Corruption and Integrity Update – October 2022

3 November 2022
Daniel Maroske, Partner, Brisbane

This month’s Corruption and Integrity Update considers the progress made towards the National-Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), including where money is being directed under the latest budget; the Royal Commission into Robodebt which has just commenced public hearings; recent Queensland Integrity Reforms; and a status update from the Queensland Auditor-General.

National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)

Joint Select Committee into the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bills

On 28 September 2022, the Senate and the House of Representatives established the Joint Select Committee to inquire into and report on the recently released NACC bills.

The Committee, chaired by Senator Linda White, has received 133 submissions from the public. Some submissions of note include:

  • Queensland Law Society (QLS): The QLS supports the establishment of an independent Commonwealth integrity body to preserve and maintain public confidence in the administration of justice. The QLS submission also considered the definition of ‘corrupt conduct’, and particularly the extension to include “corruption of any other kind”, as being “vague, undefined and circular”;
  • ABC: The ABC expressed concern that provisions in the Bill may “adversely impact the legitimate work of journalists,” particularly through the phrase “misuse of information or documents” in the definition of ‘corrupt conduct’. The ABC referred to the 2019 search warrant executed by the Australian Federal Police as part of an investigation into an ABC journalist suspected of receiving leaked government documents, noting that an investigation into an ABC journalist by the NACC “stands to erode the statutory independence of the ABC and have a chilling effect on media freedom”;
  • Australian Federal Police (AFP): the AFP welcomed the Bills, noting the expectation that the AFP would work closely alongside the NACC in combatting corruption and would support investigations where needed; and
  • Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC): The AHRC stated that establishing the NACC would support Australia in complying with its human rights obligations. The AHRC noted that the ability to hold public hearings in appropriate circumstances is necessary for a corruption body to be seen as effective, but acknowledged that such hearings should only be held publicly when demanded by the public interest. Given the power to determine whether a hearing should be public or private is discretionary, the AHRC stated that a person’s reputation, privacy, safety and wellbeing should be a mandatory consideration.

We also note that concerns have been raised regarding the proposed powers of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to sign off on warrants as part of NACC investigations. The proposed legislation provides that commissioners seeking to access phone records must obtain a warrant from a judge or “nominated member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal”. Notwithstanding the concerns, the current legislation proposes the NACC will follow the same process that is required of existing law enforcement and integrity bodies, such as the AFP and Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI).

The Committee is due to report on its findings on or before 10 November 2022.

NACC Funding

In September, the Federal Government announced the allocation of $262.6 million to the establishment of the NACC. The Federal Government’s 2022-2023 Budget, announced on 25 October 2022, provided welcome details on further budgetary details including:

  • $27.5 million for the ACLEI (which will be subsumed by the new NACC) to develop secure technology infrastructure, build new facilities, and increase staff numbers and security clearance in preparation for the transition to the NACC;
  • $7.6 million over four years from 2022-23 (and a further $0.7 million per year ongoing) to assist with establishing the NACC and transitioning from the ACLEI;
  • $1.9 million over three years from 2023-24 (and $0.6 million per year ongoing) for an Inspector of the Commission and support staff to deal with corruption issues arising from the NACC and any complaints about the operation of the NACC;
  • $1.6 million over two years from 2024-25 (and $1 million per year ongoing) for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to handle the increased volume of complex briefs of evidence that are expected to flow as a result of the NACC;
  • $600,000 over three years from 2023-23 (and $200,000 per year ongoing) for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to undertake inspections of the NACC’s use of covert powers; and
  • $500,000 over three years from 2023-24 (and $200,000 per year ongoing) for the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security to receive and consider referrals of corruption relating to intelligence agencies.

We will continue to watch as more details relating to the upcoming NACC are confirmed.

Queensland Integrity Reforms and appointment of integrity commissioner  

On 14 October 2022, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the appointment of Ms Linda Waugh as the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, who will commence the role in December 2022 for a term of five-years.

On 14 October 2022, the Premier introduced two bills to implement integrity reforms and strengthen Queensland’s integrity bodies.

The legislative changes follow Professor Peter Coaldrake’s review of culture and accountability in the Queensland public sector, Kevin Yearbury’s 2021 strategic review of the Integrity Commissioner’s functions, and Peter Bridgman’s 2019 review of Queensland’s public employment laws.

The Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022:

  • introduces an offence for unregistered lobbying, with a penalty of 200 units;
  • removes the ability for most ministerial staff to seek advice from the integrity commissioner – they will instead have to go through their chief of staff or minister;
  • creates the Office of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner and the position of deputy integrity commissioner;
  • allows the auditor-general to conduct audits of government owned corporations and gives greater control of resources and budget of the audit office; and
  • imposes post-employment restrictions on former Auditors-General to preserve the independence of the office.

The Public Sector Bill 2022, which implements the second stage of Mr Bridgman’s review, looks to improve employment security, respect and inclusion in the public sector and strengthen the independence of integrity bodies in Queensland. The Bill will also repeal the Public Service Act 2008 and replace it with a new public sector employment framework.

The proposed legislation is before the Economics and Governance Committee for consideration.  The committee will report on the Bill by Friday 25 November 2022.

Royal Commission into Robodebt – first public hearing

In August 2022, the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme, led by Catherine Holmes AC SC was established. The inquiry will examine:

  • the establishment, design and implementation of the Robodebt Scheme;
  • the handling of concerns raised following the implementation of the Robodebt Scheme;
  • the intended and actual outcomes of the Robodebt Scheme; and
  • the measures needed to prevent similar failures in public administration.

The decisions made by those in positions of seniority will be the primary focus of the Royal Commission, with the final report due to be delivered to the Governor-General by 18 April 2023.

On 27 September 2022, the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme held its initial public hearing with the Commissioner and Senior Counsel Assisting making their opening statements. On 13 October 2022, the Commission held a directions hearing where the Counsel assisting acknowledged, and welcomed submissions received from people affected by, or involved with the Robodebt scheme.

The first public hearing will run from 31 October to 11 November 2022 and will focus on the establishment, design and implementation of the Robodebt Scheme.

Queensland Auditor-General Report

On 31 October 2022, the 2022 Status of Auditor-General’s Recommendations report was tabled in Parliament.

The report includes reflections from the current Auditor-General’s five years in the role. His reflections include observations that ‘government is not meeting the public’s rising expectations that it is accountable, and transparent and acts with integrity’ and that some government entities ‘lack the systems or corporate knowledge to understand the reasons for past failings. In some instances, the fear of repeating past failures is resulting in entities missing opportunities to implement new systems and technologies.’

Across the 94 reports and 325 recommendations the Auditor-General has made since his appointment, the most common audit recommendations have included:

  • complying with and reviewing legislation
  • governance
  • procurement, contract and project management
  • risk management
  • information systems and data management
  • workforce capability and planning.

At Gadens, we have extensive experience assisting clients in responding to both CCC and OIA investigations and hearings.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Daniel Maroske, Director or Angela Szczepanski, Director should you require any assistance in matters involving the CCC/OIA or if you would like to arrange a presentation on investigations and hearings with your organisation.

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Authored by:

Daniel Maroske, Director
Angela Szczepanski, Director

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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