02 November 2020

Corruption and proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC)

Peiple who've observed recurrent denials by the Commonwealth Government of the need for a national anti-corruption agency, alongside systemic disregard of questions regarding specific politicians, may be unimpressed by today's announcement that the Government 'has committed to establishing a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) to strengthen integrity arrangements across the federal public sector'. 

When you check the consultation draft - reflecting the December 2018 paper noted here - it is not much of a commitment, rather than merely something that is painfully overdue. 

The Attorney-General's Department states - 

The CIC will be a centralised, specialist centre investigating corruption in the public sector. It will be established as an independent statutory agency, led by the Integrity Commissioner and assisted by the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The draft legislation is the result of detailed planning to ensure the new body has both the resources and powers that it needs to investigate allegations of criminal conduct that could occur across the public sector. 

The CIC will have greater investigatory powers than a Royal Commission. These include the ability to:

  • hold hearings and compel witnesses to testify 

  • enter and search premises 

  • require people to surrender documents and other evidence 

  • use telecommunication interceptions 

  • have individuals arrested and confiscate passports.

The Australian Government sought views on the proposed CIC model via a consultation paper, as well as advice from an expert panel that was engaged to advise the government on the reforms. 

The Australian Government has considered feedback on the previous consultation paper and has developed draft legislation to establish the new agency. 

The draft legislation comprises two Bills:

  • Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill 2020 (the draft Bill) – which would establish the CIC. 

  • Integrity and Anti-Corruption Legislation Amendment (CIC Establishment and Other Measures) Bill 2020 – which would make necessary amendments to various Acts to give effect to the new CIC scheme.

The first phase of the government’s plan for a CIC is already underway. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity’s (ACLEI) jurisdiction will be expanded from 1 January 2021 to cover four new agencies, and additional funding and staff were allocated to ACLEI in the 2020-21 Budget to undertake those functions. The second phase will be the full delivery of the CIC by legislation, which will subsume ACLEI and cover the remainder of the public sector. 

The public sector integrity division will have jurisdiction over the rest of the public sector and other regulated entities. This division will investigate potential criminal corrupt conduct perpetrated by:

  • public sector, intelligence agency and Australian Defence Force employees 

  • the staff of federal judicial officers 

  • parliamentarians and their staff 

  • higher education providers and research bodies (in some circumstances). 

Other considerations 

The government is considering whether the CIC should be given jurisdiction over federal judicial officers. Any model would need to be mindful of the separation of powers in Australia’s system of government, and will need to respect and maintain the independence of the federal courts and judges enshrined in the Australian Constitution. 

The government is also continuing to consider the interaction between the CIC and Public Interest Disclosure scheme. This will ensure that public officials who disclose corrupt conduct to the CIC are protected from reprisal action. 

Transitional arrangements for the effective operation of the CIC are also being settled. This includes, for example, mechanisms for the transfer of ongoing ACLEI investigations to the CIC, and establishing that the CIC may investigate conduct within jurisdiction that occurred before it commenced. 

These will be particular areas for further consultation. 

The government is committed to a national comprehensive consultation process on the draft legislation. A series of consultation sessions will be arranged for the law enforcement and public sector groups that would be regulated under the legislation, as well as roundtable meetings with civil society, academia and other stakeholder representatives from all states and territories. These sessions will be held across the consultation period which will run from November 2020 to March 2021.