Governance Institute of Australia has welcomed the “long overdue” national anti-corruption watchdog, but says that key flaws must be fixed.
The first direct steps to establish a national anti-corruption body are a welcome sign, says Governance Institute, but the proposal is a long way from being suitable at this juncture, the advocacy group said.
Guaranteeing independent and ongoing funding, it said in its submission to Parliament, and not allowing politicians to be shielded from scrutiny, holding public hearings, and allowing members of the public to make referrals are “essential” for the operation of an effective Commonwealth Integrity Commission.
“Corruption is a symptom of governance failure,” Governance Institute chief executive Megan Motto said.
“We welcome this new, long overdue federal anti-corruption body but we have concerns with some aspects of the proposal that we hope will be addressed. The Commonwealth Integrity Commission should have sufficient scope, jurisdiction, powers and resources to fulfill its purpose of promoting integrity, and therefore good governance, in the Commonwealth public sector. Its resourcing should be transparent and free of conflicts of interest.”
The Commonwealth Integrity Commission should, Governance Institute has submitted, be independently funded, allow members of the public to refer a matter for consideration for investigation, have the discretion to hold public hearings, be held to the “highest standards of transparency and accountability”, not be potentially impacted by proposed broad ministerial powers unless sufficient safeguards are in place, and have guaranteed resourcing, meaning it wouldn’t have to rely on ad-hoc funding in federal budgets.
Public trust in government is of paramount importance, Ms Motto argued, especially during a time of global uncertainty.
“Governance Institute’s latest Ethics Index found that Australian federal politicians were among the occupations perceived to be least ethical, and federal, state and local politicians were ranked relatively low for ethical behaviour,” she said.
“We strongly welcome the establishment of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission as a key element of helping restore the level of trust in government representatives.”
Late last year, Ms Motto spoke on The Lawyers Weekly Show about the 2020 Ethics Index, which found – among other things – that lawyers and judges alike were perceived more ethically in 2020 than in 2019.