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Home Features The case for a federal ICAC: QCs versus the service commissioner
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TAGS Australian Federal Police, corruption, Federal, Independent Commission Against Corruption, Australian Commission on Law Enforcement Integrity
Senior officials are pushing back against the idea of a federal ICAC, as a parliamentary committee decides whether to expand the powers of the integrity commission.
QCs lined up to push for a federal corruption watchdog this week, but senior officials are pushing back against the idea of independent oversight. Public service commissioner Stephen Sedgwick was among those quick to defend the Australian public service culture as a goldfish bowl of transparency, resilient to the problems seen at recent state commissions and declaring “the reward is not worth the cost” of changing the current system.
A parliamentary committee is deciding whether to expand the powers of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to encompass the entire federal bureaucracy — for cases like the Australian Wheat Board oil-for-wheat scandal. Currently ACLEI has jurisdiction over just six agencies officially designated responsible for law enforcement functions — and in some cases only over specific staff within those agencies — while an official sitting at the next desk is immune.
However, the inquiry keeps coming back to the idea of creating a new federal anti-corruption commission that is independent of law enforcement agencies, government or the Parliament.
Former court of appeal judge Stephen Charles QC said the current system requires the voluntary co-operation of a large group of government bodies, but as nobody has ultimate responsibility, it was easy for resource-strapped agencies to assume nothing was going wrong because somebody else was paying attention. Pushing for a new independent commission on behalf of the Accountability Round Table — an advocacy body of retired judges, journalists and parliamentary officers — Charles said ACLEI was not a body that stands alone:
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The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.
Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and reported for titles including Crikey and the Star Observer.
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