- The Guardian
- Issue #2026
Last week, the long-awaited federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was introduced to parliament by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. According to Dreyfus this federal ICAC will:
“operate independently of government and have broad jurisdiction to investigate serious or systemic corrupt conduct across the Commonwealth public sector. It will have the power to investigate ministers, parliamentarians, and their staff, statutory office holders, and employees of all government entities and contractors. It will have discretion to commence inquiries on its own initiative or in response to referrals from anyone, including members of the public and whistleblowers. Referrals can be anonymous. It will be able to investigate both criminal and non-criminal, corrupt conduct and conduct occurring before or after its establishment. It will have the power to hold public hearings. It will also have a mandate to prevent corruption and educate Australians about corruption.”
The new federal ICAC will cost $262 million over four years ($90 million more than the Coalition’s proposal) but will mean that such a body is adequately funded.
While the news was largely welcomed, those on the crossbench were concerned about the nature of public hearings with Dreyfus indicating that public hearings will only happen under “exceptional circumstances” and that private hearings would be the default position.
Greens senator David Shoebridge believes that the proposed test for public hearings is “exceptionally unhelpful,” further stating that “one of the best disinfectants for corruption is sunshine […]. Public hearings are critical to the work of this national anti-corruption commission.”
Independent MP Zali Steggall co-signed much of Shoebridge’s sentiment stating it was a “red flag” because it might indicate that public hearings will be “rare.”
No surprise then that the lack of public hearings was a welcomed component by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Dutton’s “concerns” were that a public hearing would be irresponsible and that he didn’t “want people committing suicide, as we have seen in South Australia and elsewhere, as a result of false allegations having been levelled against them.”
Dutton’s remarks refer to the death of high-ranking SA police officer Doug Barr who died while under investigation by South Australia’s anti-corruption body.
It is disgusting that Dutton would use the death of someone to water down legislation that is in the public’s best, especially when Dutton shared zero concern about false allegations directed at welfare recipients in light of the Robodebt scandal. Or, that Dutton chooses to use the one exonerated police officer when dozens, if not hundreds of police officers haven’t been investigated for the hundreds of black deaths in custody.
While the introduction of a federal ICAC is a tremendous step forward, especially with the powers outlined by Dreyfus, public hearings are important. With such a broad definition of what constitutes “exceptional,” we may never get an opportunity to see meaningful corruption hearings on which the public deserves to have an opinion.