Most Australians support a federal anti-corruption commission: research
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Most Australians support a federal anti-corruption commission: research

Most Australians want the government to create a federal anti-corruption commission, make its national agencies more independent and set four-year parliamentary terms, according to a new report led by one of the nation's most respected former public servants.

The findings come as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the first time suggested he was prepared to consider creating a federal anti-corruption watchdog, but said he was not yet persuaded the case had been made for such a body.

Australia's former top public servant Terry Moran with then prime minister Julia Gillard in 2011.

Australia's former top public servant Terry Moran with then prime minister Julia Gillard in 2011.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

While the discussion paper released on Tuesday by the Centre for Policy Development found its respondents wanted change and felt Australia's democracy was controlled by vested interests, it said they believed its problems could be fixed and that unlike in the United States they didn't want to "blow the system up or drain the swamp."

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An Essential Study survey conducted for the paper revealed public dissatisfaction with multiple trends across government as a majority of people wanted fewer career politicians in parliament, less influence for lobbyists and leaders who better reflected Australia's diversity.

Former boss of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Terry Moran AC, who leads the think tank as its chairperson with chief executive Travers McLeod, said the survey showed Australians were ready to "reboot" the country's political system.

A federal anti-corruption commission had 77 per cent support, while embedding the public sector in more parts of Australia (75 per cent), four-year parliamentary terms (58 per cent), a tougher code of conduct for parliamentarians (79 per cent) and greater independence for Commonwealth agencies from the government of the day (55 per cent) were among the changes supported.

"These ideas are important, and in a sense, they are the easy part of renewing Australia's democracy, because Australians want these reforms," Mr Moran and Mr McLeod wrote.

"The more difficult challenge is developing an agreed vision and purpose for our future which can breathe new life into our democracy," they said.

The report said Australians believed services like health, schools, social service payments to the elderly, and economic infrastructure were under-resourced and found on average, 61 per cent were prepared to pay some level of increased tax for more service spending.

Australians were increasingly sceptical of the government's outsourcing of human services, and most people (82 per cent) surveyed wanted the public sector to retain its skills to deliver these directly.

The think tank urged the government to shore up its agencies after successive governments gutted the public service, stripping it of specialist capability and service delivery experience, in major cuts beginning under Labor but accelerating under the Abbott government after 2013.

"It seems to have lost the knack of providing specialist advice. And it suffers from a lack of proximity to the people," it said.

The report also backed decentralising parts of the public service from the major cities, saying it would let the government take a more active role in service design and delivery with local governments and community groups.

Its findings on public support for a federal anti-corruption watchdog came after a Senate inquiry, which concluded in September 2017, recommended the Commonwealth give careful "consideration to establishing a Commonwealth agency with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters", as well as a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner.

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Click here for the full discussion paper.

Follow Doug Dingwall on Twitter.

Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service and politics.

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