A BILL Shorten Labor government will deliver an integrity commission for all of Australia in its first year. That’s the promise. The very first year. For all of Australia.
How will he be able to achieve such an outcome when the Andrew Barr Labor government in the ACT is taking more than two years to think about what might be suitable in this small jurisdiction?
The Federal Opposition Leader told the National Press Club that good government “starts with more transparency, greater accountability and rebuilding trust in our public institutions, rebuilding trust in democracy itself”. Motherhood! But who is going to disagree? And the move is about principle rather than politics – “I have no knowledge of any corruption, if I did I’d report it”.
An ACT Assembly committee, chaired by Greens’ Minister Shane Rattenbury, tabled a report recommending an integrity commission with a wide remit to deal with “serious” or “systemic” corruption. The committee recommended an Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission (ACIC) to cover all public officials and parties delivering contracted work or services on behalf of government. It will include oversight of police working for the ACT. It will also include all MLAs, their staff and judicial officers. Bill Shorten has a similar plan.
The ACT committee called for the establishment of the ACIC before the end of 2018. Two years to establish the ACIC despite its widespread support at the last election and concern in the community about transparency and integrity in the political system.
Why delay? There are three methods of dealing with policy implementation. The first is to support, drive and make the policy happen. The second is to oppose; to raise doubts, to place roadblocks to ensure as many barriers as possible. The third is to delay. Delay is the most common tool and is used when an individual, a party or a group is opposed on an issue but has doubts, or opposing will be unpopular.
Sometimes delay simply provides an interim solution. For example, tobacco companies globally encourage delay despite knowing the inevitability of more control measures. Delaying for a year means huge profits flow from their deadly product even if only for an extra year. It might be cynical – but it is just feasible that the government is planning to delay an ACIC in the ACT to minimise any impact on the next election.
A key difference between the ACT and the Federal jurisdictions is that the ACT has embedded protections as a “human rights jurisdiction”. The Assembly’s ACIC committee pointed out “that the ACT is a human rights jurisdiction and that there needs to be appropriate safeguards in the enabling legislation of an ACT ACIC to ensure procedural fairness and to guard against abuse of its investigative and coercive powers”.
There are dangers for Shorten in establishing an integrity commission, which he describes as a “standing Royal Commission” for the Commonwealth. Such bodies have had tremendous power. The Fitzgerald Royal Commission brought down the Bjelke-Petersen government. Nick Greiner lost his position as NSW premier to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) – with the courts later clearing his name and determining that the ICAC had exceeded its powers.
The Shorten integrity commission will have “a broad jurisdiction” with investigative powers into serious and systemic corruption in the public sector. The commitment is to deliver in the first year and “if the Liberals and Nationals want to work with us to get it done sooner”. Like the ACT ACIC, the Shorten commission will report annually to parliament and, by doing so, operate at arm’s length from the government of the day.
Shorten may not be aware of specific issues of corruption. However, current parliamentary inquiries into political donations should be raising the red flag for him.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.