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Commonwealth Integrity Commission

Governance Institute’s mission is to drive better governance in all organisations, which will in turn create a stronger, better society.

Public integrity and good governance are closely related, with trust being the vital link between them. Good governance in the public sector means that Government is entrusted by the public to govern in and for the public interest, and not for improper or extraneous purposes. Corruption and other failures of integrity are the opposite of good governance and are symptoms of governance failure. Good governance practices and acting with integrity in the public sector will enhance public trust, while poor governance and a lack of integrity erode it.

Governance Institute’s 2021 Ethics Index found that the perception of ethical behaviour on the part of government declined significantly from the previous year and that Federal politicians were among the occupations perceived to be least ethical. It also found a wide gap between the high importance Australians place on ethics in the public sector, and how ethically they believe those in public service do in fact conduct themselves.

Governance Institute considers it is a priority to establish a properly constituted, resourced and high performing Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) which will help reduce instances of corruption and assist the restoration of public trust and confidence in our public institutions.

Key principles underpinning a CIC

The key principles which should underpin the creation of a CIC include:

  • Best Practice The Commission’s model, powers and jurisdiction should seek to establish a best practice standard, using other Australian jurisdictions as comparators. This provides an opportunity to adopt what has worked well and avoid some of the issues experienced in the various states and territories’ anti-corruption agencies.

  • Comprehensive Jurisdiction A CIC should have a broad and comprehensive jurisdiction and be empowered to investigate corruption in all levels of the public sector. There should be no distinctions, special protections or treatment between an entry-level public sector employee and a department head or an elected official or minister.

  • Wide scope of Referrals and Notifications All members of the public should be able to refer a matter to the Commission and the ability to refer matters should not be restricted to public officials, public servants, public agencies or other designated bodies. The Commission should also have power to investigate matters on its own initiative.

  • Funding Independence The Commission should be guaranteed sustainable funding to preserve its independence. Parliament, not the Executive Government, should be ultimately responsible for determining its funding.

  • Clearly Defined Powers including Public Hearings The Commission must have a broad range of clearly defined powers to enable it to properly investigate matters referred to. They should include the ability to gather evidence by intercepting communications, gather data from electronic devices, conduct surveillance both physical and electronic, compel people to provide information and produce documents, conduct searches under warrant, make public reports wherever in the public interest and to conduct coercive public hearings, noting that coercive public hearings are perhaps the most contentious power of an anti-corruption body.

  • Strong and Clearly Defined Prevention Function Given that prevention is a critically important function of a Commission, it is not enough to expose isolated integrity issues as they arise, systemic issues should also be addressed to prevent future offending. The prevention function should be clearly, defined with strong powers and adequate resourcing.

  • Proper Oversight Given its broad jurisdiction and extraordinary powers, and its central role in promoting public trust, a CIC must itself be held to the highest standards of transparency and accountability. To preserve the Commission’s independence, it should be fully accountable to Parliament but not be in any way accountable to the Executive — to prevent political interference and any real or perceived conflict of interest.

25 May 2022