Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference
Good morning and thank you for the introduction.
I begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which we are gathered.
I pay my respects to their elders past and present.
[Acknowledge Premier of NSW, the Hon Dominic Perrottet MP, thank for opening speech]
I am pleased to welcome you to the Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference.
Here today are representatives from across state, territory and Commonwealth public sector organisations, as well as experts from academia, civil society and the private sector.
I would particularly like to welcome those who’ve travelled from across the Pacific to be here.
Corruption doesn’t stop at territory, state or international borders and nor should our efforts to stop it.
I thank the co-hosts of this conference, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission for this opportunity to hear from other jurisdictions on how they’re tackling this enduring, ever evolving challenge.
As many of you know, the Commonwealth is the only Australian jurisdiction without an anti-corruption commission.
In May the Albanese Government was elected with a mandate to establish a powerful, independent and transparent body to rectify this gap in our national integrity framework.
We are delivering on this promise.
On 28 September, I introduced legislation into the Parliament to establish the first National Anti-Corruption Commission.
This is the single biggest reform to the Commonwealth integrity framework in decades.
The silver lining in the Commonwealth being the last Australian jurisdiction to act is that it has allowed us to look at the last 30 years of these anti-corruption commissions at the state and territory level and ensure we take the best features of all of them, and get the balance right.
One thing we have learnt is that tackling corruption doesn’t just reduce crime, it strengthens public trust in institutions and improves the delivery of services.
Whether it is our schools, hospitals and healthcare system, courts or welfare system – public trust in these institutions is critical to their ability to successfully deliver these vital services.
Corruption erodes this trust, and weakens the ability of governments to deliver vital services to the community.
The establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission shows we are serious about building trust and making government act in the interests of the Australian people.
Integrity in Government
The National Anti-Corruption Commission is central to the Albanese Government’s commitment to restore integrity to government and strengthen public trust in institutions.
The Commission will be dedicated to detecting and investigating serious or systemic corruption, and will work right across government to prevent corruption from occurring in the first place.
I will speak in a moment in more detail about the Commission, but it’s important to stress that this is just one part of a broader integrity framework.
We are also working to strengthen that broader integrity framework by:
- introducing new measures requiring all commonwealth entities to take steps to prevent corruption
- improving protections for whistleblowers,
- establishing and enforcing a robust code of conduct for ministers and for ministerial staff
- working across the parliament to implement the Set The Standard report to ensure Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful
- looking at ways to enhance the transparency and integrity of political donations in Australian federal election processes
- ensuring that appointments to key independent institutions are transparent and merit-based
- considering options to establish a federal judicial commission, and
- developing a new third national action plan under the open government partnership.
These broader initiatives, combined with the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, are crucial steps in rebuilding Australians’ trust in their government.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission
I am working closely with my parliamentary colleagues to see the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation passed by the end of this year.
The Commission will operate independently of government.
It will have broad jurisdiction to investigate serious or systemic corruption across the entire federal public sector.
It will have discretion to commence inquiries on its own initiative or in response to referrals from anyone.
It will be able to investigate both criminal and non-criminal corrupt conduct, and conduct occurring before or after its establishment.
It will have the power to hold public hearings, where it is in the public interest and exceptional circumstances justify doing so.
A Parliamentary Joint Committee will oversee the Commission and will be empowered to require the Commission to provide information about its work.
In designing the Commission, we have drawn on the best aspects of the state and territory models and have worked closely with integrity experts – many of whom are here today – to ensure that we get this right.
I acknowledge the efforts and thank the ACLEI staff who worked collaboratively with my Department to implement the Government’s decision to stand up a broad-based anti-corruption commission.
Corruption prevention measures
The National Anti-Corruption Commission we have brought to the Parliament has the independence, powers and resources equivalent to a standing royal commission.
To use the parlance of Senator Lambie, it’s got “chops bigger than Jaws”.
But we’re not just focused on exposing corruption.
One of the important lessons we have learned from the state and territory anti-corruption commissions is the value of prevention and education.
The Commission will provide guidance and information to support the public sector to understand the concept of corrupt conduct, and to identify and address vulnerabilities to corruption.
This work will harden the Commonwealth public sector against corruption, and will be informed by insights the Commission draws from its investigations and the intelligence it collects about corruption.
To complement the Commission’s work, the Government will also introduce new requirements for all Commonwealth entities that are subject to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 to take measures to prevent, detect and deal with corrupt conduct.
