Bill Shorten open to federal ICAC after Obeid scandal

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has opened the door to establishing a federal corruption watchdog in the wake of the Eddie Obeid scandal.

Key points:

  • The Greens, PUP Senator Dio Wang and former ICAC chief are also pushing for a national body
  • ICAC creator Gary Sturgess says the Federal Government may not have enough problems to warrant its own watchdog
  • Bob Carr says he doubted Obeid’s ethics many years ago

The former New South Wales powerbroker has been found guilty of misconduct in public office over his family’s secret business dealings at Circular Quay.

The Supreme Court verdict followed an investigation by the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) – and the case has revived calls for a similar body to be set up federally.

Mr Shorten said Obeid’s conduct was “simply disgraceful” and he “deserves everything coming to him”.

The Opposition Leader also said if he won power he would ask the federal Parliament to again examine whether a federal ICAC should be established.

“I am definitely supportive of the federal Labor Party, if we form a government, of reconvening the Senate committee investigating the value and the benefit and the pros and cons of a national integrity commission – that was set up by the Senate, which Labor supported,” Mr Shorten said.

“It’s now been stopped because of this election. We want to get back to the business of getting the Senate to investigate the merit of a national integrity commission.”

Former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr has also weighed in on the incident saying he doubted Obeid’s ethics many years ago.

“The ICAC process has worked a treat, it’s defended the interest of the people of New South Wales and I think it confirms the value of a powerful ICAC that is well resourced,” he said.

“I just keep thinking that I got him out of Cabinet after he served one term in it without any evidence of him having done anything improper or corrupt at that time.

“I thought he attracted bad publicity and I doubted his ethics.

“I had worries about him given something he said during a cabinet discussion of corruption allegations in Rockdale Council.

“I heard him say across the cabinet table say ‘well, they’ve got to do it, it’s the only way to get things done.’ And I thought, this bloke hasn’t got the ethical sensitivities to be a minister and I resolved at the next opportunity to get him out.”

Wider support for watchdog

The Greens have also been pushing for a federal ICAC, arguing it would uncover graft in both government and business.

Palmer United Senator Dio Wang also tried to get the Coalition to back a federal anti-corruption body as part of his negotiations over their bill to re-establish the construction watchdog.

But the negotiations floundered when the Government refused to give its backing and told Senator Wang to move a private member’s bill on the issue instead.

David Ipp, who headed ICAC from 2009 to 2014, has also been pushing for a federal body.

“I don’t understand why there isn’t a federal ICAC. The idea that it’s only politicians in New South Wales who behave corruptly is just silly,” he said.

“This kind of thing happens from time to time all over Australia. It happens all over the world and it’s happened since time immemorial.

“The best way to control corruption is to have a powerful and energetic anti-corruption body.”

Federal ICAC ‘could strip away legal rights’

The original architect of the New South Wales corruption watchdog, Gary Sturgess, has been more cautious about the creation of a federal body.

“Certainly the Federal Government has had a problem, but I don’t know that it’s had the scale of the problem that NSW had,” Professor Sturgess said.

“Therefore, does it need a similar body with such extraordinary powers? I’m not clear on that.”

Simon Breheny, the director of policy at the Institute of Public Affairs think-tank, called on the Government to “reject the idea of anything resembling” a national ICAC.

“A key responsibility of government is to uphold the rule of law. The risk of entrenching an ICAC-like body at the federal level is that it may strip away legal rights, such as the right to silence,” he said in a statement to the ABC.

“The risk to the rule of law and to legal rights is very significant.

“Corruption commissions at the state level have become show trials. Important rules of procedure that protect individuals against an overbearing state are ignored in the context of these public hearings.”

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