the public interest to do so.” – Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney General

3. Public hearings, transparency and fairness

It should be able to hold public hearings and /or a public inquiry when this is a necessary and effective means of investigation, or when it is in the public interest.

It should ensure appropriate safeguards for due process, especially where criminal investigation and prosecution become feasible and desirable.

“Any federal integrity commission should include public hearings. At the very least, that’s what our people want—and discretion to initiate investigations, open referrals from concerned members of the public and, importantly, whistle-blower protections to prevent retaliation’”– Helen Haines MP, Independent

4. Accessibility to the commission

It should be accessible by anyone who identifies a corruption issue, especially whistleblowers, but also the private sector, civil society and members of the public. They should have appropriate protections, and there should be mandatory reporting requirements for all public officials and Commonwealth agency heads.

5. Accountability to the public

It should be accountable to the public, not captured by political interests.

This can be ensured through multi-party parliamentary oversight informed by community and civil society input. This is necessary to ensure that the commission acts with absolute impartiality and fairness, and within its charter.

“The Australian people deserve a democracy that works for them and they deserve to have confidence that politicians are not acting corruptly, acting with conflicts of interest or receiving donations that are then influencing the decisions they take. The public deserve a democracy that actually works for them and this body can help deliver that.” Larissa Waters, Australian Greens Senator

6. Adequate, guaranteed resources

The commission should have adequate resourcing to ensure it is effective and able to undertake its mandate on behalf of the federal parliament and the people. Its resourcing should not be compromised if its decisions are unpopular with the executive government of the day.

‘‘Our research shows that already, pre-pandemic, federal reforms to fight corruption, ensure political integrity and protect whistleblowers required at least $100 million a year – as against $42 million promised so far for the Coalition’s federal anti-corruption agency, and Labor’s original plan to commit only $20 million,” A J Brown, Transparency International Australia board member, and Professor of Public Policy & Law, Griffith University.

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