“Exceptional circumstances” is too high a threshold for the new National Anti-corruption Commission to begin public hearings and will lead to corruption being hidden behind closed doors, according to former judges and corruption experts.
Victoria is the only state integrity commission that has the exceptional circumstances test and it inhibits its ability to expose corruption. Analysis comparing the Victorian and NSW agencies (attached) shows:
· NSW ICAC has exposed more corruption to the public than the Victorian IBAC, with 42 public hearings and 39 public reports compared to 8 hearings and 14 reports from 2012/13-2019/20;
· The NSW ICAC public interest test does not lead to overuse of public hearings, NSW ICAC held 979 private examinations and 42 public inquiries over the examined period;
“Public hearings are a crucial part of investigating corruption. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and many corruption investigations would not be successful without public hearings,” said the Hon. Anthony Whealy KC, Chair of the Centre for Public Integrity.
“In legal terms, “exceptional circumstances” has no real meaning and it will act as a brake on the public interest test,” said Mr Whealy.
“It will cause those investigated to challenge the decision in court which will require the integrity commission to reveal all of its information publicly before an investigation can be finalised. This delays investigations and can lead to evidence being interfered with,” said Mr Whealy.
“The former Coalition Government did not want public hearings. Their proposal was steeped in secrecy. It would be a shame if the current ALP Government compromises with the Opposition on this point,” said Mr Whealy.