ACT anti-corruption and integrity commission should include police, begin next year: committee
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ACT anti-corruption and integrity commission should include police, begin next year: committee

The ACT's first Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission should include Canberra police and be ready to start operating by the end of next year, a Legislative Assembly committee has urged.

Committee chairman Shane Rattenbury tabled on Tuesday a 291-page report from the committee's inquiry into the proposed commission that all parties promised to create during last year's election campaign.

Committee chairman Shane Rattenbury has urged the ACT's Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission be running by the end of next year.

Committee chairman Shane Rattenbury has urged the ACT's Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission be running by the end of next year.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The report made 79 recommendations, including that it cover all public officials and third parties with government contracts, as well as ACT Policing.

The government will consider these recommendations while drafting legislation to put the commission in place.

The committee urged that the commission should be able to hold public hearings in cases where the commissioner - a statutory office holder independent of government - would assess such a hearing on the basis of a "public interest test".

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That measure was the subject of "robust" debate, with the two Labor committee members, Bec Cody and Chris Steel, arguing against holding any public hearings, in line with union concerns about such hearings causing reputational damage.

The committee also recommended the commission's purpose to be "to investigate, expose and prevent corruption and foster public confidence in the integrity of the ACT government" and the government finalise its establishment by the end of 2018.

The recommendation to cover ACT Policing follows a push from the police to be exemptt from the commission's oversight, arguing that existing oversight was enough and there could be "legal impediments".

Instead, the report found there were real and perceived "gaps and vulnerabilities" in the current police oversight framework and "these cannot be addressed satisfactorily" through additional reporting.

But the committee did recommend a memorandum of understanding be drawn up between the ACIC and the federal Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, so the law enforcement commission could refer matters to the new ACT anti-corruption commission.

The report also recommended that all territory public officials, MLAs and their political staff, and all the government's employees in its "statutory authorities, agencies or boards" be covered by the commission's oversight.

That would extend to third parties including private companies working on territory government contracts or providing government-funded services.

The commission would also adopt the NSW ICAC's model definition of "corrupt conduct" when making findings of fact about the subjects of its investigations.

Such investigations should also be focussed on issues with "serious and systemic corruption", but not be limited to a wider remit, and while the focus would be on current issues, it would also be able to retrospectively investigate allegations if warranted.

The committee recommended the ACIC adopt the Victorian IBAC's threshold for investigation of "reasonable suspicion", as members' balanced the need for procedural fairness with allowing investigations where "initially there may only be limited evidence".

It also urged the commission be staffed with between nine and 15 full-time staff, with the ability to contract out for specialist services from interstate corruption commissions when the need arose.

The committee also recommended the commission not be given powers to conduct "integrity testing" - or sting operations - for general investigations, except for probes into the police force, in line with federal oversight powers.

The government is expected to formally respond to the report early next year.

Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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