Australia Passes National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill

Published: 03 December 2022

Anthony Albanese Australia One of Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s main promises before becoming prime minister in May this year was the creation of a national anti-corruption commission. (Photo: International Transport Forum, Flickr, License)

By Inci Sayki

Australia’s parliament Tuesday established the country’s first national investigative body to tackle corruption after years of debate over the need for an independent watchdog for politicians.

The new National Anti-Corruption Commission, or NACC, will be able to investigate public officials for corruption, look into corruption allegations that occurred before its establishment as well as after, and hold public hearings in “exceptional cases”.

The commission will operate independently of the government, starting investigations on its own initiative or on tips from whistleblowers and the public. It will be overseen by a Parliamentary Joint Committee, and be subject to judicial review.

If investigators uncover possible criminal conduct, the commission can refer those findings to the Australian Federal Police or the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Labor Party leader had campaigned heavily on tackling federal corruption ahead of the 2022 elections in May and promised to set up a national integrity commission if elected.

Before the vote, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said, “Today we take an important step to rebuild trust in government, our public institutions and our democracy. … Australian democracy is a great national achievement, but turmoil and tension around the world remind us, sometimes harshly, that democracy can never be taken for granted.”

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus told parliamentarians: “This legislation delivers the single-biggest integrity reform this parliament has seen in decades.”

He added, “The commission will have the necessary powers to root out corruption when it occurs. And, importantly, the commission will work to prevent corruption from happening in the first place.”

A. J. Brown, a Transparency International board member,considered it to be the “biggest reform to federal public accountability for over 40 years”, in an analysis he wrote for The Conversation. He said this was a leading model among other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which rely on traditional law enforcement to root out official corruption using criminal law.

Brown also questioned whether this model was “designed sufficiently to weather the future political storms,” such as whether it will be seen as a financially and politically independent commission, and what exactly “exceptional circumstances” leading to a public hearing means.

A minor change to the bill, to expand the powers of the inspector that oversees the commission, was supported by the Coalition. The bill is now to return to the House of Representatives to approve this version.

The NACC is to be established in mid-2023.