The Australian community has been calling for a strong independent federal integrity body for years and this Bill is a promising start. That the NACC is independent of government, takes referrals from anyone, looks at corruption retrospectively and is empowered to investigate third parties in some circumstances shows the Government is listening.
However, there are elements that need reform if this legislation is to perform its intended purpose of preventing corruption and taking action against wrongdoing when it occurs. As noted by eminent jurist, Stephen Charles AO KC, the ‘exceptional circumstances’ threshold for public hearings will hamper the proper airing of corruption, as potential new witnesses cannot come forward with additional information if they are unaware that an investigation or hearing is occurring. The elevated threshold will also hinder public confidence that the NACC is a transparent and accountable body.
There are also inadequate protections for whistleblowers in the Bill, with it essentially replicating protections from the limited Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 and this needs to be fixed. The Government must also establish a Whistleblower Protection Commissioner, as an empowered and well-resourced authority of this nature is essential for ensuring the effective implementation and enforcement of whistleblower protections.
Moreover the Government needs to go further as an anti-corruption body is one of four essential building blocks for cleaning up governance, public administration and politics in this country. Better whistleblower protections, media freedom laws and political donation reform all need to be acted on as well.
See full speech to Federal Parliament in the above video.