Free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs has called on Attorney-General Christian Porter to abandon plans for the federal government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC). The exposure draft of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill 2020 was released by Mr Porter on Monday. The draft legislation would confer significant coercive powers to the CIC to investigate and compel evidence, including at public hearings which could turn into show trials.
“History demonstrates that commissions and bodies purported to address corruption inevitably become undemocratic and illiberal kangaroo courts,” said Dara Macdonald, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.
“The proposed legislation grants enormous powers to CIC to effectively act like a court but with none of the well-established norms and rules of evidence that have developed over centuries to protect the presumption of innocence.”
The exposure draft provides that hearings for corruption investigations are required to be held in private, while hearings for purposes of a corruption inquiry must be held publicly, subject to the discretion of the Integrity Commissioner.
“The inclusion of private hearings shows that there has been some consideration of the flaws of similar state-based bodies such as the NSW ICAC. However, this is no guarantee that corruption inquiries will be held privately or that prejudicial information of accused parties will be kept from the headlines.”
“It is not unlikely that the CIC will become just another venue for trashing reputations and ending careers that anti-corruption bodies have become infamous for.”
“Even more concerning is that anti-corruption bodies historically have no regard for traditional legal rights. The CIC is no exception with the privilege against self-incrimination expressly abolished within the legislation.”
“The federal government’s proposed CIC is a step in the wrong direction that would further undermine legal rights and the rule of law in Australia,” said Ms Macdonald.