In February 2016 a Senate Select Committee was set up to ‘inquire into whether a national integrity commission should be established to address institutional, organisational, political and electoral, and individual corruption and misconduct.’ NSWCCL gave some time to considering what position –if any- it would take on this contentious matter, however the Turnbull-generated double dissolution meant the Inquiry lapsed.
The Committee produced an interim report of no great consequence in that it did not go beyond recommending further research into appropriate anti-corruption systems. It did however canvass the issues with the current system in some detail and it did conclude that there were shortcomings that needed addressing. Even this cautious conclusion was too much for the two government members of the committee (Eric Abetz and David Johnson) and they included a dissenting view that there was no evidence of such shortcomings.
The political debate as to the need for a national anti-corruption body is again very much alive. Not surprisingly, the Senate moved as soon as the current session began to reactivate an inquiry into whether a National Integrity Commission is needed and if so its scope and power. It is to report by 15th August. Senator Gallagher moved the resolution on behalf of the leader of the ALP in the Senate (Penny Wong).
This Senate decision pre-empted a motion later that day from the leader of the Greens, Senator Di Natale calling on the Senate to bypass an inquiry and move straight to the establishment of ‘an independent federal anti-corruption commission to oversee federal members of parliament and the public service”. This was defeated.
In the past NSWCCL held a clear position of opposition to all such bodies. In recent years the extent of serious and systemic corruption in NSW and the collateral damage to our parliamentary democracy and the public good has led us to defend the NSW ICAC – as the NSW Bar Association and the Law Society have done.
NSWCCL decided last year that we should take a position on the question of a national integrity body. We were cautiously supportive at a conceptual level –but had not worked through any of the particular issues that apply at the federal level when the inquiry lapsed.
Given this new inquiry, we will give priority to developing a formal civil liberties position as the basis for a submission to the Committee. There are many civil liberties dangers with such bodies and NSWCCL is very conscious of the imperative for strong safeguards around their powers and strong independent oversight of their operations.
The work will be guided by our Criminal Justice and Police Action group. We would welcome input from members/supporters with interest and expertise.
Dr Lesley Lynch