Critics of the dramatic fall of Gladys Berejiklian, who resigned when the Independent Commission Against Corruption announced it was investigating the veracity of her conduct, split into two camps.
Some cast ICAC as the monster who has brought down a good leader, and a woman at that, who they find relatively small.
Others argue that regardless of a leader’s broader qualities, propriety is paramount, and Berejiklian’s position as NSW premier has become untenable following last year’s revelation of his relationship with a dodgy ally.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce portrayed the ICAC as a rogue player who gets in the way of politicians.
“The ICAC being out of control means the bureaucracy reigns supreme and politicians are basically afraid to do their job,” Joyce told Channel 7.
“Politicians have to take tough decisions at times. It is not that they are corrupt, they are taking decisions. There may be some disagreement with the bureaucracy, but that is their right. That’s why people go to the ballot box and they see the names of politicians on the ballot paper, not bureaucrats.”
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Joyce’s line overlooks a few key points.
In some cases the decisions of politicians are taken for unreasonable reasons. And without keen oversight, voters may not be the wiser when they see that ballot. Remember, it was the Auditor General who documented the rotting serious game grants.
Within weeks for the Morrison government to present its legislation to the Federal Integrity Commission, Berejiklian’s resignation has focused even more on the powers and conduct of integrity-checking bodies in politics.
Morrison was blunt in his view of the ICAC. “I’m sure the millions of people who have seen what happened to Gladys Berejiklian will understand that it’s a very good call not to follow [ICAC] model,” he said.
However, not many people would think that this is such a “good call”.
We have not received the final version of the Integrity Commission Act of the government. But the draft model introduced by the then Attorney-General Christian Porter was spineless in provisions relating to politicians and public servants. And when the government makes its amendments it will have to make a major change in direction to lay a vital backbone.
The point is this: the government doesn’t really want an integrity commission. It has been dragged into it because of political necessity.
Read more: ICAC is not a curse, and there is integrity in government affairs. The Australian media would do well to remember that
In the draft model, the proposed commission has strict provisions covering investigations by law enforcement bodies. But heavy security will be given to politicians, their employees and bureaucrats.
This would make it difficult for investigators against them to reach, limit the number of cases the body can investigate, and ban public hearings during interrogations, as well as public reporting.
Under Morrison’s model, Berejiklian’s self-harming evidence from last year would not have been given in an open forum.
In a report released this week, the Center for Public Integrity, an independent think tank with a board of legal giants, compared the government’s planned commission with others across the country and concluded that its public sector division “Will have the weakest integrity commission in the country.”
The Center pointed out that such a body would not be able to investigate, for example, allegations of conflict of interest related to minister Angus Taylor’s family business or claims of former ministers in Rotoring, the sports grant scheme and the commuter car park project. Possible violations of the ministerial code of conduct.
However, this list invites a difficult question. Should all alleged integrity violations by politicians, employees and public servants be investigated by a single body?
Read more: A federal ICAC must eliminate confusion between integrity questions and corruption
Gary Sturgess, who designed the ICAC as Cabinet Secretary to the NSW Greener Government, argues that a body to look at serious “corruption” allegations (without any special protections for the political class) and less serious than perceived integrity There is a separate body to deal with. Violation by public figures.
Sturgess warns against confusing corruption involving potential criminality with other (but still important) violations. “Treat all politicians as crooks, and the danger is that we will end up in public office with less integrity, no more,” he wrote in The Conversation this week.
In designing its model, the Morrison government is more concerned about political damage than corruption and other integrity issues that a stronger body can do. It does not want more opportunities than currently exist to investigate “scams”.
Critics of having a federal body have argued in the past that “corruption” is found more often at the state rather than at the federal level.
But there is little doubt that federal governments, both federal governments, and individual politicians, will often be willing to destroy due process when it is appropriate to do so – and if they think they can get away with it. And the role of charities in buying access to ministers and their offices involves serious integrity concerns. It’s not a matter of cash in a brown paper bag.
This has the dual benefit of serving the public’s right to know the potential risk of integrity violations and acting as a deterrent to bad behavior.
But the fear that an Integrity Commission could be weaponized politically is justified. There is a need for strong security for the investigators and witnesses as well as tight arrangements for monitoring the activities of the Commission.
Read more: Gladys Berejiklian steps down as prime minister amid ICAC probe into ties with former MP
Labor is promising a more robust model for covering the political class, including public hearings, wider access to those willing to make allegations, and the commission’s ability to launch its own investigation.
The retrospective is a disputed area, with Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus stating that the Commission should be able to “make decisions about matters that potentially, even if they occurred in the past, have a current impact on the Government of Australia.” are putting”. The government says there is a question of retrospective parameters and it is still working on it.
The government’s legislation may not have been passed by election, given the tight timetable. Even if it did, Labor would commit to revisiting the model.
Either way, the National Integrity Commission is still likely to be a sharp point of contention when voters go to the polls.