16 February 2012

This week the Australian Government Labor Party has resisted moves to introducing a Commonwealth anti corruption agency.

A move to set up a broad based federal agency mandated to tackle public sector corruption throughout Australia has been rejected. The proposal came from the joint parliamentary committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. This would provide what some see as a much needed detection capability and reassure public opinion about the trustworthiness of government agencies.

The committee thought that a superagency would be beneficial, saying that ”more needed to be done” to detect and prevent corruption across Commonwealth agencies. The Commonwealth Ombudsman, academics and anti-corruption experts were in agreement.

The Government however thinks otherwise. It is opposed to an over-arching corruption watchdog, telling the committee that its policy on preventing corruption was ”based on the premise that no single body should be responsible”. 

New South Wales was the first state to set up an anti corruption body based on the Hong Kong anti corruption commission model, and Western Australia and Queensland have had equivalents for some time. Victoria has been shepherding legislation through its parliament for several years to enact its independent body against corruption. Tasmania has had an integrity regime for two years but seeks to curtail its mandate.

The existing Commonwealth anticorruption agency has a constrained role, having no jurisdiction over many parts of government. Countries which are party to the UN Convention Against Corruption have obligations to maintain an anti corruption enforcement body that is independent of the Police.

Australia, although an UNCAC member, doesn’t have such a body. The New Zealand Serious Fraud Office fits within the prescription, although New Zealand is not yet a convention member. At least we have the structure in place should there be more enthusiasm here to challenge corruption.

That band wagon has disparate supporters. New Zealand First advocates an independent anti corruption authority as one of the key processes for ensuring honest government. WhaleOil was complimenting Victoria a year ago on its proposals and championing similar measures for New Zealand.