A body representing thousands of Australian federal police officers has issued a stunning repudiation of the Coalition’s proposed anti-corruption commission, saying it acts as a “protection racket” for government MPs.
The Coalition’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission creates a two-tier system, subjecting law enforcement officials to public anti-corruption hearings while shielding the public sector from the same.
The Australian Federal Police Association, a union representing almost 4,000 law enforcement and national security officials, has warned that the government’s proposal creates unacceptable unfairness for its members, saying that if “police officers have to face public hearings, then so must politicians and public servants”.
The association has thrown its support behind an anti-corruption model proposed by the independent MP Helen Haines, under which politicians and law enforcement would be treated the same.Toothless tiger? Five problems with the Coalition’s anti-corruption commissionRead more
“If you’re going to create a system for integrity, then it needs to be one rule for everybody,” the association’s president, Alex Caruana, told the Guardian. “You can’t just say ‘my mates get this, and everyone else gets that’. It’s just not fair.”
Caruana said the proposed system had the potential to lead to perverse outcomes.
An officer who accepted a police discount from a store – currently considered a form of corruption – could theoretically find themselves before a public hearing, while a senior departmental official or minister who approved the purchase of land from a party donor at 10 times its true value would not.
“There’s a bit of a bad taste in our mouths about the public hearings,” Caruana said.
The association said it had not been consulted about the proposed model and its letters to the attorney general, Christian Porter, had gone unanswered.
“It’s like the government is just trying to ram it down our throats, they’re not really considering what the ramifications are for the members, they’re just saying ‘this is the way it is going to be’,” Caruana said.
“It’s almost like creating a protection racket for their parliamentary mates. It’s very much an us and them [situation].”
Haines said the unequal treatment of law enforcement was a key failing of the Coalition’s proposed commission.
Haines introduced the private member’s bill to establish a strong, independent and well-resourced anti-corruption commission last month.
“One of the fundamental tenets of this is that there has to be a common set of rules for all,” she told the Guardian.
“The attorney general’s bill breaches that, and this is exactly what the [AFPA] can see, straight away. They’re saying ‘hang on a minute, this is meant to be a commonwealth integrity commission, and we’re singled out for different treatment’.”
AFP officers are currently subject to the scrutiny of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) and AFP Professional Standards. Carauna said this made them one of the most scrutinised police forces in the country.
The Centre for Public Integrity has also criticised the government’s assertions that its proposed body would have greater investigative powers than a royal commission. It has produced analysis showing the CIC has only limited powers to summon witnesses, compel the production of documents, hold public hearings and report to the public, making it weaker than a commission.
The centre’s analysis includes comments from Prof Allan Fels, who headed the royal commission into Victoria’s mental health system, saying the commission must have the power to hold public hearings and report publicly.
“The commission needs to have the power to hold public hearings, particularly where the offence could be significant,” Fels said. “It needs to report publicly. Without adequate powers, an integrity commission would lack credibility and will not achieve its aim of building trust in government.”
Earlier this month, Porter said the decision was made to allow public hearings for law enforcement because there “is a higher risk and a much greater threat from corruption inside law enforcement agencies”.
“Having that discretion – which has never been used, I might add, by the existing ACLEI to date – is appropriate in that division,” he said.
A spokesman for Porter told the Guardian on Thursday the government’s upcoming consultation would consider the views of stakeholders.
“The purpose of consulting is to receive submissions and discuss those submissions with stakeholders and that’s exactly what the attorney general will be doing,” he said.
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