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Release of Commonwealth Integrity Commission consultation draft

Media Release

The Morrison Government has committed $147 million to the development and operation of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) designed to strengthen and complement the existing multi-agency approach to integrity, anti-corruption and law enforcement at a federal level.

The process has already started with the expansion of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) and will ultimately enhance the integrity framework of the Commonwealth public service and ensure it remains free from criminal corruption.

ACLEI'S jurisdiction will be expanded from 1 January 2021 to cover four new agencies and an additional $9.9 million funding and 38 staff were allocated in the 2020-21 Budget to undertake those functions. The second phase will be the establishment of the CIC, which will subsume ACLEI and cover the remainder of the public sector.

As the next stage in the process of enhancing the existing multi-agency framework, the Attorney-General Christian Porter today released draft legislation designed to establish a powerful new public sector watchdog to be known as the CIC.

The draft legislation is the result of detailed planning to ensure the new body has both the resources and powers it needs to investigate allegations of criminal conduct that could occur across the public sector and that the new body works with a variety of other agencies inside the multi-agency Commonwealth framework.

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

  • compel people to give sworn evidence at hearings, with a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment for not complying;
  • compel people to provide information and produce documents (even if the information would incriminate the person), with a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment for not complying;
  • search people and their houses, or seize property (under warrant);
  • arrest people;
  • tap phones and use other surveillance devices to investigate them; and
  • confiscate people’s passports by court order.

The Government has also done the detailed design work and comparative analysis of the issues that have arisen with state-based bodies to ensure the CIC avoids the failings of those bodies. Such failings have resulted in multiple instances of unjust and irreparable harm to the reputations of innocent people.

"Australians rightly expect that those working in the public sector – including politicians and their staff – are held to the highest standards of honesty and accountability, which is why the new CIC has been given the most significant powers and resources to detect and deter criminal activity and enhance the public sector's long-term resilience," the Attorney-General said.

"The public equally expects that those who come under scrutiny are not denied procedural fairness and are not subjected to trial by allegation. That is why we have taken the time to carefully consider the pitfalls that have undermined confidence in other integrity commissions to ensure innocent people do not suffer unfairly.

"The model proposed in the Consultation Bills learns from the significant mistakes of state integrity bodies and strikes the right balance between the need to protect the rights of individuals and the need to establish a powerful investigative body that can guard against potential criminal corruption at the Commonwealth level.

"Labor is on the record as supporting a dangerous and unjust model developed by the Greens which argues for a body that represents a NSW ICAC on steroids, without fixing any of the many well publicised structural issues of such a model.

"The Greens model, supported by Labor, would see the most extreme coercive powers being used for the most minor code of conduct breaches that would otherwise be minor disciplinary matters."

The government is committed to a comprehensive, national consultation process on the draft legislation. A series of consultation sessions will be arranged, as well as roundtable meetings with civil society, academia and other stakeholder representatives from all states and territories across the consultation period. Members of the public will also be able to lodge written submissions. The consultation period will run from November 2020 to March 2021 to allow time for comprehensive feedback.

The draft legislation comprises two Bills:

  • The draft Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill, which will establish the CIC as a centralised agency to investigate criminality and corruption in the public sector.
  • The draft Integrity and Anti-Corruption Legislation Amendment (CIC Establishment and Other Measures) Bill, which makes the necessary consequential amendments to existing Commonwealth legislation to support the introduction of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill.

In developing the draft legislation, the Government considered feedback from earlier rounds of public consultation, as well as advice from an expert panel that was engaged to advise the Government on the reforms.

The CIC will be led by an Integrity Commissioner and two Deputy Commissioners who will head the watchdog's separate law enforcement and public sector integrity divisions.

As part of the draft legislation, the Government also proposes adding new corruption offences to the Criminal Code Act 1995. This will ensure that the CIC can comprehensively investigate a range of criminally corrupt conduct that could be committed in the public sector. These can be found in Schedules 1 and 2 of the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Legislation Amendment (CIC Establishment and Other Measures) Bill.

The Government's model will ensure that corruption issues occurring across the federal public sector will be investigated appropriately by a well-resourced agency. The $106.7 million in new funding allocated to establish the CIC is in addition to the $40.7 million in existing ACLEI funding that will be absorbed by the CIC upon its commencement.

See the draft Bills here. Submissions on the Bills close 12 February 2021.