Lessons from the NSW ICAC: 'This watchdog has teeth'
There is a strong need and broad public support for a federal anti-corruption commission with public hearings.
Of the state commissions already established in Australia, NSW ICAC has been markedly successful in carrying out its legislated mission and provides a fair model for emulation, with refinement and adaptation, at the federal level.
Premier Nick Greiner outlined in 1988 that NSW ICAC would only be effective with the powers of a Royal Commission, as “corruption is by its nature secretive and difficult to elicit. It is a crime of the powerful. It is consensual crime, with no obvious victim willing to complain”.
- Such powers must be tempered by human rights considerations.
- Premier Greiner also emphasised the role for ICAC in contributing to honest public administration, educating and advising public authorities and the community and in being a transparent and accountable body.
The Cunneen case resulted in challenges to NSW ICAC’s independence, jurisdiction and ability to hold public hearings. This reaction was disproportionate to the core issue raised in the case which was promptly resolved by the High Court. This sort of broad attack on anti-corruption commissions can be fuelled by their success in investigating corruption at the highest levels of political power.
NSW ICAC has been faced this year with a funding cut. It is an easy way for government to impair the effectiveness of such a body and steps would need to be taken to ensure that adequate resources continued to be allocated to a NIC.
With the lessons of NSW ICAC in mind, a federal anti-corruption commission needs to have assured independence, adequate resourcing, proper accountability, coercive powers of a Royal Commission, the ability to hold public hearings at the discretion of the Commissioner without inappropriate reputational damage to others, respect for the rights of all, a focus on serious and/or systemic corruption and ultimately the confidence of the public.