Contributed from New South Wales
Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison proposed the creation of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, after months of refusing to do so.
The intensity of public pressure and loss of a parliamentary majority forced the issue.
It is tempting to see this as a major back down. But things are not always quite what they seem. There is no intention to set up a commission to properly tackle corruption in Canberra. A smokescreen to cover up public anger against lack of action is being erected.
It’s there is black and white, in the paper submitted last Thursday, which boldly states that “the CIC will not investigate direct complaints about ministers, members of parliament or their staff received from the public at large.”
The implication is that information passed on by a whistleblower will not be followed up either.
All that the CIC will be mandated to do is take referrals from established government agencies and regulators. This means that the machinery to edit out what the government does not want pursued is in its hands. After all, these agencies operate under the guidelines provided by the government of the day.
Even if specific government direction does not exist, hurdles and delays conveniently in place, to make it much harder for any complaints to be heard.
The Federal Police, for instance, has a mandate to investigate corruption. But its track record is nothing to brag about. If those who have some information to pass on, have to go to the Federal Police, and wait for them to build a case, and pass it on to the CIC, it may be a very long wait, if anything is done at all.
This will send out the message that making a complaint is a waste of time.
Secondly, any case coming under “suspicion,” must meet a perceived threshold test of criminality on paper. But how is this to be tested?
Those involved in corruption do not put their behaviour out there in public to be seen. Cracking cases must involve following up leaks and pulling aside the cloak of secrecy. The CIC will lack the power to do this.
Thirdly, even if a case reaches the CIC, all it is empowered to do is hand over the case to a special prosecutor, who will decide whether a criminal case should take place. Who appoints the special prosecutor?
This is a CIC without teeth.
Every indication is that there is significant corruption in Canberra. The high number of multi-million contracts, widespread connection between those in the political system and the corporate world, and the penetration of the business lobbyists provide fertile territory to induce payments for favours.
It is naive to suggest that it doesn’t exist, when rising corrupt and improper behaviour is a growing feature of business and political life across Australia.
Scott Morrison is looking like he has plenty to hide.