'Weak and defective': Judge warns against PM's anti-corruption plan

'Weak and defective': Judge warns against PM's anti-corruption plan


Politics
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A judge who helped design Victoria's anti-corruption watchdog says it remains weak and defective, and has warned Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull not to adopt it as the model for any federal corruption body.

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stephen Charles QC

StephenCharles.jpg

stephen Charles QC StephenCharles.jpg

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney, Monday, January 1, 2018. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney, Monday, January 1, 2018. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

28 June 2012.  AFR.  IBAC interim chief Ron Bonighton.
Photograph by Arsineh Houspian.  +(61) 401 320 173.  arsineh@arsineh.com

Ron Bonighton01.jpg

28 June 2012. AFR. IBAC interim chief Ron Bonighton. Photograph by Arsineh Houspian. +(61) 401 320 173. arsineh@arsineh.com Ron Bonighton01.jpg

A judge who helped design Victoria's anti-corruption watchdog says it remains weak and defective, and has warned Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull not to adopt it as the model for any federal corruption body.

Mr Turnbull opened the door to establishing a national watchdog last month - after years of Coalition resistance to the idea - and suggested its powers would emulate Victoria's Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) rather than the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

But former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles, who helped the Baillieu Coalition government design IBAC, says the body continues to fall short despite improvements made by the Andrews government.

"It has a narrow jurisdiction, weak investigative powers and a limited ability to use them, including public hearings, which are critical to exposing corruption to the public," he said. Mr Charles argues it should be able to use the full suite of its investigative powers at the start of any investigation, unhampered by thresholds - much like ICAC.

"IBAC should certainly not be used as the model for any new national integrity commission unless these defects have been removed," he said.

"Setting up weak corruption watchdogs are a way of politicians avoiding scrutiny. IBAC was constrained from the start by ministerial advisers afraid that IBAC investigations would damage the government.

"We cannot let this happen federally."

ICAC on the other hand is sometimes criticised for having powers that are too broad, a sentiment Mr Turnbull seems to agree with.

"New South Wales, we all understand the problems that arise if these things turn into places where hearsay and rumour can be thrown around free of any responsibility," he told Fairfax Media in an interview last month.

Mr Turnbull said he is not yet fully persuaded the case has been made for a federal body but that "the policy objective is zero tolerance, I take that very seriously". He is currently considering a Senate report into the issue.

All other parties in the Federal Parliament would support such a body, and polls suggest the move would be overwhelmingly popular with voters.???

Mr Charles has partnered with the Australia Institute think tank - which has led calls for a federal corruption watchdog in recent years - to prepare a briefing paper on IBAC's shortcomings, to be launched this week.

The paper finds IBAC "has a number of defects that make it a weak watchdog".

It calls on the Victorian government to further broaden the definition of corrupt conduct in its jurisdiction, strengthen its investigative powers and ability to use them, and widen its ability to hold public hearings.

Currently, the definition of "corrupt conduct" is limited to a narrow range of indictable criminal offences. It must also overcome hurdles built into the legislation before it can use its statutory powers.

IBAC has no powers of arrest, limited powers to search people, to gather and hold evidence, and to have full standing before the courts. And its ability to conduct full public hearings are severely limited.

Mr Charles has warned that if there was a Victorian corruption case similar to the one that brought down former NSW Labor minister Eddie Obeid and his cronies, the IBAC would not be in a position to investigate it.

IBAC vs ICAC

  • IBAC still has a narrow definition of "corrupt conduct"; ICAC has a broader remit in terms of what it can investigate
  • IBAC must meet certain thresholds before it can use its investigative powers; ICAC has leeway to fully investigate virtually any credible allegation
  • IBAC lacks a number of the investigative powers of ICAC and probes can be halted via court injunctions
  • IBAC can only hold public hearings in "exceptional" circumstances; ICAC holds them regularly

The story 'Weak and defective': Judge warns against PM's anti-corruption plan first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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