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Proposed federal ICAC model 'worse than nothing'

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The Morrison government’s proposed commonwealth integrity commission has been blasted as worse than nothing by a former NSW Supreme Court judge.

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Ex-NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation amid an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry has renewed pressure on the Federal Government for a national model.

But Centre for Public Integrity chair and former NSW Court of Appeal judge Anthony Whealy thinks it would be the weakest corruption body in the country if implemented as currently proposed.

“It wouldn’t be able to scrutinise and investigate corrupt conduct by politicians, ministers, their staff or two-thirds of the public service,” he said today.

He singled out the so-called sports rorts scandal – involving grants funnelled into Coalition-targeted seats before the 2019 election – as something that would fall outside the commission’s scope under the government’s model.

“It’s better to have no integrity commission than one that is totally ineffective,” Whealy said.

“To have one that pays lip service to integrity, but prevents the investigation of corrupt conduct, is a complete failure. It’s a farce, really.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rejected a NSW ICAC-style federal body, citing the fall of Berejiklian as a reason not to adopt it.

She quit last week when ICAC announced an inquiry into whether she breached the public trust between 2012 and 2018 over grants in the Wagga Wagga electorate of her then-secret boyfriend Daryl Maguire.

Whealy noted the NSW ICAC did not and could not decide whether or not someone had committed a criminal offence.

“In the case of Gladys Berejiklian, what ICAC has done, in fairness to her, is to tell her what the concerns are, what the allegation is that she has to consider,” he said.

“She says that she has not been guilty of any lack of integrity. And if she’s right about that, she has nothing to fear from ICAC.”

The Centre for Public Integrity notes the most effective anti-corruption commissions in NSW and Queensland can launch an investigation without meeting a threshold of evidence and instead to see if misconduct has occurred.

They can also hold public hearings, report publicly and probe any conduct that affects the impartial exercise of public administration.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher dismissed the Centre for Public Integrity’s criticisms as lawyers “keen on another lawyers’ picnic”.

“What we’re looking at is an appropriate public policy outcome to deal with the risk of criminal corruption in the commonwealth system,” he told ABC radio.

He said the government planned to introduce legislation to parliament before the end of the year.

– AAP

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