Reuters reports that a number of former Australian judges have sent an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, calling for the establishment of a national anti-corruption body.

They believe that such a body would go some way to restoring public trust in the country’s democratic process. The letter suggests that there is public suspicion that some government actions are driven by corruption.

The judges believe that some federal agencies are lacking integrity, and that this perception, which is shared by members of the public, is weakening confidence in the system, and thereby impacting negatively on governmental decisions.

The judges are seeking what they describe as a “National Integrity Commission” to restore public trust in Australian democracy, citing current secrecy as being at the core of the corrupt conduct. They believe that existing agencies, deemed to be overseers of governmental integrity, lack the powers and wherewithal to fully investigate the question of impartiality and the basis of the decisions being made.

A recent survey conducted by Transparency International Australia (TI-A), in June this year, found that 85 percent of Australians believed at least some members of the national Parliament were corrupt, while two-thirds of Australians supported the creation of the sort of national anti-corruption body proposed by the former judges.

As a case in point, TI-A points to the case of a Labor minister in the state of New South Wales, who was jailed last year for wilful misconduct in public office, after gifting a mining license without a competitive tender.

In addition to all this, concerns have also been raised over senior public servants winning lucrative consultancies or board positions from firms which then win contracts from their previous departments. TI-A believes that there is an inherent lack of accountability as things stand, and it would appear that the former judges in question concur.

To my mind, there can be little doubt that all democratically elected governments would do well to establish such bodies. Ensuring that the public can go about their business without worrying that their elected representatives are fleecing them behind their back can only be a good thing. Taxes are a necessary evil, but having parted company with them, the public has every right to expect that their hard-earned cash is not going to find its way to an unscrupulous pocket.

It is interesting that public contract tendering processes are mentioned. Most countries and commercial organizations have tendering processes in place. They exist to ensure best-value and to disqualify tendering from those companies with an inside connection to the public body concerned, unless their relationship is declared up front. It is sad to see that this remains one of the most common and simplest of corrupt acts, with those on the inside of the process lining their pockets from those prepared to grease palms.

Corruption such as this can take many forms, from simple corporate entertaining, to large sums of cash changing hands. It is imperative that the guidelines in place are adhered to, as any wavering from them will see corruption as the likely outcome. This is one reason why a national anti-corruption body like that sought by the Australian judges would be an important step towards building the public’s confidence.

Such an idea deserves support. But merely establishing these overseeing units is one thing: giving them the tools and the powers to undertake the task is another. In some instances, these bodies are set up only to pay lip service to the masses. Toothless tigers and thousand-page official reports prepared at great cost and that no one reads are no deterrent. This is why the empowerment of an anti-corruption body is as important as its establishment.

The whole notion of these organizations is to have those who may be tempted into a spot of skulduggery looking over their shoulders. The overseeing organization should not be judged simply on its results, for example the number of prosecutions they bring. Their value as a deterrent cannot be underestimated.

There is an old saying that a uniformed cop on the beat can walk the length of his or her town and never see anybody committing a crime, returning to their station without ever ‘feeling a collar’ (arresting anyone). But who is to say how many crimes they have thwarted simply by their mere presence? If Australia does decide to go down this route, it must ensure that the resultant organization is a lion with a mouth full of teeth, and a righteous attitude to go with it.

With thanks to Tony McClements, Senior Investigator at Martin Kenney & Co, for his assistance with this post.


Martin Kenney, pictured above, is Managing Partner of Martin Kenney & Co., Solicitors, a specialist investigative and asset recovery practice based in the BVI, focused on multi-jurisdictional fraud and grand corruption cases | @MKSolicitorsIn 2014 he was the recipient of the ACFE’s highest honor: the Cressey Award for life-time achievement in the detection and deterrence of fraud. He was selected as one of the Top Thought Leaders of the Legal Profession in 2018 by Who’s Who Legal International, as the number one offshore lawyer for asset recovery in 2017 and 2018, and as a Global Elite Thought Leader by Who’s Who Legal for 2019.

This article originally appeared in the FPCA Blog.