A Senate Committee has stopped short of recommending that Australia set up a national corruption watchdog, recommending only that the Government ‘give careful consideration’ to setting up such an agency and encouraging the Senate to review the matter following the release of two further report set to be published over the next 18 months.
Handing down its report, The Senate Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission acknowledged that the current federal integrity framework was complex, poorly understood, difficult to access and challenging to navigate and says that the Commonwealth Government should strengthen the national integrity framework as a priority.
But it stopped short of making a firm recommendation that the Federal Government establish an anti-corruption agency at a federal level similar to those in place throughout various states and territories.
Instead it recommended that the Commonwealth gives ‘careful consideration’ to a federal anti-corruption watchdog.
It also suggests that the Senate await the results of two further reviews which will be completed over the next 18 months before reconsidering whether or not a national integrity body should be put in place.
“The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government gives careful consideration to establishing a Commonwealth agency with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters…” the Committee said in its report.
“The committee encourages the Senate to review the question of a national integrity commission following the release of the Open Government Partnership review and the Griffith University and Transparency International Australia et al research, with a view to making a conclusive recommendation based on the evidence available at that time.”
Throughout Australia, calls for a national corruption regulator have grown amid concerns an absence of integrity oversight is creating an environment in which corrupt activity can go undetected.
With the federal government and its agencies overseeing a property portfolio worth $27.8 billion in buildings and $11.378 billion in land, potential for untoward activity with the property and construction sector (building and maintenance contracts etc.) is significant.
Opinion amongst public integrity experts on the issue of is mixed.
On one hand, Professor AJ Brown, program leader, Public Integrity & Anti-Corruption in the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University acknowledges that much needs to be done to nutt out details about how a new body would work but says there are clear gaps in current arrangements and that a national corruption agency is needed.
However, Flinders University Professor Adam Graycar acknowledged that there needed to be something to prevent corruption at the federal level but said we as yet had little clarity about where current gaps lie and what problems we are trying to solve.
As such, Graycar says, the case for a separate agency over and above other solutions had not been made.
Transparency International Chairman Anthony Whealey QC slammed the lack of firm recommendation for an anti-corruption body.
He says the recommendation as it stood amounted to kicking the can further down the road.
“Haven’t we given enough consideration already?” Whealey told ABC radio. “What we need now is a recommendation that we have such a body established.”