A long-serving former senior federal police officer has warned that the Coalition’s proposed integrity commission is flawed, weak and would “not be capable of responding to current corruption threats”.
Chris Douglas, a 31-year veteran of the Australian federal police, has called for the integrity commission to be handed wide-ranging powers, including the ability to recruit informants, use undercover operatives, make arrests and deploy wire taps.
“The [commonwealth integrity commission] model proposed by the Australian government will not be capable of responding to current corruption threats to the Australian public service and to ministers, members of parliament and to their staff,” he said in a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department. “The model lacks tactical and strategic vision in relation to national and international corruption.”
The federal government proposed its integrity commission model, known as the CIC, late last year. It would not be permitted to hold public hearings, could only begin investigations if the evidence met a high threshold, and would not be able to take tips from the public.
Former judges and state integrity commissioners have warned that the proposal lacks sufficient resourcing, is blinkered in its remit and has weak investigative powers.
Douglas has extensive AFP experience across organised crime, fraud, drug trafficking, and intelligence areas, and now runs Malkara Consulting, a consultancy focused on money laundering, financial crime, bribery and corruption.
He described the Coalition’s plan to create two distinct arms of the CIC – one focusing on government, the other on law enforcement – as flawed, and said it should be abolished.
Douglas said the agency should not be limited as to who it could investigate, when or how. It should be given the same powers as the AFP, and be able to investigate foreign bribery offences, he said.
“The CIC should have access to a full range of investigative powers as recommended in the United Nations convention against corruption, including the power to make arrests, obtain and execute search warrants, seize evidence, undertake controlled operations, use assumed identities and obtain and use electronic surveillance devices including telephone intercepts, listening devices and tracking devices,” he said.
The proposal sits alongside two other integrity commission models – proposed by the Greens and the retiring independent crossbencher Cathy McGowan – which are greater in scope, resourcing and powers. A government-dominated Senate committee inquiry on Friday recommended that the Greens and McGowan models be rejected.
“A particular concern relates to how the [national integrity commission] might facilitate unjustified damage to a person’s reputation without due process,” the committee’s report said.
“This includes the risk that a person may refer their political opponent to the [national integrity commission], and gain political mileage by doing so, even though the referral has no merit. It also includes the risk that public hearings of the NIC could irreparably damage a person’s reputation, even though the evidence against that person is not sufficient to convict the person in a court.”
Labor also recommended against the passing of the Greens and McGowan bills, saying the integrity commission’s design should be more carefully considered over months with the aid of a department, legal experts and anti-corruption specialists.
The opposition has pledged to bring its own legislation for an integrity commission within 12 months if it wins government. It plans to give the body the powers of a standing royal commission, including the ability to hold public hearings.
“Unfortunately, the model proposed by the government is grossly inadequate to the task,” the Labor senator Louise Pratt said in additional comments to the committee’s report. “It has been roundly criticised by experts for its limited scope, limited powers and lack of transparency.”
The Greens were the only party to dissent from the committee’s report. The party’s current bill is its fifth to establish a federal integrity commission.
The Greens senator Larissa Waters said the debate had shifted markedly since her party first introduced a bill in 2010. It was now no longer a debate about whether such a body should be established but rather what powers, resourcing and remit it should be given.
“Our democracy belongs to the people of Australia, not to vested interests, corporate donors and those who can afford to buy access in the halls of parliament,” Waters said. “We need transparency and accountability in our political system and, until we get a federal anti-corruption body, our politicians will keep working for the big end of town, not the community they are elected to represent.”