A new independent funding body should be established to ensure government watchdogs are well-equipped to tackle corruption, the head of an integrity think tank and former ICAC counsel said.
Centre for Public Integrity director and former ICAC counsel Geoffrey Watson has argued the country's accountability agencies and institutions are in need of a new model to ensure they are receiving the necessary funds and are free from political meddling.
It comes as figures show the Australian National Audit Office has faced $6.4 million in funding cuts since 2013-14.
The office, which famously brought to light questions over the government's administration of sports grants in early 2020, admitted it would need to reduce the number of agency audits it took on due to the decreased funding.
It was allocated additional funds in the May federal budget but Mr Watson said more was needed to fund the expensive but necessary work the audit office undertakes.
Other oversight bodies, including the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, have also publicly detailed that insufficient funding had resulted in an overload of work and caused significant delays.
Mr Watson said until the funding allocations to watchdogs and oversight bodies were decided by an independent body, they were subject to a partisan process.
"[Funding decisions] are absolutely at the whim of the government of the day," Mr Watson told The Canberra Times.
"There's no point having an accountability agency, which is not independent.
"The only way to make it independent is to give it the proper funding so it's not dependent upon the government."
The current model stops senators from blocking aspects of the budget allocations, such as funding cuts, leading to a limited role for parliamentarians outside of government to play.
The think tank has instead proposed an Independent Funding Tribunal be set up in a model similar to that of the Remuneration Tribunal.
The existing tribunal consists of three members, who are appointed independently by the Governor-General, and decide the salaries of key public office holders.
Under the proposal, the new body would work in a similar way but appoint tribunal members through a bipartisan approach achieved via an all-party parliamentary committee.
Mr Watson said it could oversee and allocate the budgets of the Australian National Audit Office, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the Ombudsman, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the National Archives, and, once established, the Commonwealth Integrity Commission.
"This [system] is not going to be hard to implement, we've got it already," Mr Watson said.
"Those people who sit down each year and independently work out how much a Federal Court judge should get, how much pay should go to a federal politician.
"We do have independent authorities, which are in place, and have got the framework in place to do it."
Mr Watson said he'd spoken to a few politicians, who indicated support for the idea.
He argued in the meantime, until there was a truly independent funding system, agencies tasked with keeping the government accountable, such as ANAO and Information Commissioner, would always be concerned biting the hands that feed them.
"If you do not make their funding independent, [accountability agencies] are constantly going to look over their shoulder to the government who's got all the power to allocate the next year's funds to them," Mr Watson said.
"[An independent funding tribunal] is just moving in the right direction."
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