The reason Dominic Perrottet became Premier of New South Wales is Gladys Berejiklian chose to join the select group of Liberal Party New South Wales Premiers that resigned before undergoing the scrutiny of a New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption public hearing. Of course, Berejiklian had her supporters, they are the ones that were questioning why ICAC was investigating her, rather than the correct question — why did she resign as a Member of Parliament prior to ICAC passing judgement on her actions?
The answer to the ‘correct’ question will come out in due course and we’re not even going to hazard a guess what the final outcome is. However we can guess why various Coalition politicians seem to have a problem with oversight, such as that provided within New South Wales by ICAC.
Probably the best person to start is with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. According to The Guardian
, Joyce is claimed to have
compared the New South Wales anti-corruption watchdog to the “Spanish Inquisition” and complained that it’s making politicians “terrified to do their job”.
What is Joyce claiming here? is Joyce openly admitting that politicians can’t act fairly and equitably in doing their job or is he claiming it is unfair that politicians should be expected to act to benefit the entire community, not just interest groups such as, let's say coal mining companies or property developers?
Transparency International has a definition of corruptions and its effects
We define corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.
Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.
Exposing corruption and holding the corrupt to account can only happen if we understand the way corruption works and the systems that enable it.
It’s no accident that most of the oversight mechanisms set up by state governments have the word ‘corruption’ in their names. Representation of selected ‘special interest’ groups over the needs of the general community certainly fits the definition of corruption offered by Transparency International.
The comparison to the Spanish Inquisition is certainly an overreach. A full history of the Inquisition is here
, but in case you don’t have the time, this is an excerpt from History.com
The Inquisition was a powerful office set up within the Catholic Church to root out and punish heresy throughout Europe and the Americas. Beginning in the 12th century and continuing for hundreds of years, the Inquisition is infamous for the severity of its tortures and its persecution of Jews and Muslims. Its worst manifestation was in Spain, where the Spanish Inquisition was a dominant force for more than 200 years, resulting in some 32,000 executions.
Joyce seems to be suggesting that weakening democracy, increasing inequality and so on are valid outcomes from a politician’s work. We already know his attitude to the environment.
ICAC’s public hearing that addresses its concerns with Berejiklian’s behaviour continues this week, but no one except Berejiklian knows with certainty the reasons for what she has or hasn’t done in the past. ICAC obviously has some evidence to support its position and according to her own rules, Berejiklian didn’t have to resign from Parliament until there was a finding against her.
Corruption commissions have a habit of being fair and equitable. The Victorian version of NSW’s ICAC, called the IBAC is currently investigating a number of ALP ‘powerbrokers’ who are accused of manipulating the number of members that belong to certain ALP branches. As the members of each ALP branch have some say in who is put forward as the ALP candidate at each election, there are certainly ways for corruption to become entrenched if the ‘right’ person is elected
. Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has denied any involvement and Federal Leader Anthony Albanese seems to be sitting on both sides of the fence by supporting the ALP Policy for establishing a ‘federal ICAC’ while resisting calls to publicly reprimand the ALP Federal MP who is alleged to be involved in the Victorian ‘branch stacking’ investigation. Strangely, Joyce seems to be silent on this particular example of ‘politicians being unable to do their jobs’.
Probably unsurprisingly, the Coalition Federal Government seems not to be all that keen on a corruption commission that will maintain an impartial and balanced overview of the workings of those elected to and who work for government. In November 2020, The New Daily
reported the then Attorney-General proposing a plan for the implementation of a ‘federal ICAC’, some 11 months after receiving the draft plan
. By October 2021, The Mandarin
was reporting Morrison joining the Coalition’s ‘pile on’ on ICAC soon after Berejiklian resigned from the NSW Parliament
Responding to a question from Sunrise’s David Koch about whether ICAC needed to be reformed, Morrison said the corruption watchdog was ‘never a model we have contemplated at a federal level’.
“We have a set of arrangements at a federal level that can be built upon, but certainly not going down that path in New South Wales,”
The most recent update on a proposed federal integrity commission was published by the government in November 2020, and consultation over draft legislation for the commission closed in March this year.
However it drew criticism from legal experts and retired judges (known as the National Integrity Committee), who said that the exposure draft was based on a ‘flawed assumption’ and failed to recognise that the role of such a body was not to secure criminal convictions but ‘to uncover serious corruption in the field of public administration and to publicly expose it where that is appropriate’.
To do this, the group argued in a submission, a corruption watchdog must be given wide and special coercive and investigatory powers — it must not be bound by the laws of evidence and should not be expected to function as a judicial body because it was not supposed to be a court of law.
“The exposure draft does not meet the primary purpose of a national integrity commission, which is to enable scrutiny and enhance accountability of government. It is not even clear if the proposed legislation covers ministerial conduct which may be deemed to be corrupt,” the group said.
gives us a number of reasons why Morrison seems to be delaying a ‘federal ICAC’ with actual powers to investigate potential breaches of legislation and standards. We all face scrutiny from the legal system if we are accused of breaking the law. II’s a pity our federal politicians won’t subject themselves to the same scrutiny.
What do you think?