ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson says there is a “bad smell” around the ACT Government due to its handling of dealings with property developers and unions, citing the Memorandum of Understanding on procurement between the Government and Unions ACT, the controversial redevelopment of the Brumbies HQ at Griffith and the rugby club’s move to UC, and proposals to redevelop the Manuka childcare centre and Manuka Oval as examples.
The Government argues that it has always operated with integrity, and there is no doubt its actions are in line with its well-articulated vision for Canberra.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr and his Labor colleagues are well aware, though, that there has been strong community criticism of its handling of these matters. So much so that yesterday it announced that it has rejected the GWS/Grocon unsolicited bid to redevelop Manuka Oval only weeks after backing down on long-held plans to force the Manuka Childcare Centre to move from its Flinders Street site.
It is also aware that an Australian Federal Police evaluation of the circumstances surrounding the 2013 sale of the Brumbies’ Griffith Oval headquarters and its move to the University of Canberra is ongoing.
Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury acknowledges that there are concerns in the community about such matters, and has announced that his party would legislate for an anti-corruption watchdog in the territory.
“You do hear rumours around town,” he said at his party’s campaign launch last Sunday (as reported in The Canberra Times).
“We want a proper place for that to be investigated, not for the rumours to dominate. It does no one any favours when there’s a lack of confidence based on rumour or innuendo.”
“Either it will be proven not to be the case, or wrongdoing will be rooted out.”
The Opposition made its own announcement on integrity on Wednesday, saying if elected it would boost funding and resources for the Auditor-General to conduct performance audits and public interest disclosures as well as establish a fully independent Public Service Commissioner (the Government had already announced it would establish an independent office of the Public Sector Standards Commissioner, and legislated accordingly this week).
We’re wondering what you think, RiotACT readers. All other Australian states have integrity watchdogs. Should the ACT have its own independent NSW ICAC-style integrity/anti-corruption commission?
We put that question to Mr Rattenbury, Mr Hanson and Mr Barr via email this week for Face-off. Their responses appear below, along with video of Mr Rattenbury and Mr Hanson discussing the issue (Mr Barr was unavailable for the video component).
Greens Leader and ACT Minister for Corrections, Minister for Education, Minister for Justice and Community Affairs and Minister for Road Safety
The ACT is one of the only states or territories without an independent integrity body with investigative powers. The ACT Greens believe it’s time for this to change. If we want the community to put their trust in us, then we must be able to shine a spotlight into the dark corners. That’s why this week the ACT Greens called for an Independent Integrity Commission.
The Integrity Commission would allow for independent investigations into allegations of misconduct. It would also provide advice and support for agencies to improve their standards.
The Greens have always advocated for transparency and integrity in government. We pushed for a Standards Commissioner, an Independent Arbiter, and we’ve introduced nation-leading Freedom of Information laws into the Assembly. We’ve always campaigned for clean elections and for banning donations from corporations to political parties – changes that are essential to restoring public trust in government.
These are the fundamental differences between the Greens and the other parties.
The Canberra Liberals’ proposed plan is weak. It has no capacity to deal with misconduct or corruption because neither the Auditor-General nor Commissioner for Public Administration have criminal investigative skills or functions. We’re calling on the Canberra Liberals to back our calls for an Integrity Commission with real teeth and investigative powers.
Jeremy Hanson, ACT Opposition Leader, Shadow Minister for Police, Shadow Minister for Gaming & Racing, Shadow Minister for Health, Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
The Canberra Liberals believe in strong local government integrity which is why we’ve been on the front foot committing to how we will strengthen and enhance it, to restore faith in local government. It’s also why we’ve been proactive in prosecuting integrity issues with the current Barr Labor government.
I recently announced a Canberra Liberals commitment to boosting the resources of the Auditor-General to the tune of $3 million to enhance its capacity to conduct performance audits and work with regards to public interest disclosures. The Auditor-General is well placed to continue its good work in scrutinising government. We have also committed $900,000 to make the Public Service Commissioner fully independent. These are both existing effective bodies in enhancing integrity and complicating the system with a new structure would be unnecessary.
It’s interesting that the Greens Minister in the Labor government which has been the subject of integrity issues has called for the establishment of and ICAC-style commission.
Our reforms are necessary because over the past year, there’s been a perception of a lack of integrity and probity issues surrounding Andrew Barr’s government. Various land deals which are still under investigation, including the lease variation waiver for the Brumbies has raised the ire of many. There’s also been significant commentary in the local media about these issues. We believe our commitments will help existing authorities shed further light on integrity issues.
Protecting government integrity is essential and with a fresh start under a Canberra Liberals government, we’ll be committed to that. The best way to ensure integrity in local government is to change the government in October.
Andrew Barr, ACT Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development, Minister for Urban Renewal, Minister for Tourism and Events
The ACT Government and the Legislative Assembly have, over the past two decades, developed and maintained a number of checks and balances that ensure the integrity and transparency of government decision making.
They include the ongoing role of the ACT Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body that has the power to investigate the administrative actions and decisions of ACT Government agencies to see if they are wrong, unjust, unlawful or discriminatory.
There is also the ACT Auditor-General who has a role in identifying practices that may be conducive to corruption and improving the integrity of the ACT’s public sector.
The ACT Government has this week passed further amendments to the Public Sector Management Act, which among other things establishes an independent office of the Public Sector Standards Commissioner, to enhance and promote public sector values, principles and conduct. To promote the independence of the role, the Bill prohibits the occupier of the office of the Public Sector Standards Commissioner from also being an ACT public servant.
Any evidence of corruption or fraud is provided to ACT Police for further investigation of criminal behaviour.
In the extremely rare occasions where there have been cases of corruption involving ACT officials, these offences were detected and prosecuted.