THE LAW Council of Australia has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement that it will establish an independent body to address corruption among law enforcement officers across Australia.
The Government decided last week that there should be an independent body with the powers of a royal commission to address corruption at the federal level, should it arise.
The announcement came after ABC-TV’s Four Corners program alleged corruption had spread from state police forces to the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), itself charged with investigating organised crime and corruption.
However, the Government stressed that there was no evidence of systematic corruption within the ACC, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) or other Commonwealth law enforcement agencies.
Law Council president Bob Gotterson acknowledged that recent evidence appeared to indicate that the ACC, formerly the National Crime Authority (NCA), had “not been immune from corrupt activities involving some of its officers”.
The Royal Commissions in NSW, Queensland and WA had clearly demonstrated over the past 20 years that cases of corruption did occur, Gotterson said. “Those Royal Commissions all led to the establishment of standing anti-corruption watchdogs.”
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and the Minister for Justice and Customs, Chris Ellison, said the Government recognised much had been done to improve the accountability and anti-corruption capabilities of both the ACC and AFP. The ACC’s anti-corruption measures included two-year postings for seconded investigators and background checking for all new staff, Ruddock and Ellison said.
Although the exact form of the independent body had not yet been determined, its powers will include telephone intercept and surveillance powers. It will examine allegations of corruption involving the operations of ACC and AFP officers.
It is essential that the high standards of these groups are maintained, Law Council president Gotterson said. “The community reasonably expects the very highest standards of ethical conduct from law enforcement agencies.”
A well-resourced watchdog would enhance the integrity of the ACC and AFP, Gotterson said. Additionally, it would “improve public confidence in their ethical standards”.