Mon, Nov 26, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Former judges call for Australian anti-corruption body

DISTRUST:Eighty-five percent of Australians believe that some politicians are corrupt and two-thirds support creating an anti-corruption body, Transparency International said

Reuters, SYDNEY

Dozens of former Australian judges yesterday published an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for a national anti-corruption body to restore public trust in the democratic process.

The letter, written by 34 former judges, including former High Court of Australia chief justice Gerard Brennan, said there is public suspicion that corruption permeates many government actions.

“Secrecy is at the core of corrupt conduct,” they said in the letter, published in the Sunday Age newspaper. “Existing federal integrity agencies lack the necessary jurisdiction, powers and know-how to investigate properly the impartiality and bona fides of decisions made by, and conduct of, the federal government and public sector.”

“A national integrity commission is urgently needed to fill the gaps in our integrity system and restore trust in our democracy,” they wrote.

Public concerns over possible corruption in government decisionmaking have heightened in recent years.

Transparency International Australia, an anti-corruption organization, conducted a survey in June that found 85 percent of people believe at least some members of the national parliament are corrupt, and two-thirds of Australians support the creation of a national anti-corruption body.

A government minister in the state of New South Wales was jailed last year for wilful misconduct in public office after gifting a mining license without a competitive tender.

Concerns have also been raised over senior public servants winning lucrative consultancy or board positions from firms which then win contracts from their previous departments, said A.J. Brown, a professor of public policy at Griffith University and board member of Transparency International.

The judges’ letter was coordinated by The Australia Institute think tank, which worked with legal experts to design an anti-corruption body.

Australia Institute researcher Hannah Aulby said their goal was to support transparency in the political process.

“There’s not enough accountability,” she told reporters by telephone.

Independent Member of Parliament Cathy McGowan plans to table a bill to establish a national anti-corruption body in federal parliament when it resumes today.

The Labor opposition supports a national anti-corruption body, but the move is opposed by the ruling minority government.

Australian Attorney General Christian Porter told reporters that the model would give extraordinary powers against public servants with a definition of “corruption” that was too broad.

“Those powers could be used without proper checks and balances,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

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