National ICAC should be limited, experts urge Senate

A NATIONAL integrity commission should focus only on investigating serious or systemic corruption, a prominent legal centre has urged a Senate committee.

Lawyers from the Gilbert and Tobin Legal Centre were among several witnesses fronting the committee's hearing yesterday on establishing a national anti-corruption body.

Associate Professor Gabrielle Appleby and Dr Grant Hoole said it was up to the committee to decide if there was a genuine need to create what has been dubbed a "national ICAC".

But if it did, the legal experts said, the commission's jurisdiction should be limited to investigating "serious or systemic misconduct".

They also recommended, as did Queensland's Integrity Commissioner Richard Bingham, a separate agency should be tasked with providing more general ethical advice to public servants and politicians.

If the commission were created, the legal experts backed giving it the powers to investigate public servants, politicians and government contractors.

However, amid criticism of state-based anti-corruption bodies that might be "chasing scalps", as another witness alleged, the centre could not agree on whether public hearings should be commonplace.

Assoc Prof Appleby said the centre's advisors were split on the issue because reputations could be impacted by public hearings given the commission would not have the same powers as courts.

The centre said another option would be to give more powers and resources to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and widen its responsibilities.

That body oversees law enforcement agencies including the Australian Federal Police, but does not look at potential misconduct in other areas of government.

Fairfax journalists Kate McClymont and Nick McKenzie gave evidence supporting a federal commission based on the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption.

However, both reporters also said there should be more oversight on a federal agency, and a better national model could be created - given lessons already learnt at the state level.

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