Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has moved quickly to set up a task force to kick-start the Labor Party’s federal anti-corruption body, though the recruitment process for his pilot task force raises some serious questions. Reports from founder and publisher David Donovan.
ATTORNEY GENERAL Mark Dreyfus sprang into action after Labor was elected in the May 22 federal election.
Under the silky legal advice of QC Dreyfus in Opposition, Labor was firmly on the side of the angels, constantly pressing for the Morrison government to establish a anti-corruption commission. Something that Morrison and his motley crew of cartoony Batman villains resolutely resisted at every turn. (Knowledgeable Independent AAustralian readers may have their own opinion as to why that might have been the case, we can’t possibly comment.)
Labor went into the 2022 election with the establishment of what they called a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) as one of their key campaign promises.
Labor’s website says:
‘Anti-corruption commissions serve the public by uncovering corruption and ensuring that members of a government, including politicians, are held accountable if they engage in corrupt conduct.’
On that same website, Labor detailed seven ‘design principles’ for their NACC, stating that they had been
‘…working with Australia’s preeminent legal and integrity experts to develop design principles that ensure the Commission is the most effective anti-corruption watchdog in the country.’
And they had it.
According to a member of this process, some of the experts consulted by the Dreyfus team included former NSW Supreme Court Justice and Law Reform Commissioner Anthony Whealy QC; the director of the anti-corruption and public integrity research program at the Center for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University, Professor AJ Brown; and key figures within Transparency International and the Center for Public Integrity.
So far so good, one would think.
After the election, in his first week or so after being appointed Attorney General, Dreyfus continued to process his anti-corruption pledges with almost reckless haste.
On or about June 1, a highly publicized national recruitment drive for a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACCT) task force began.
The job advertisement listed various roles from APS (Australian Public Service) Level 4 to Executive Level 2, with designing the nascent NACC listed as the main focus of task force staff.
The deadline for applications for these positions was June 6, almost an unseemly rush, one might suppose. However, according to Human Resources of the Attorney General’s Office (AGD), ‘advertised NACC Taskforce positions attracted a strong pool of candidates’.
One candidate was Dr. Vania Holt, who seemed to have strong claims to at least be on the NACCT shortlist.
In a statement provided exclusively to IADr. Holt listed her qualifications as follows:
I applied for a position on the National Anti-Corruption Task Force to be established by the Attorney General’s Department. I have a PhD (Law) focused specifically on the regulation of corruption in Australia, including an analysis of the various models proposed by different groups. I am also a solicitor in a law firm now, but was previously a prosecutor in the ODPP (NSW). The ODPP pursues corruption offenses such as misconduct in public office.
Last week, on July 13, Dr. Holt received a perfunctory repetitive response to her request from Human Resources at AGD:
Thank you for your interest in the Working Group of the National Anticorruption Commission of the Attorney General’s Office (AGD). The roles for the task force have now been filled.
We expect future opportunities to work at the National Anti-Corruption Commission to become available in the next 12-18 months and will be advertised on APS Jobs.
Expect! Will there be no more NACC jobs within the next 12 months, at the earliest?
But Labour’s explicit electoral commitment was to legislate for an anti-corruption body within the next six months:
“An Albanian Labor government will legislate a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission by the end of 2022.”
In his statement to IADr. Holt said that the AGD refused to provide transparency about the process:
‘I thought I’d at least get an interview for the task force. But I was told that all the positions for the task force were filled internally with APS staff members. I was also told that feedback would not be offered to unsuccessful candidates.’
Dr. Holt told meA that transparency in setting up an anti-corruption body is essential, lest it risk being subverted from the outset:
‘It is vital that there is full transparency in these appointments. APS personnel would be subject to future federal ICAC and its legislation. It is necessary that independent, specialized and expert staff be hired for this commission from the beginning, otherwise the future federal “ICAC” runs the risk of being captured by such vested interests.’
So what kind of people were better qualified than me, Dr. Vania Holt asked the AGD via email:
‘Please indicate what kind of qualifications the people you hired had. I would like to appeal this decision. For transparency, integrity and accountability, you must make it clear what kind of people you hired.’
‘All vacant positions were filled with highly experienced employees who were already at the level within APS’ the answer came.
Therefore, the working group established to design the NACC will come from the same group of people that the NACC will be tasked with investigating. Without a single person coming from outside APS to give a check or balance.
And forget about appealing, the AGP told Dr. Holt, you can’t:
‘I note that you have requested to appeal decisions regarding appointments made to the NACC working group. As these appointments were transfers of current APS employees at their substantive levels, this is not an appealable process.’
It’s probably worth noting that recruitment is probably not something the Minister deals with, but rather the public service. The Secretary of the Attorney General’s Department is Katherine Jones, one of three Morrison Government appointments of three key utility chiefs, made by Scott Morrison just under a year ago on July 22, 2021. The appointments were not uncontroversial, all coming from former Australian Defense Force personnel.
Independent AAustralia is in no way suggesting that Ms. Jones acted improperly in the NACCT contracting process to attempt to block or impede the federal Labor ICAC initiative.
In any case, it is not a good image for the new Attorney General, as Dr. Holt concluded:
‘The new Labor government has an opportunity to improve the integrity of our government and civil servants by being accountable and transparent to the public. Disclose the experience and qualifications of people who were successful for this recruitment.’
The coordinator of the Federal political party ICAC Now, Ross Jones, was even more direct:
It would be a slap in the face to all Australians if the National Anti-Corruption Task Force drew its staff exclusively from the existing public service. Much of Australia’s entrenched corruption is rooted in the public service, so the potential for conflicting and compromised decisions should be obvious.
Dreyfus is making a terrible mistake and risks compromising an anti-corruption body early on.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General responded to IAof questions on the establishment of the new working group with the following statement:
The government has pledged to pass legislation to establish the National Anti-Corruption Commission before the end of 2022, with the goal of having the body begin operations in mid- to late-2023.
To facilitate this, the Attorney General’s Department has established a task force to support the development and passage of legislation and planning for the establishment of the NACC. The working group is also supporting the Attorney General in consultations with external stakeholders. Appropriately qualified and experienced staff have been identified, including through an externally advertised recruitment round, to undertake this work.
Recruitment of staff for the NACC (i.e. those who will carry out the functions of the NACC) will be carried out separately, initially by the Australian Law Enforcement Integrity Commission, which will become part of the NACC, and then by the NACC itself once it is established.
founder of AI David G Donovan writes a regular weekly column on Tuesdays. Follow Dave on Twitter @davrosz. Also, follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independienteauson Facebook HERE and on Instagram HERE.
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