Canberrans could be able to make complaints to an ACT anti-corruption body with wide-ranging powers by the end of next year after a Legislative Assembly committee tabled its unanimous report yesterday.
The report recommends the Government establish a standing ACT Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission (ACIC) to investigate, expose and prevent corruption and foster public confidence in the integrity of the ACT Government.
The all-party Committee believes an ACT ACIC needs to be up and running by the end of 2018, saying it is important that the ACIC be established during this Assembly.
It recommends that it cover all public officials, government contractors, police, MLAs and their staff, and judicial officers, and have the power to hold public examinations, subject to a public interest test.
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Committee chair Shane Rattenbury defended the strong powers that have been recommended saying they were needed to root out corruption, as well as including ACT police in its coverage.
“Corruption is difficult to root out and commissions like this do need extensive powers to get behind that curtain that people see drawn around corrupt activity,” he said.
Mr Rattenbury said there are sufficient safeguards in the recommendations to allay human rights concerns, and he would be surprised if the Government did not accept the report, given the unanimous findings.
The report said ACIC should be an accessible contact point for the public and public servants to make complaints and report corruption concerns, as well as accept referrals from the ACT Public Service, other integrity stakeholders/bodies and other designated stakeholders.
It said corrupt conduct would be defined as it is in NSW, where it is considered to be a deliberate or intentional wrongdoing, not negligence or a mistake, and needs to involve or affect a public official or public sector organisation.
An ACT ACIC would have the power to find corruption that has occurred and refer suspected instances of criminality to appropriate authorities.
It would be able to investigate past issues of concern, but the committee recommends it have “an operational focus that is largely prospective and focused on current matters”.
Leader of the Opposition Alistair Coe welcomed the report saying it was time to clean up Canberra.
“Whether it is millions of dollars being paid for land without valuations, secret deals for contracts or sweetheart deals with certain property developers, enough is enough. An anti-corruption commission can’t come soon enough. We need to clean up Canberra,” Mr Coe said.
At the 2016 ACT election all three parties represented in the Assembly committed to act on integrity in government, including through the establishment of an independent integrity commission for the ACT.
On 15 December 2016, the Legislative Assembly established the Committee to inquire into the most effective and efficient model of an independent integrity commission for the ACT.
The Committee invited and received a range of submissions from interested organisations and individuals, as well as briefings from governance and integrity experts. It also visited anti-corruption bodies in other Australian jurisdictions and heard from witnesses through public hearings in July and September 2017.
“This process has reinforced the Committee’s view that the ACT community and taxpayer has a right to expect that the social contract between government and the people is working in its interest,” the Committee said.
“The Committee acknowledges the correlation between the establishment of an effective anti-corruption and integrity type body and improved accountability and trust in government.”
The report and its 79 recommendations can be accessed at: https://www.parliament.act.