The federal opposition has recently announced that a Labor Government, should it be elected at the next federal election (scheduled for no later than November 2019), will introduce a National Integrity Commission.
The Commission, should it go ahead, would be responsible for the prevention, investigation and elimination of corruption inside the federal government and public sector. It would be in addition to state-based commissions that already exist in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.
This Labor policy is not the first time such a commission has been proposed. Indeed, the Greens made a similar proposal in 2014 and this latest initiative comes off the back of two senate select committees into the establishment of a National Integrity Commission, the first committee ceasing to exist when the double-dissolution election was called in May 2016.
The latest select committee reported back in September 2017 making seven recommendations. The first two recommendations highlight a need to prioritise the strengthening of the national integrity framework to make it more coherent, comprehensible and accessible and suggest that consideration be given to establishing a Commonwealth agency with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters.
There are other countries that have long-standing and successful national anti-corruption bodies, such as the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau in Singapore (formed in 1952) and ICAC in Hong Kong (formed in 1974, and the model for many of the state-based bodies). What is different in this instance, and indeed to the situations which led to the formation of some of the state-based agencies, is that the proposal for the new Commission has not been made in response to significant public outcry about corrupt activities in government. In fact, the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus recognises that, "While there is not substantial evidence of widespread corruption at federal level, that is not a reason to do nothing… It’s clear we need to strengthen and simplify our anti-corruption framework – to weed out serious and systemic corruption, promote integrity, and restore the trust of the Australian people in their representatives and institutions."
Probity in procurement activities is central to the Labor policy which points out that, "Each year Commonwealth public officials, including ministers and public servants, make billions of dollars’ worth of decisions about public expenditure and procurement… [y]et many of these decisions are not subjected to proper scrutiny and oversight."
Probity is the concept of procedural integrity, using transparent and accountable processes that will withstand internal and external scrutiny. This means that decisions are made with integrity, honesty and fairness while observing due process as necessary in the pursuit of value for money. It is most often considered in relation to procurement but should be considered as a normal part of any significant decision making in government.
While a new National Integrity Commission is unlikely to introduce new requirements for Federal agencies, it will undoubtedly put a spotlight on the need for agencies to have strong policies and procedures that are followed and well understood by all staff, which can only be a good thing.
CourtHeath Consulting has a number of experienced and qualified Probity Advisors that can assist government agencies at all levels with their probity requirements. More information about our probity services can be found here.
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A participant in the UN Global Compact, CourtHeath seeks to raise awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals and the principles of the Global Compact with business and government organisations in Victoria.
IMAGE: Parliament House, Canberra. Used under licence from shutterstock.com
Julia Cornwell McKean.
[category courtheath's blog]
probity, procurement, anticorruption