This Australia could be set for a federal anti-corruption watchdog depending on the next federal election result after Labor announced its intention to establish an anti-corruption body if it gains power.
In a move which could help ensure integrity in oversight over hundreds of billions of taxpayer owned land, buildings, infrastructure and equipment, opposition leader Bill Shorten has announced that Labor will establish a National Integrity Commission to investigate possible corruption and malpractice at a federal government level.
In a Facebook post, Shorten said the moves would restore faith and trust in politics.
“Australians have lost faith in politics. It’s time to change that,” Shorten wrote.
“It’s time to restore trust. It’s time to show we’re fair dinkum. It’s time to show we are here to serve the public and not ourselves.”
“If I’m elected Prime Minister, I will create a National Integrity Commission.”
Whilst various states and territories have established anti-corruption agencies, thus far no such agency is in place at a federal level.
That, some argue, leaves the potential open for illegal activity to occur at the federal level.
At a federal level, the Commonwealth Government owns $642.6 billion work of assets.
As well as $466.0 billion worth of cash and investments, this includes $12.2 billion worth of land, $28.1 billion worth of buildings, $58.6 billion worth of specialist military equipment, $11.6 billion worth of heritage and cultural assets and $42.5 billion worth of other plant, equipment and infrastructure among other things.
Managing and maintaining this asset base is significant, giving rise for opportunities for unscrupulous parties to profit from potential illegal activity.
In addition, decisions involving federal ministers, departments, agencies and regulators cut across significant areas in respect of the environment, foreign investment, health and safety and many other issues in which powerful and unscrupulous parties may be willing to pay for a favourable outcome.
In previous discussions with Sourceable, opinions about whether an anti-corruption body was needed at the federal level are divided.
Professor AJ Brown, program leader, Public Integrity & Anti-Corruption in the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University says there are clear gaps in current arrangements notwithstanding that further work is needed to define how any new body would work.
As an example, he says grey areas such as breaches of procurement guidelines or issues of serious misconduct might not have the necessary proof of corruption required to warrant the Australian Federal Police becoming involved but could nonetheless lead to corruption being committed.
Whilst bodies such as the Australian Federal Police, the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission do have investigative roles, Brown says none of these agencies are in any way geared toward ensuring the Commonwealth Government overall has effective governance strategies in place and that these are being followed from an accountability perspective.
However, Flinders University Professor Adam Graycar is more cautious, saying that there is little value in throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into a new agency until we have clear definition of the shortfalls within the existing system and the specific problem which the new agency is trying to resolve.
One possible alternative, Graycar says, is to have corruption units added to other agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, the Auditor General’s Office and the Australian Taxation Office along with mechanism for coordinating and information sharing.
The latest announcement comes amid ongoing deliberations of a Senate Select Committee into the Political Influence of Donations, which is due to report on March 28.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the Coalition is open to the idea of a corruption watchdog at the federal level and will consider.
“As far as a National Integrity Commission, it’s something that as I said we are reviewing the report from the Senate Committee and considering,” Turnbull was quoted as saying on the ABC’s The World Today program.