Australian anti-corruption agencies as promoters of justice?

Stream: Panel 56 - Public Policy & Social Justice: Responding to Corruption 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm


Since the late 1980s all Australian states have established standing anti-corruption commissions in various forms and there is an ongoing debate about the merits of adopting a similar national institution to provide oversight of the Commonwealth parliament and public sector. The emergence of standing commissions as the dominant anti-corruption policy response in Australia has been underpinned by an assumption that these bodies are institutions of justice and equality. However, this trend has also challenged policy makers to grapple with questions about the relationship between the law and morality, and the balance between regulating standards of behaviour and the potential for bureaucratic inefficiency and obstruction. Additionally, recent controversies have focused attention on allegations of agency overreach and the violation of civil liberties. For example, in 2015 the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption lost a High Court appeal to allow its Operation Hale investigation to proceed, with a majority verdict of the court narrowing the interpretation of corrupt conduct. This aborted investigation into Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, SC for allegedly attempting to pervert the course of justice has produced debate between supporters and detractors of commissions, with particular focus on the extent of their powers. This paper argues that the experiences of state commissions provide important lessons for federal policy makers. It also suggests that it is feasible to mitigate these concerns within a carefully constituted national standing anti-corruption commission model that, if implemented, would make a valuable contribution to the promotion of justice and the protection of equal rights.


Cathy Cochrane (Presenter), University of Adelaide