26 June 2014

“It is so screamingly obvious that there is a breakdown in trust at the moment and that the only way of maintaining trust or recovering the trust is to demonstrate that there are adequate means of discovering corruption so that the public can be confident that what the government is doing is not tainted by dishonest behaviour.”

That is the view of David Ipp, the former head of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption who retired  earlier this year. He believes that there is a need for a powerful federal agency to reverse the “breakdown of trust” in the Australian political process.

The need allegedly is for oversight of federal politicians. A recent ICAC inquiry has uncovered a Liberal Party funding scheme where illicit contributions are laundered through Canberra because there is no anti corruption agency similar to those established by most State governments.

With views presumably shaped by his Australian experience – although he was South African born and educated – David Ipp said “Corruption is endemic to the human being.”  Some people will take advantage of opportunities when there is no policing. He felt a control agency was necessary as “…there is no reason to believe that the persons who occupy seats in the Federal Parliament are inherently better than those who occupy seats in the NSW Parliament….”

He obviously feels politicians are self interested , saying that a federal agency armed with royal commission powers was unlikely as “…most politicians … do not like to be subject  to a body such as ICAC”. The more recently set up anti corruption agencies in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania don’t have the extensive investigative powers of NSW’s ICAC. “…Politicians don’t want that, and the government has yet to announce any federal mechanism by which corruption might be investigated . That position is strengthened by senior public servants have who have said that there is no need for an ICAC-style body.

A less rosy view of ICAC operations was published last month, suggesting that there was confusion about the investigation role of ICAC and the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions to initiate a prosecution.  An ICAC recommendation to prosecute should not diminish the requirement to assess all evidence before starting proceedings. It is for the DPP to evaluate what charges may be supported by that evidence (not necessarily identical with the ICAC’s recommendations). The prosecution test should be that charges are laid only if there is a reasonable prospect of conviction.

And coincidently, next week Australia and Italy co-chair the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group which will consider reports presented by G20 officials on measures to counter corruption which is seen as one of the major barriers to economic growth.