COVID-19 ‘no excuse’ for delaying integrity commission, Law Council says

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday October 26, 2020

Helen Haines (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The Law Council of Australia has urged the federal government to move forward with the establishment of its promised Commonwealth Integrity Commission by releasing the exposure draft of the bill “as soon as possible”.

The call to action follows last week’s revelations that attorney general Christian Porter received an exposure draft on legislation for the commission in December, and comes as independent MP Helen Haines introduces her own bill to parliament for such a body.

Law Council president Pauline Wright on Monday said the Australian government was failing to fulfil its obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption by delaying the release of the draft bill for the integrity body.

“It has been almost two years since the government announced that they would establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission to strengthen integrity arrangements across the federal public sector,” she said.

“Corruption has many corrosive effects on society. It undermines democracy and the rule of law as well as being capable of distorting market forces. The government should not delay the release of the exposure draft any longer.”

Read more: Actually underway’: Porter rejects criticism integrity commission is on the back burner

Calling out Porter’s explanation for not having released the legislation already, Wright said COVID-19 was “no excuse for postponing this important measure”.

“While the Law Council understands the legislation is with the attorney-general, and given there was $100 million set aside in the 2019 budget, it remains unclear what is preventing the release of the exposure draft,” she said.

Wright noted the Law Council was also concerned with the government’s proposed model for the integrity commission, particularly in regards to the creation of two separate divisions — one for the public sector and one for law enforcement — which have differing powers and definitions of corrupt conduct.

“The Law Council considers that the powers between the public sector and the law enforcement divisions of the proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission should be aligned,” Wright said.

“A Commonwealth Integrity Commission dealing with law enforcement and the public sector should not deal with complaints regarding judicial officers. To ensure the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, the Law Council has long pressed for a stand-alone Federal Judicial Commission to be established to consider complaints regarding the conduct of members of the federal judiciary.”

Integrity issues within the federal government have been in the spotlight in recent weeks in light of the Leppington Triangle land purchase, revelations regarding Australia Post’s purchase of luxury watches for its executives, and more than $188,000 paid to ASIC’s chair and deputy chair for relocations.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese on Monday said the AusPost and ASIC issues, as well as the sports rorts and other matters involving federal ministers, demonstrated the requirement for a national integrity commission “that will drive home the need to have change in culture”.

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