Federal Government Refuses to Establish Federal Corruption Watchdog

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Only months away from the Federal Election, the Morrison Government has reneged on its promise to instate the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC)  – the federal anti-corruption watchdog, despite the fact the proposed body would have significantly less investigative power than the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption.

In its recent announcement, the Government claims its priorities are getting its religious discrimination bill and online trolling legislation through Parliament – both of which are controversial pieces of legislation which, respectively, aim to enable persons of faith to discriminate against non believers and suppress dissent by critics of the government.

CIC plans put back in the bottom drawer 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison first announced plans for the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) in 2018, along with former attorney General Christian Porter, but the model was heavily criticised for not having enough teeth. 

In fact, a review by the Centre for Public Integrity labelled the CIC model as ”the weakest integrity commission in the country” after comparing it with state and territory watchdogs, such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales (ICAC).  

The decision not to introduce the legislation has led to the Morrison Government being accused of breaking an election promise.  

There have been years of research and consultation into the CIC and there is even a draft bill ready to be tabled in parliament. 

All of these various ‘activities’ have given the Prime Minister something to talk about when questioned about the CIC, but there has been no ‘real’ progress., much to the frustration and disappointment of many Australian taxpayers who have watched on as the Federal Government has been embroiled in a number of financial scandals involving billions of dollars in taxpayer funds without having to be accountable. 

Wasted money and no accountability 

During the current Government reign we’ve witnessed a distinct lack of transparency and responsibility around taxpayer funds channeled into the disdainful but not illegal practice of pork barrelling, the sports rorts scheme. 

Various expensive, ineffective contracts such as the Paladin deal signed off by Peter Dutton which cost Australia $532 million for a contract that lasted 801 days.The money spent fighting claims against the legality of Robodebt, which resulted in the government being forced to pay $1.8 billion in compensation for victims. 

Does any of this paint a picture of sound financial governance?  

The problem is that there is no real appetite within the Morrison Government for change, as evidenced by Scott Morrison’s comments when the ICAC was investigating former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian over whether she breached public trust in failing to declare her personal relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire and whether she turned a blind eye to corruption within the NSW Government.

At the time, Scott Morrison called ICAC a “Kangaroo Court” followed by a statement to the effect that the ICAC was not a model that would ever be considered at a Federal level. 

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce likened ICAC to “the Spanish Inquisition”, saying “we elect politicians, not bureaucrats – people should be the final arbiter.” 

Australia needs a Federal Watchdog 

Yes, indeed, Mr Joyce has a point: voters should be the final arbiter. But mechanisms also need to exist to independently scrutinise public decision-making that involves billions of dollars worth of taxpayer funds.

While the outcome of the ICAC investigations into Gladys Berejiklian have not yet been finalised, it should be remembered that it has played a vital role in uncovering corruption in New South Wales. 

ICAC investigations did lead to the criminal prosecutions of former politicians Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald who were found guilty, along with Eddie OBeid’s son, of a conspiracy to wilfully have Mr Macdonald commit misconduct in public office, when he granted a coal exploration licence for land owned by an Obeid family company.

Ian MacDonald and Eddie O’Beid were each sentenced to seven years behind bars in 2021. 

They are both currently appealing their convictions. 

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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