We caught up with Anthony again last week for an update following his meeting on this topic with Dave Sharma MP.
The Government committed to introduce a National Integrity Commission in 2018 and again in 2019 prior to the last federal election. But:
no government bill has yet been tabled in the federal parliament;
the government has made no allowance in the recent federal budget for implementing an integrity body;
and we have heard nothing in response to the many submissions on their model for a federal integrity commission.
Helen Haines MP has introduced her own private member's bill but the government has not allowed parliament to debate it. The best known recent example of activity which should be investigated by an independent integrity body is the "sports rorts" scandal where large amounts of public money was handed out to communities for sporting facilities. The Sports Commission was directed by statute to make recommendations for how the money should be spent which it did. But the Auditor General later found that the relevant Minister did not follow those recommendations. Instead, she replaced them with a series of grants which favoured electoral seats which the government wanted to win at the upcoming federal election.
Dave Sharma’s position is that:
only criminal offences should be investigated by a federal integrity body;
none of the government's decisions (excepting criminal matters) should be investigated by an external body;
the government's decisions should only be scrutinised by the electorate at election time and if voters don't like the government's decisions, they can vote for the other side.
The problems with this position are:
many decisions made by the government may be made for political purposes or for a partisan reason in breach of the Constitution or ministerial standards;
this leads to years of decision making which may be suspect and cannot be properly scrutinised;
there are a lot of issues which voters care about (eg integrity in politics, climate action) and it is not reasonable to expect voters to assess all government decisions at election time when those issues are competing with other important issues such as the economy or COVID response.
a properly constituted independent integrity body could establish instances of corruption (or not as the case may be) and provide that information to voters well before an election to ensure that voters have an ability to assess whether they have trust or faith in the people they are electing.
The Centre for Public Integrity favours a broad definition of "corruption" which extends beyond criminal activity to "any conduct of any person that could directly or indirectly affect the efficacy or probity of public administration".
Anthony Whealy QC: "This government does not wish to be accountable really in any sense. We've not seen any apologies for mistakes that have been made, we've not seen ministers resigning when ministerial responsibility would normally dictate that that should happen and we've seen a good deal of spin covering up decisions....and all of that added together demonstrates to me that more and more, this government does not believe in being accountable and...that's a very significant start in the decaying process for a flourishing democracy."
"There are other countries where democracy is being degraded much more significantly than in Australia but this is an example of fraying around the edges...and it's worrying because if this trend continues then the democratic processes will gradually be eroded in Australia."
"It's a very important topic and it's only with the community's weight behind it that we will achieve what needs to be achieved and restore our democracy to its greatest height."