Commonwealth Integrity Commission bill no surprise

The Attorney-General finally released the exposure draft of its CIC Bill. It is certainly a milestone but the Commission’s powers are very limited. MPs and some Federal agencies are more ‘protected’ than others. The $106 million over four years is a good deal less than the $40 million/year given to Victoria’s IBAC.

At a glance, this CIC:

  • Can only investigate matters referred to it by the heads of Federal agencies so not whistleblowers, not members of the public
  • Can only investigate new corruption
  • Two bodies – ICLEI will take on four extra government agencies – Dept of Home Affairs, Federal Police and other law enforcement and regulatory bodies, and the CIC can investigate MPs and their staff, and just 20% of the Federal public sector.
  • Corruption is narrowly confined to serious criminal conduct
  • Hearings will not be public for MPs and Federal agencies, likewise reports into alleged corruption, but for law enforcement agencies the Commission will have discretion. 
  • Won’t be implemented for at least 6 months 
  • New offences include repeated public sector corruption

Would this bill allow the Commission to investigate sports rorts or lying to the public for political advantage? It would seem not.

According to AJ Brown – Professor of Public Policy and Law, Griffith University in The Conversation

So the powers may be strong — including compelling people to give sworn evidence at private hearings, search and seizure of property (under warrant), and tapping phones. But there will be little or no jurisdiction to get to the bottom of “grey area” corruption like undisclosed conflicts of interest, unless a criminal offence like fraud, theft or bribery is already obvious.

The scope is also narrow because, while federal agency heads must report suspected corruption offences, this is only if they meet the same threshold. 

If a public service whistleblower approaches the new commission directly, with reasonable suspicions of corruption breaches but no actual evidence of an offence, they would have to be turned away.

Indeed, under clause 70 of the bill, they could risk prosecution for making an unwarranted allegation. This is a draconian idea that defies the purpose of federal whistleblowing legislation.

The Government will hold roundtable meetings with civil society, academia and other stakeholders and invite written submissions until March 2021.

Here’s what the Mandarin says.

Photo above is the one used by the Government to make this announcement – a secret handshake?

And as well today, Christine Holgate has resigned as CEO of Australia Post for extravagant gifts to executives – generous but probably not corrupt. Still, the PM had to get tough with someone.

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