The government's proposed federal integrity body has been labelled "problematic" and its scope too narrow amid concerns by multiple voices it's limited in investigating public sector corruption.
The planned Commonwealth Integrity Commission, introduced by Attorney-General Christian Porter in late 2020, could finally establish a federal corruption watchdog, but questions over its reach are being raised.
Submissions from a range of organisations, including the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Law Council and unions, along with academics and independent MP Zali Steggall, argue the proposed integrity model is too narrow with higher thresholds applied for the public sector and parliamentarians compared to law enforcement officials.
While the bill would pave the way for anyone in the public, including those detained, to make complaints to the integrity commission regarding law enforcement, only the Attorney-General, relevant minister or a Commonwealth integrity office holder can raise concerns directly with the oversight body for alleged public sector corruption.
Public servants and the general public would be able to issue any complaints through the existing avenues, including the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Federal Police.
The Human Rights Commission questioned the point of difference, arguing an avenue was needed for whistleblowers.
"It is unclear why this distinction is proposed, particularly given the important role that whistleblowers and public informants have played in exposing corruption at the state and territory level," the commission's submission read.
"The commission considers that for an anti-corruption agency to be effective it must be able to receive public complaints directly and commence own-motion investigations."
Ms Steggall said it was "concerning" the public could not go directly to the new body.
Similarly, political staffers weren't able to report parliamentarians, she added, warning the power imbalance "could lead to exploitation of staff or their use as scapegoats for corrupt conduct by politicians".
Australian National University integrity expert, Professor Colleen Lewis, slammed the model, calling its design to protect the public sector and politicians "deliberate".
"Several aspects of the referral process are indeed problematic," Prof Lewis said.
"Based on research stretching back many years, it is impossible not to come to the view that the CIC has been deliberately designed to protect all those who sit within the Public Sector Integrity Division.
"If the government is genuinely trying to create an anti-corruption body, capable of preventing and reacting to corruption-related issues across all facets of the federal public sector it needs to demonstrate that it is acting in the public interest and not the interests of parliamentarians, their staff, and the overwhelming majority of public servants.
"To date the proposed model fails to do so."
The submissions all urge the bill be redrafted to address the clarity issues leaving the proposed body's suitability in doubt.
Earlier this month, a group of retired judges under the National Integrity Committee questioned whether the system would result in ministers being untouchable.
The judges warned the bill's vague wording could mean ministers would avoid investigation for decisions and conduct.
The Australian Federal Police Association raised similar concerns days later over the two-tiered system approach, which it said unfairly tipped the balance against law enforcement.
The bill's exposure draft was released in November 2020, two years after it was first announced following mounting pressure by opposition.
There are question marks over its immediate future with Mr Porter on personal leave amid historical rape allegations made against him.
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