Integrity centre says proposed federal commission would be ‘weakest watchdog in the country’

By Jackson Graham

Wednesday October 6, 2021

Michaelia Cash is set to introduce the government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission bill into parliament before the end of the year.
Michaelia Cash is set to introduce the government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission bill into parliament before the end of the year. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The federal government’s plans for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission would create “the weakest watchdog in the country”, according to a think tank dedicated to integrity in public offices. 

Attorney-general Michaelia Cash is set to introduce the government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission bill into parliament before the end of the year.

The Centre for Public Integrity has released a new analysis of state and territory integrity commissions and concludes the federal equivalent would fall short of the other jurisdictions “on almost every level”.

The analysis highlights the strongest commissions are in NSW and Queensland. 

The centre’s chair, former judge Anthony Whealy QC, said the federal proposal was limited in comparison and would become “the weakest watchdog in the country”.

“It would not be able to begin investigations into the majority of cases, as it is limited to only investigating a specific list of criminal offences,” Whealy said. 

Highlights from the NSW and Queensland commissions include their capacity to investigate any person who affects the impartial exercise of public administration, including anyone outside the public service who unduly influences public decision-making.

They also have scope to begin investigations without satisfying a threshold of evidence; can hold public hearings if in public interest; and make publicly reported findings. 

The centre’s analysis says the powers exemplified by the nation’s best commissions are included in independent MP Helen Haines’ bill and in the model proposed by Labor. 

Stephen Charles QC, also former judge and the centre’s director, said the government’s proposal would “hide corruption, not expose it”. 

“The inability to hold public hearings and table reports would mean the public is left in the dark,” Charles said. 

“The CIC falls short of its state counterparts on almost every level. It is a breed of its own and does not deserve to be called a watchdog.”

Prime minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday rubbished the notion of a creating a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) for the commonwealth, suggesting that the model does not presume individuals under investigation are innocent before a finding of guilt. 


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