19 March 2011

State jurisdictions in Australia have experienced distressing levels of corruption from time to time in all branches of government.  This has led to setting up specialist agencies to raise public awareness of the threat and to investigate and prosecute when incidents arise.

The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption is most prominent – being both the first established and most active.

Successive governments in Victoria have been reluctant to follow the practice of other states and only with the change of government in 2010 has there been political will to establish a suitably empowered enforcement agency charged with operating independently of Ministers.  Despite good intentions, legislation cannot be enacted before August.  This delays the 1 July 2011 time frame for the new agencies to be in place.

Last week a consultative body of four judges was appointed to resolve the final shape and jurisdiction, including whether NGOs and government contractors should be subject to investigation and prosecution. The intended structure is for an overarching integrity and anti-corruption agency of  three commissioners specialising in police, the public service, and local government.  A  parliamentary commissioner will investigate misconduct by MPs and their staff, and a judicial commission will investigate wrongdoing by judges. A single commissioner will also be appointed with all the powers of a standing royal commission.

The agency is currently termed the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.

Constitutional issues that need to be addressed include powers of compulsion and coercion, interrogation of judges, confiscation of property, rights not to self incriminate, and the extent to which inquiries should be open to the public.

The Victorian Government has indicated that the Commission will have a staff of 300 and an annual operating budget of A$40 million.  But, first, a series of legal issues need to be resolved.