The following statement from Attorney-General Christian Porter (The Age, 2/8) in relation to his proposed model for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission raises more questions than it answers.
Porter claims that: “The reason why this legislation cannot be rushed should be obvious … given the many examples of injustices and damage done to personal and professional reputations when the necessary time and care was not taken to properly design state-based integrity commissions.”
People have the right to know exactly which state-based anti-corruption commissions resulted from “rushed” legislation. Porter needs to identify precisely which jurisdictions did not take “the necessary time and care” to “properly design” their anti-corruption body, and hence passed legislation to establish a citizens’ watchdog body that is not fit for purpose. Which bodies are incapable of achieving their aims and objectives because of the negligence of state politicians? Which ones are incapable of acting in the public interest, a key reason these citizens’ watchdog bodies exist?
The Attorney-General has to identify the particular anti-corruption bodies he is referring to, so that the relevant parliaments can take the necessary remedial action to rectify the situation. That is, if the evidence supplied by Porter demonstrates it is essential to do so. The evidence is necessary for a number of reasons, not the least being that such a vague yet critical statement by the Attorney-General casts a very dark shadow over every one of Australia’s state-based anti-corruption commissions.
In his statement, Porter also refers to the “many examples of injustices and damage done” to individual and professional reputations through the work of state-based commissions. This is an extremely serious allegation for any politician to make, and particularly so when the politician making the allegation is a senior member of the federal government.
It is crucial that trust in anti-corruption commissions around Australia is protected and maintained if corruption is to be investigated, exposed through public hearings when the public interest demands, and prevented from occurring and recurring. If trust is to be maintained, the Attorney-General needs also to answer, with hard evidence, the following questions.
How many investigations has each state-based anti-corruption commission undertaken since it was established? As some of these bodies have morphed into other bodies over the years, the Attorney-General’s evidence must include those that have been disestablished or redesigned.
How many evidence-based examples of “injustices” and “damage” to individual reputations and to professions have resulted from the work of state-based anti-corruption commissions?
What percentage of public hearings conducted by anti-corruption bodies (current and former) fit into the “injustices and damage … to personal and professional reputations” category?
In defence of state-based anti-corruption commissions, some of these bodies have often faced politically motivated criticism from parliamentarians. For example, Queensland’s Fitzgerald-inspired Criminal Justice Commission was constantly under attack from members of parliament and the attacks started not long after the commission was established. Its investigation into MPs’ travel expenses resulted in a damning report commonly referred to by journalists as the “Travel Rorts” report.
Porter failed to mention examples of parliamentarians attacking citizens’ watchdog bodies when he made his broad-sweeping criticisms of state-based anti-corruption commissions. In the interest of balance, the Attorney-General should have referred to them, and at the same time produced the evidence required to support the claims he made.
Dr Colleen Lewis is an adjunct professor in the National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University and an associate at the Centre for Public Integrity. Originally published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 24th August 2019.