ACT Chief Minister: new Integrity Commission ‘sends a message’ to public service leaders

By Stephen Easton

Friday November 30, 2018

Andrew Barr

The ACT’s new integrity and anti-corruption commission will begin operating from July 1 next year, with senior public servants subject to new mandatory reporting rules that make it a crime to turn a blind eye to corruption.

Members of the Legislative Assembly voted in favour of the new commission on Thursday night, with a long list of amendments to the bill first introduced by Chief Minister Andrew Barr in August.

“The new Commission will have the ability to investigate matters that were subject to a previous inquiry, investigate matters related to judicial officers – while respecting the independence of the judiciary and the importance of separation of powers,” Barr said in a statement today.

“The legislation also requires mandatory reporting by all senior public servants, members of the Legislative Assembly and chiefs of staff to ministers and the Leader of the Opposition.

“Importantly, the ACT Integrity Commission model will be the first in Australia to introduce a criminal offence for a failure by mandatory reporters to notify the Commission of serious or systemic corrupt conduct.

“This sends a very clear message to ACT public sector leaders that the obligation rests on them to maintain the highest ethical standards for themselves and the people that report to them.”

Barr said Canberrans could now expect “the highest levels of oversight and transparency of government decision making” and pointed out the commission was “modelled on best practice from similar entities operating around Australia” — much like the proposed federal version immediately rejected by the Attorney-General Christian Porter this week.

The chief architect of that bill, public integrity and anti-corruption expert Professor AJ Brown, has explained in The Mandarin that Porter’s hyperbolic reaction was inaccurate and his concerns fairly easily addressed.

One of his concerns was that the body would apply a definition of corruption that is too broad, leading it to bring its  extraordinary powers of investigation and interrogation to bear over relatively minor matters.

In the ACT, the same concern was resolved with MLAs of all stripes agreeing in the end to use a definition based around the Fair Work Act, rather than the narrower template of the criminal code or the more expansive one used by the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Eventually, the ACT government hopes to extend its new integrity commission’s remit to ACT Policing, which is part of the Australian Federal Police but funded by ACT taxpayers and overseen by their Police Minister. The federal government has to agree but it seems Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been giving Barr the cold shoulder, reportedly failing to respond to several letters, according to The Canberra Times.

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