Judges slam Australian corruption watchdog

29 Jan 19

Retired judges have branded a planned Australian anti-corruption watchdog as a “sham” to shield politicians from scrutiny.

An independent group of former judges have reportedly said prime minister Scott Morrison’s proposal “falls disastrously short” of what is needed to expose graft.

Morrison announced the plan late last year amid public and political pressure for the creation of a body tasked with investigating public sector corruption – which state governments already have in place in Australia

Critics have blasted the proposals put out last month for consultation to create the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, which will act as an independent statutory agency.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday that an independent group of former judges, known as the National Integrity Commission, submitted a paper as part of the consultation process which said: “The government model falls disastrously short of providing an effective body to counter and expose corruption at a federal level.”

It said the absence of proper investigatory powers in the public sector division of the agency “is deliberately designed to make corruption in this area more difficult to detect and intended to protect politicians and other public officers”.

National Integrity Commission member Stephen Charles slammed the plans as a “sham commission”, the newspaper reported. He told the Guardian it was “not really an anti-corruption commission at all”.

The proposals drew early criticism when released last year for not allowing public hearings or public tip-offs. The body will also only be able to begin investigations if it is satisfied to a high threshold of suspicion that a crime has been committed.

The Australian government describes the commission, which will include a public sector integrity division, as an independent statutory agency.

It will “take the lead on detecting and stamping out any corrupt and criminal behaviour by Commonwealth employees”, the prime minister’s office said.

The former judges said the commission should be free to investigate and have the power to initiate its own investigations, make arrests, gather and hold evidence, and conduct searches. 

They said: “It is better to have no anti-corruption agency than one that is designed to be ineffective.”

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