Time for a Federal anti-corruption watchdog

So say we:

Three quarters of voters say there is a need for democratic renewal in the form of a federal anti-corruption commission and a tougher code of conduct for MPs, as part of wider reforms that would also see a rejuvenated public sector return to service delivery.

However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has played down the likelihood of establishing a federal anti-corruption commission, saying such bodies have mixed records at a state level and that there are already a range of corruption fighting bodies at the federal level.

The Centre for Policy Development has produced a discussion paper on democratic renewal and policy reform based on a survey of attitudes to democracy and government, and a roundtable of 30 eminent citizens.

Black Hole Malcolm made his usual charming noises:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has for the first time suggested he is prepared to consider creating a federal anti-corruption watchdog.

Mr Turnbull said he is not yet persuaded the case has been made for such a body but that “the policy objective is zero tolerance, I take that very seriously”.

With all other parties in the Federal Parliament prepared to support such a body, Mr Turnbull’s government – which has thus far resisted calls from the crossbench, Greens and Labor – is the final obstacle.

Prepare to be dropped stone cold.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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  1. The state anti-corruption commissions have proved remarkably ineffective, which was perhaps always the intention.

    Those with long memories will recall that the first – NSW’s ICAC – was created as an election promise by Nick Greiner in 1988, largely in response to the controversy surrounding the awarding of hugely valuable non-tendered public works contracts in the latter years of the Unsworth Government.

    And in the 30 years since?

    Non-tendered public works contracts are now the norm!! They’ve simply been re-named “Market-led Infrastructure Proposals”. What was once “wrong” has simply been been re-defined to be “right”.

    State Treasurers publicly congratulate themselves on how much taxpayers money they can give away without the inconvenience of having to call competitive tenders.

    When they retire from office – or are thrown out – the Ministers and senior public servants responsible move into their million-dollar-a-year consultancies or directorships. No “anti-corruption” commission complaints. It’s a no-lose proposition. No lose, that is, for everyone but the long suffering taxpayers.

    Oh yes! The anti-corruption commissions have been such a spectacular success(!)

    As long as politicians make the rules, they will ensure those rules do not interfere too much with their own personal objectives.

  2. Bloody hell.


    “At the time of the meeting, Mr Shorten faced a coordinated union campaign against the trade deal and vocal opposition from backbenchers worried about Australian jobs.

    The Australian Council of Trade Unions held town hall meetings to condemn the deal and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) warned it would allow Chinese companies to ship in overseas workers and steal local jobs.

    The ABC understands the trade deal was discussed at the lunch.

    One day after the October 20 donation, Mr Shorten announced he had changed his mind and would support the “speedy passage” of the trade deal after securing “satisfactory legal protections that were not previously disclosed”.”

  3. We need Citizen Initiated Referenda.

    You saw the moral conservatives – Manning Clark’s Diminishers and Straighteners – were walking around in their undies with nowhere to go after the ABS survey on gay marriage. They knew that their views were in no way representative of community attitudes. Skunks.

    Would we like a federal ICAC? A different migration target? A Great Barrier Reef?

    CIR would oblige government to heed the peoples’ will.

    • It doesn’t even need to be CIR. There is a vast array of ways in which referendums may be initiated:

      a) direct citizens’ initiative;

      b) indirect citizens initiative. Many US states require citizens’ initiatives to be presented first to the legislature for consideration and possible passage. Only if the legislature fails to pass the initiative may it then be put to the People (sometimes after the collection of another round of signatures) ;

      c) initiation by states, cantons or municipalities. Article 141 of the Swiss Federal Constitution allows any eight cantons to request an “optional referendum” which operates as a popular veto of federal statutes and certain treaties. In Australia one might ponder the effect of allowing local governments representing, say, 25% of the population to have a matter put to the People for their adjudication;

      d) initiation by one chamber of a bicameral legislature. In fact. the Australian Constitution was supposed to include the mechanism by which either House of the Federal Parliament could initiate a constitutional referendum. The vestiges can been seen in the peculiar wording of Section 128. However, the use of the word “may” instead of “shall” – probably accidental – rendered it inoperative. (*) The same mechanism was considered as an alternative to the United Kingdom Parliament Act of 1911 which created the “elective dictatorship” of the modern Westminster system;

      e) initiation by a minority of parliamentarians. In principle, the initiation of a referendum by a subset of the legislature need not be restricted to one or other house of a bicameral parliament. It is possible for a threshold minority of legislators to have a matter put before the People for their final adjudication.

      Whatever system of government might be adopted, it should surely be a system chosen – freely – by the citizens being governed. Who else has the right to do that? Who else has the “Charter from Heaven” authorising them to make the decision on behalf of everyone else?

      In practice a “system chosen – freely – by the citizens” means that:

      a) any proposal for change be approved by the citizens;

      b) any potentially viable change must be capable of being put to the citizens (without the possibility of pre-veto by the political elite);

      c) if there is more than one option put to a vote (as would be inevitable) the outcome must not be capable of being “gamed” by those who set the voting agenda; and

      d) the outcome must not be affected by a voting Prisoners’ Dilemma in which some citizens (rationally) fail to vote because their own individual vote makes no difference.

      These four conditions describe a system of constitutional initiative-and-referendum with compulsory voting as a means of choosing a system of government.

      What that system might actually be would be for the citizens to decide.

      – – – – –

      (*) See, for example, Jeffrey Goldsworthy, “A Role for the States in Initiating Referendums”, in “Upholding the Australian Constitution”, Proceedings of the Samuel Griffith Society, Volume 8, pp125-137. Footnote 17. http://samuelgriffith.org.au/docs/vol8/v8chap3.pdf The use of the word “may” in the relevant paragraph of Section 128 renders it meaningless but was copied (late in the drafting process) from Section 57 together with much of the other wording of Section 57 where the use of the word “may” makes sense.

  4. That is why we will never be allowed to have CIR by the major parties, only given a say on largely symbolic issues such as the republic and gay marriage.