- »Judge Calls Federal ICAC Program Inadequate
Judge Calls Federal ICAC Program Inadequate
The federal government is halfway to legalizing a federal anti-corruption commission. The Senate passed the bill earlier this month, though the House seems unlikely to approve.
Meanwhile, a former senior Victorian judge indicated the proposal is not strong enough. He also called the current integrity commission ICAC “inadequate” to deal with corruption as alleged to have taken place with Crown Resorts.
What is ICAC?
In 1988, Parliament passed the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act. That led to the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption organization that same year.
The goal of ICAC was to protect the public interest through guidance for public officials in the New South Wales public sector.
ICAC was divided into four divisions:
- Corruption Prevention
- Corporate Services
Identifying, stopping, and protecting against corruption is one of the most important tasks of ICAC. And for the sake of the discussion about the new anti-corruption bill, it is important to note ICAC’s definition of corruption per the bill that led to its formation.
“Corruption: Deliberate or intentional wrongdoing, not negligence or a mistake; involves or affects a NSW public official or public sector organization.”
Bill Passed by Senate
The bill that recently passed the Senate is supposed to prevent against corruption. Essentially, it would establish a federal commission to serve as a federal version of ICAC for the entirety of Australia.
The Greens were the force behind the bill. That party then obtained the support of the Labor and Centre Alliance parties. Jacquie Lambie sided with the group as well. Two senators with One Nation agreed to abstain. And with that, the bill passed by a vote of 35 to 32.
As reported by the Guardian, Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said, “After 10 years of attempts by the Greens to clean up politics, the Senate has just passed a Greens bill to set up a federal corruption watchdog with real teeth.”
Why so much opposition to federal oversight to prevent corruption?
Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker noted that the group would be too expensive and had the potential to become a “tyrant” in its operation. She and others backed the government’s alternative, which was proposed in December 2018 but gained no traction.
The Commonwealth Integrity Commission would have operated privately with no public transparency, with no public hearings. Its members would simply refer cases to prosecutors, and the decision would then be made as to whether or not to pursue it. It would also separate into two branches, one for the public sector and the other to oversee law enforcement.
While there seems to be little chance that the House will pass the bill that the Senate just forwarded, few want to return to a standstill on the issue. Those opposing that Greens bill will likely to revise the previously-proposed federal bill to make it stronger and closer to the Greens’ proposal.
Most believe there is a need for some kind of compromise.
Former Victorian Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Charles spoke made his feelings known on the issue last week.
Charles addressed the law enforcement arm of the proposed federal anti-corruption bill, saying it would be too similar to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. ACLEI currently oversees the Australian federal police, Home Affairs Department, and other similar agencies.
ACLEI, according to Charles, does not possess the powers or jurisdiction to properly investigate corruption. Thus, a federal version of ACLEI would be “inadequate,” as it does not allow for the investigation of ministers, former ministers, staffers, justices, or government contractors. It also relies on police for funding, which is a clear conflict of interest.
The Australia Institute also came out against the federal anti-corruption proposal for the same reasons.
And there is good reason to be suspicious of ACLEI’s effectiveness. The government referred a case to ACLEI earlier this year that included allegations of improprieties and potential crimes involving Crown Resorts. And months later, it was a coalition of media outlets that exposed the alleged corruption at Crown, not ACLEI.
Even a 31-year veteran of the Australian federal police force called the government’s proposal incapable of responding to current corruption threats. Chris Douglas said the two-armed commission would be flawed and weak.
Douglas added, “The model lacks tactical and strategic vision in relation to national and international corruption.”
Hopes of Compromise?
It is not clear if there are any talks of compromise between supporters of the two proposals.
However, the public’s concern over the Crown allegations and the reliance on the media to expose the potential corruption instead of a governmental oversight agency might be a powerful force.
The media exposure of the Crown affair and the fallout from it may put extra pressure on government officials to create a comprehensive anti-corruption agency in the near future.