21 November 2001
One of the keynote addresses at the 3rd Australian Public Sector Anti Corruption Conference held in Fremantle last week was by the Chief Justice of Western Australia. He spoke of the importance of having an anticorruption agency focusing on public sector corruption – however defined. He argued that it is generally a mistake to deny the need to create an anti-corruption agency on the basis of a lack of evidence of widespread corruption.
“There is a growing awareness around the World that evidence of corruption is unlikely to be gathered in the absence of an agency specifically focused upon its detection….” And “experience shows that when anti-corruption agencies are created in any jurisdiction, they become extremely busy.” Communities which had laboured under the illusion that corruption in their public sectors, or police forces, was extremely limited and exceptional have had those illusions shattered after agencies have been created”. These notions seem to reflect the Maori Party manifesto!
The Chief Justice also expanded on a notion which Justice Spigelman of the Australian High Court has previously considered, of there being a fourth branch of government – the Integrity Branch. This would encompass agencies created over the last 15 –30 years whose functions do not fall neatly or conveniently within any of the three, traditionally recognised, branches of government. Justice Spigelman has spoken of this additional, Integrity, branch of government, corresponding roughly with the centuries old structure of government which evolved in imperial China. This censorial or supervisory function was referred to by Kubla Khan, a 13th century emperor, as his right hand of goverment. ( It has a shadow in modern day China where the Ministry of Supervision monitors compliance with Communist Party policy.)
This Integrity Branch would include tribunals created to review administrative decision-makers – ombudsmen, privacy commissioners, agencies enforcing freedom of information legislation, auditors-general, agencies enforcing public sector ethics standards, together with anti-corruption agencies.
The Chief Justice commented that the task of the Integrity Branch is to promote awareness of standards and to enforce those standards. “It is my view that public education and prevention, by encouraging an ethos of integrity within the public sector is, by far, the most effective means of discouraging misconduct within that sector.”