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Advice to the 46th Parliament: Integrity and Accountability

Australia's 46th Parliament will be a crucially important place in time for integrity and accountability at a federal level.

One of the five big sets of integrity and accountability issues that the 46th Parliament is going to need to confront, well the first one, is the creation of a National or Commonwealth Integrity Commission a federal anti-corruption body. The Morrison government’s Commonwealth Integrity Commission proposal, however, involves quite a bit of controversy. Currently the proposal is to restrict the reach of such a body to criminal offenses of corruption, like a law enforcement agency, when in fact we know that corruption is much broader – the grey area corruption – is really, very often, what we should be focusing on.

Which brings me to the second big integrity issue which is Whistleblower Protection Reform and it was a big success of the 45th Parliament to already achieve a very historic step in terms of improved whistleblower protection for private sector workers under corporation law reforms which have just commenced. So now we need to get on and both upgrade the public sector whistleblowing protections at a federal level and also trying to make sure we achieve much better consistency and simplicity in how these protections work and this has only been reinforced and its importance by the recent, in June 2019, raids by the Australian Federal Police on Australian media organisations.

There are three more big issues. The first is to actually achieve some greater clarity and greater enforcement around mechanisms intended to control undue influence on politics. This ranges from the federal parliament needing to catch up with, our state Queensland and Victoria in particular, on introducing proper transparency and political donations and making for example a real-time disclosure regime for what political parties are receiving by way of donations.

We need to see greater transparency and more enforcement in our lobbying regimes at a federal level and this is emphasised by the problem of revolving doors.

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"Former politicians and senior public servants who actually it appears, on the face of it, in breach of the very weak existing codes of conduct going straight out of government and then taking up lobbying roles or consulting roles or corporate roles where clearly they intend to trade on the on information and skills they amassed as ministers in ways that are not necessarily conducive to the public interest.."

The fourth big issue is going to be that we should finally see some movement towards regulating truth in election campaigning. This last federal election saw more falsehoods, more misleading information, spread on social media which clearly amounts to misleading and deceptive conduct. In the rest of our society, in business and in normal advertising, we have controls on misleading and deceptive conduct, and it’s time that we actually introduced equivalent controls to political advertising to political communication, especially in the age of fake news.

And finally, we have some very serious international responsibilities that we need to be addressing, including proposed reforms to our foreign bribery laws, proposed reforms to our anti money laundering laws, and in particular, we need to see a National integrity Commission take on a role that is about helping coordinate with state bodies our response to those sorts of corruption problems. We’ve just seen that the revelation that the son of former Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, is living in a thirteen million dollar house in Sydney, the wealth behind which can’t really be easily explained. And so we need to see our National Integrity Commission actually take on a stronger coordination role tying our federal and state agencies together, liaising with international agencies, working with other federal bodies to do that in order to actually ensure that we achieve a holistic response to our international anti-corruption threats here at home in order to make sure that we’re playing a role as a proper global citizen. So we can see that dealing with all five sets of issues is not only timely but really necessary in this term of the parliament. We live in a very fast changing world where corruption pressures are only rising and so we can see that biting the bullet on these issues in the 46th parliament will not only see us achieve these goals, but it’s what the vast majority of Australians want to see.


Professor A J Brown is leader of the Centre for Governance & Public Policy’s public integrity and anti-corruption research program, and professor of public policy and law in the School of Government & International Relations.

A 25-year veteran of developments in Australia’s integrity systems, since 2010 he has been a boardmember of Transparency International Australia, the world anti-corruption organisation, and in 2017 and again in 2020 was elected to Transparency International’s global board, where he led the development of its worldwide strategy ‘Holding Power to Account, 2021-2030’. Since 2005 he has led six Australian Research Council projects into public integrity and governance reform, including two establishing the Australian Constitutional Values Survey, three into public interest whistleblowing, and the 2020 Australian Research Council Linkage Project report, ‘Australia’s National Integrity System: The Blueprint for Reform’. In 2012, his biography  of Michael Kirby: Paradoxes & Principles was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, Walkley Book Award and National Biography Award.

He was the 2017-18 President of the Australian Political Studies Association, and a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Expert Advisory Panel on Whistleblower Protection (2017-2019). He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.

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