Politics

Greens push Albanese government to broaden federal anti-corruption watchdog’s scope and powers


“The role of the federal integrity commission is to make findings of fact and findings of corruption, but not to make conclusions about criminal conduct. It needs the power to refer matters to the Director of Public Prosecution for consideration of any criminal prosecution,” Shoebridge told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus wants the commission operating by mid-2023.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus wants the commission operating by mid-2023.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Dreyfus wants the legislation passed by Christmas and the commission operating by mid-2023. The Attorney-General’s Department has begun drafting the bill that Labor will introduce to parliament as early as September based on the seven “design principles” outlined in the party’s policy documents.

Under Labor’s model, the commission will have the power to commence inquiries into alleged “serious and systemic corruption” by federal ministers, public servants, statutory office holders, government agencies, and politicians and their staff. It will also be able to hold public hearings and investigate past conduct, with Dreyfus confirming last month that it will have the power to examine allegations of pork-barrelling, raising the prospect of investigations into the grants scandals of the Morrison government.

Dreyfus has canvassed views on the model in a series of round-table meetings over the past fortnight with crossbench MPs and senators, the Greens, integrity advocates and legal experts, but is yet to consult the opposition.

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The Coalition will be under intense political pressure to back Labor’s integrity commission legislation, having lost a swag of seats to teal independents who campaigned heavily on the need for a robust watchdog.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has signalled a willingness to depart from the Morrison government’s intransigence on the issue, using his first press conference as leader to declare that he was a “strong supporter of the ICAC” but stopping short of offering bipartisan support to Labor.

While Labor’s model will give the commission full decision-making power over what investigations to pursue, the Greens say its independence will be compromised unless its funding is decided through an arms-length process.

“There is a clear conflict of interest if the government of the day unilaterally decides how much [funding] to give an anti-corruption commission, whose job is to be a watchdog over the same government’s spending and behaviour,” Shoebridge said in the letter to Dreyfus.

Instead, the Greens are urging the government to adopt a funding model that would see the watchdog’s budget considered by a joint committee of parliament with a non-government majority, which would then make recommendations to treasury.

The Greens also argue the integrity body must have the power to investigate third parties who attempt to corruptly influence public servants or politicians – a remit that is not captured in Labor’s design principles. This view is shared by the Centre for Public Integrity, a think tank led by retired judges and legal experts, which also believes the “serious and systemic” threshold will constrain the agency’s ability to investigate corruption allegations.

“We’re concerned that [Labor’s proposal] doesn’t say anything about third parties – such as contractors or property developers or big tobacco – potentially having a corrupting influence on public administration,” Han Aulby, executive director at the Centre for Public Integrity, said.

“We know from an experience at a state level that contractors and big business can engage in corrupt conduct.”

The Attorney-General declined to comment on specific features sought by the Greens. But a spokesman said Dreyfus had been encouraged by the consultations he had had with MPs and senators across the parliament.

Last month Dreyfus said Labor’s legislation would build on the model advocated by independent Indi MP Helen Haines, who introduced a widely lauded integrity bill into the last parliament, as well as draw on the anti-corruption commissions already operating in states and territories.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.



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