The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption has been a more effective integrity commission than its Queensland and Victorian counterparts, despite operating on a lower annual budget, statistics show.
An analysis by Central News of data taken from the annual reports of ICAC, Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), and Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) reveal that between 2012 and 2020, investigations commenced by ICAC resulted in more people being prosecuted than IBAC and the CCC.
Over the course of the eight-year period, 243 people were prosecuted from ICAC investigations, compared with 188 for CCC and 89 for IBAC. Over this same period, the NSW ICAC received 22,297 allegations of corruption, IBAC received 17, 116 and CCC 27,001 allegations.
Executive Director of the Centre for Public Integrity Han Aulby said NSW’s ICAC was marked by strong investigative powers and didn’t fear using them.
“New South Wales has the strongest powers and as well as having the strongest powers, it uses them,” Aulby said.
Despite its efficacy, the average annual budget of the ICAC over this period has been consistently lower than the IBAC and the CCC. However, Aulby explained that this alone is not concerning given the integrity bodies in Queensland and Victoria also investigate police misconduct which the ICAC does not.
What is concerning is the stagnation of ICAC’s funding in comparison with IBAC and CCC. The ICAC’s funding increased by just 12 per cent from 2012 – 2020, compared to a 31 per cent increase for the CCC and a 74 per cent increase for the IBAC.
Distinguished barrister Geoffrey Watson SC, who worked as a counsel assisting for the ICAC over five years, says people inside the ICAC have long been calling for increased funding.
“People from there [ICAC] have appeared before parliamentary enquiries to say that their budget is too low,” Watson said,
“I’ve had practical experience of that working down there … we had a range of inquiries and we had to say ‘well we can’t afford to do all five we have to pick one.’”
Another area where the NSW ICAC significantly outperformed the IBAC and the CCC was the number of public hearings it held between 2012 and 2020. ICAC reported having 34 public hearings across the eight years, while IBAC and CCC combined only reported 10.
According to Watson, public hearings and publicly released findings significantly increase the likelihood of exposing public sector corruption as they encourage people to come forward with information.
“This happened many times in inquiries that I had,” he said. “[On one occasion] I was sitting in my room and they said ‘there is somebody who wants to talk to you.’ When he came in, he was a federal senator and he told me about corruption which was deeper than what we were investigating.”
Watson further added public hearings are vital for maintaining public confidence in the institutions of government.
“How do you think it would look if the recent Royal Commission into institutional child abuse had been held in private?” he asked.
The current federal government have made it pretty clear that they want a weak version, and their proposal would be the weakest watchdog in the country.
“The whole purpose of that was for the public to come and express itself to hear what went on.”
The recent resignation of former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has re-ignited debate about the establishment of a federal integrity commission. Bereijklian’s significant popularity at the time of her resignation saw the ICAC characterised as being “drunk on power” by various conservative voices in the media. The most high-profile critique came from Prime Minister Scott Morrison who implied that the ICAC presumes the people it is investigating are guilty rather than innocent.
“It is certainly not a model we ever considered at a federal level,” Morrison said speaking on Sunrise in October.
Indeed the federal government’s current proposal for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) is different in many ways to the ICAC. Most notably it does not have the ability to hold public hearings or to make its findings public. Aulby believes the CIC proposal is not strong enough for it to operate effectively as a corruption watchdog.
“The current federal government have made it pretty clear that they want a weak version, and their proposal would be the weakest watchdog in the country,” Aulby said.
The government’s current CIC model only allows it to investigate nominated criminal offences. This would mean that breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct as well as conflict of interest allegations would not fall under its purview.
Aulby believes that for a national integrity commission to be effective, it needs to be able to investigate conduct which, although not technically a crime, falls under the category of corruption.
“There’s nothing illegal about having discussions with your mates about grant spending that you’re doing in your position as a public official. But that would be something that an integrity commission could investigate – so long as it does have that broad jurisdiction,” they said.
“That’s one of the main problems with the government’s model – it doesn’t allow investigation for anything that wouldn’t add up to a crime if it was to be proven.”
Despite promising a federal integrity commission in 2018, Scott Morrison has yet to present a bill to parliament.
Main image Canva montage of TV screenshots of ICAC prosecutor Scott Robertson, disgraced MP Darryl Maguire and former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian.