CANBERRA, AAP – Integrity experts have backed a public model of a federal corruption watchdog as the prime minister ditches his promise to establish one.
Scott Morrison said a federal watchdog hosting public hearings would become a “kangaroo court” that would tarnish people’s reputations.
But top silks say a federal model would be ineffective without public examinations with Mr Morrison’s government’s proposed model barring politicians being subject to public hearings.
The Centre for Public Integrity on Friday pointed to the fact the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption had only held 42 public inquiries despite nearly 1000 private examinations between 2012 and 2020.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Public hearings expose corruption, and many investigations would not be successful without them,” director Geoffrey Watson said.
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“Far from overuse, NSW ICAC holds public hearings only in a fraction of its investigations when it is in the public interest to do so.”
Federal government ministers blasted the NSW model last year after the resignation of then-premier Gladys Berejiklian when she was summoned to face the state watchdog over grants paid to a club in her secret lover’s electorate.
The Morrison government’s model would also mean the federal agency would not be able to investigate tip-offs from the public or issue public findings.
Mr Morrison promised to introduce a federal anti-corruption body during this term of parliament at the 2019 election but has since refused, instead blaming Labor for not promising to pass it unamended.
“I am not going to introduce a kangaroo court,” Mr Morrison said on Thursday.
Earlier in the week he wouldn’t commit to trying to establish one if he wins the upcoming election.
Labor has promised to introduce a stronger federal model if elected in May, with politicians to be subject to public hearings and the agency able to act on tip-offs.
The Centre for Public Integrity has pointed to previous comments from former executives at state corruption watchdogs.
Former NSW ICAC Commissioner David Ipp said the state watchdog’s work cannot be done without public hearings.
Former Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission head Stephen O’Bryan has said public hearings were vital and an “invaluable tool” for highlighting corruption and warning against it.
Government frontbencher Stuart Robert on Friday contradicted the prime minister’s refusal earlier in the week to try again with the government’s proposed model.
“We will come back again and we will seek, through a bipartisan level, to get that going,” Mr Robert told Nine’s Today program.