Renewed calls for national integrity commission after Gladys Berejiklian resigns

The federal opposition says the Morrison government has not moved fast enough to establish a national integrity commission targeting political corruption in politics.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese addresses media during a press conference.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese addresses media during a press conference. Source: AAP

There are renewed calls for a national integrity commission to be established after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would resign over an investigation by the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.

Ms Berejiklian is being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption for potentially breaching public trust by failing to disclose her personal relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire.

The NSW body investigates matters of corruption involving public officials at a state level, including Mr Maguire who is accused of abusing his public office. 

But there is currently no national investigative watchdog, despite longstanding calls for one to be established.

The federal government announced it would create a Commonwealth Integrity Commission almost three years ago, but the opposition has complained it has not moved fast enough to implement one.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese on Friday said the NSW premier’s decision to resign was further evidence of the need for a national integrity commission.

"It is now more than 1,000 days since Scott Morrison promised to have a national anti-corruption body," he told reporters.

"Well, tick-tock Mr Morrison. We need a national anti-corruption commission, one with teeth, one that operates independently of government, is able to conduct its own inquiries."

Gladys Berejiklian resigns as NSW Premier

The federal government says it intends to introduce legislation this year, after considering hundreds of submissions as part of a consultation process to establish the integrity body.

“It is important to get this bill right and have an effective body, rather than try and score political points for short-term political gain,” a government spokesperson said.

But critics have complained the model is not fit for purpose, accusing its definition of corruption of being too narrow and the threshold for referral to the commission too high. 

NSW Premier reveals 'close personal relationship' with ex-MP at ICAC

Geoffrey Watson SC, the director of the Centre for Public Integrity, said the need for an independent corruption watchdog at the federal level had been reinforced by the investigation into Ms Berejiklian.

“We want an independent body federally who can do the same thing - stand up to the politicians,” he told SBS News.

“Every second week we are hearing about another scandal coming out of Canberra - the misallocation of funds, the misuse of taxpayers money."

“It is just appalling. We need to have an independent body that can scrutinise politicians’ actions.”

The Greens and independents such as Jacqui Lambie, Rex Patrick, Helen Haines, and Zali Steggall have also long pushed for a national integrity commission to be established.

Ms Berejiklian’s shock announcement came shortly after the state's ICAC disclosed it was investigating whether she breached public trust during her personal relationship Mr Maguire.

She revealed to ICAC that she was in a “close personal relationship” with the former MP for years in October 2020 during a public hearing.

Mr Maguire is accused of misconduct while serving between 2012 and 2018 as a state MP.

Ms Berejiklian said her decision to resign went against her “every instinct” but she had been given no other choice.

“I state categorically, I have always acted to the highest level of integrity,” she told reporters.

“History will demonstrate that I have always executed my duties with the highest degree of integrity.”

Scott Morrison reacts to Gladys Berejiklian's resignation

ICAC will investigate whether Ms Berejiklian should have "suspected on reasonable grounds" that Mr Maguire may have engaged in corrupt conduct, and thus failed to report him to ICAC as required.

This will include reviewing grant funding to the Australian Clay Target Association in 2016/17 and grant funding to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018.

Mr Maguire was forced to quit Ms Berejiklian's government in 2018 after a separate ICAC inquiry heard evidence he sought payments to help broker deals for property developers.

Published 1 October 2021 at 6:14pm
By Tom Stayner
Source: SBS News