Federal Anti-corruption commission comparison: Labor ICAC Bill v MP Haines’ Commission

The Australian Labor Party was elected in May with one of its key policies to enact a federal corruption watchdog. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised to enact the legislation by the end of the year. 

However, the precise terms of the legislation are yet to be settled. 

In 2019, Independent MP Helen Haines introduced an ICAC bill, known as the ‘Haine Bill’. Now, that bill is up against Labors’ own creation.

Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) hearings (Corruption Commission)

What is a corruption commission? 

A corruption commission is an independent body that investigates the conduct of politicians and other public officials, seeking to stamp out corruption.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (NSW ICAC) is an body that investigates the conduct of political officials for the purpose of protecting public interest. 

The NSW ICAC holds extensive powers to investigate politicians. However, law limits it to the conduct of NSW Government and court officials such as magistrates and judges. It can also investigate local government officials.

This was an issue that struck the Commonwealth government. In specific, the need for a federal anti-corruption committee to investigate the serious and systematic corruption of the commonwealth is expressed by both the Labor party and Haines. 

The introduction of the ‘National Anti-Corruption Commission’ (NACC)

Following Labor’s success in the 2022 federal election, Anthony Albanese expressed the need for an anti-corruption commission to investigate the conduct of commonwealth ministers, public servants, ministerial advice and government agencies.

This was introduced as the ‘National Anti-Corruption Commission’ (NACC). Labor has proposed that this robust commission will complete checks and balances to ensure politicians do not abuse their power. This commission will relate to companies that are also contracting with the Commonwealth and its agencies.

Further, the NACC will have the power to hold public hearings, where the public will have access to all information. However, while Labor has made a public announcement for the introduction of NACC, there have been no detailed draft legislation. Labor is hoping that by mid-2023 this commission will be running. 

What is Helen Haines’ proposed commission?

MP Helen Haines introduced the Australian Integrity Commission Bill in 2020. Her proposed anti-corruption commission would:

  1. conduct investigations, 
  2. take on referrals from the public sector and 
  3. delve into historical cases. 

Further, the watchdog would hold hearings to make findings of fact, rather than findings of criminal conduct e.g. pork-barreling. Her bill also acknowledges that investigations by the commission, especially when made to the public, can tarnish the reputation of political figures, despite being guilty or not. Haines’ bill proposes a report if a public servant is not guilty to restore the reputation of that politician.

Comparison of the two commissions: 

A notable difference when comparing the two commissions is Labor’s lack of drafted legislation. While discussing proposed commissions to the public is essential in creating transparency, it is also crucial that there is some form of drafted legislation associated with the proposed commission. This is a significant deficiency for the Labor party as the transfer from bill to act can be a lengthy process. On the contrary, Haine’s proposed commission could expedite the implementation process as it is in the midst of becoming legislation. 

Further, Labor has indicated that the proposed NACC will share very similar features to Haine’s proposed bill. However, one significant difference is that Labor’s NACC wants the body to investigate its own initiative based on tip-offs from the public. This is inclusive of investigations conducted to explore any corruption that may have occurred before the establishment of watchdog. 

 

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