We already have this requirement in relation to fraud under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014 – this rule will be amended to extend that requirement to corruption.
The Commission will also engage in broader public education about its role, corruption risks, and avenues to report corrupt conduct.
The Albanese Government has a number of other integrity focused reforms underway, which I’d like to outline briefly now.
Whistleblower protection reforms
We are committed to ensuring that Australia has effective protections for whistleblowers.
I am delighted therefore to announce that I will introduce a Bill into the Parliament before the end of this year which will make priority amendments to the Public Interest Disclosure Act.
These amendments deliver on the Government’s election commitment to implement key recommendations of the 2016 Review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act by Mr Philip Moss AM and other parliamentary committee reports.
This Bill will ensure immediate improvements to the public sector whistleblower scheme are in place before the NACC commences in mid-2023.
The second stage of reforms will commence next year following passage of the priority amendments. This will involve redrafting the Public Interest Disclosure Act to address the underlying complexity of the scheme and provide effective and accessible protections to public sector whistleblowers.
Ministerial Code of Conduct and parliamentary standards
Code of Conduct for Ministers
A new Code of Conduct for Ministers was published on 8 July 2022.
The Code is underpinned by key principles that Ministers must act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility and the public interest.
Ministers are expected to demonstrate they are complying with high standards of conduct and, in doing so, living up to the expectations of the Australian public.
Ministers are required to register their private interests publicly on the parliamentary Register of Members’ or Senators’ Interests.
The new Ministerial Staff Code of Conduct, published on 7 July 2022, sets out the standards expected of all staff of Ministers and Assistant Ministers, including that they act at all times with integrity and observe the highest standards of conduct.
Set the Standard Report
The Set the Standard Report sets out a framework for action to ensure that Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful, uphold the standing of the Parliament and meet community expectations.
The Albanese Government is committed to working across the Parliament to implement all 28 recommendations.
This is a shared responsibility, and implementation of the Report’s recommendations is being led by the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce.
Stronger support systems for staff and Parliamentarians are key to driving cultural change and professionalising the workplace.
The Government is ensuring all Parliamentarians and their staff have access to training on safe and respectful workplaces.
The 47th Parliament has re-established the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards to develop Codes of Conduct for Parliamentarians and their staff.
It is due to report on 1 December 2022.
Once the Committee has reported, the Government can consider Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission which the Report recommended to investigate alleged breaches of the Codes.
Political donations reform
The Albanese Government is committed to enhancing the transparency and integrity of political donations laws.
The Government has referred measures relating to the transparency and integrity of political donations, including the applicability of ‘real-time’ disclosure and a reduction of the disclosure threshold to a fixed $1,000, to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for the Committee’s inquiry and recommendation.
Following tabling of the Committee’s report, the Government will consider any recommendations to inform political donations legislative reform.
We are delivering a merit-based and transparent system for appointments to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the judiciary and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
On 27 October 2022, the Parliament passed the Government’s legislative amendments to ensure that future appointments of members to the Australian Human Rights Commission are made using a merit-based, transparent process.
Federal judicial commission
As announced in the recent Budget, the Government is now considering options to establish a federal judicial commission as a transparent and independent means to address concerns about the conduct of federal judges and reinforce public trust in the judicial system.
Any proposed model for a commission must respect the independence of the courts and judiciary in accordance with the Constitution.
This independence is fundamental to the rule of law and democracy in Australia.
We will consult closely with the federal courts and other key stakeholders on the establishment of a federal judicial commission.
Open Government Partnership
The Government is also committed to the principles of the Open Government Partnership, of which Australia is a member.
We are working closely with civil society to develop a new Third National Action Plan, which will seek to capture a greater level of ambition for open government, transparency and accountability.
Fraud Fusion Taskforce
Preventing fraud against government programs is also a critical priority for the Albanese Government.
The new Fraud Fusion Taskforce, which is focused on countering fraud against the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), will be an important addition to complement other fraud and integrity measures as part of the Government’s multi-faceted approach to preventing and combatting fraud.
My portfolio will play a leading role in the Taskforce by enabling improved law enforcement and intelligence actions against those attempting to commit fraud against the NDIS.
The Taskforce will also work closely with the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre to take lessons from the Taskforce to help the NDIA and other agencies design and deliver more fraud-resistant policies and programs.
Australians rightly expect honesty, accountability and integrity in government.
The Albanese Government is delivering on its promise to tackle corruption and restore trust and integrity to public institutions.
I take this seriously. The Albanese Government takes this seriously.