A group of retired judges, more than 30 strong in numbers has united to call upon a future federal government to “urgently” establish a new national integrity watchdog, ahead of Saturday’s election.
The former judges have written an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the opposition leader Anthony Albanese, the Greens leader Adam Bandt, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, United Australia Party founder Clive Palmer and “all Australian political leaders”, calling for a national integrity commission to be introduced in the next parliament.
“We are retired judges who believe that a national integrity commission is urgently needed to fill the gaps in our integrity system and restore trust in our political processes,” the letter reads, “Despite recent criticisms of anti-corruption commissions, the widely accepted case for a well-designed national integrity commission remains impregnable.”
The group mostly consists of former QCs, including former judge of the High Court of Australia Mary Gaudron QC, former judge of the Supreme Court of WA and the Federal Court of Australia Michael Barker QC, and former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal John Batt AM.
The letter strongly suggests Australia’s existing federal bodies “lack the necessary jurisdiction, powers and know-how to investigate properly the impartiality and bona-fides of decisions made by, and conduct of, the federal government and public sector”.
“Without the commission we envisage, the right of Australians to have their taxes employed for the maximum national advantage will not always prevail over the corrupt exercise of power,” the letter says.
Morrison appeared to shrug off the judges’ calls when he was asked about the letter while campaigning in the marginal Victorian seat of Corangamite this morning.
“It’s a free country. I express opinions on judges myself and on courts from time to time,” he said.
He suggested he is happy for them to make their contribution; however, he claims the government would press ahead with its own plan for an integrity watchdog.
Scott Morrison had proposed that if he is re-elected, to create a Commonwealth integrity commission that could hold public hearings for inquiries into police or public officials, but not politicians – why not politicians? This is the question we require an answer to from ScoMo.
The proposed commission would be able to take tips from the public and act on them or launch investigations on its own.
Previously, ScoMo suggested his promise to create a federal anti-corruption commission in 2018 did not happen because of a lack of support from the Labor opposition for the Coalition’s model.
Anthony Albanese has also made a promise to create a federal anti-corruption commission “with teeth” before 2022 comes to an end if he manages to win the federal election. He claims it would be able to hold public hearings, launch its own investigations, act on public tips, and issue public findings of corruption.
The letter from the former judges was signed by eminent jurists including former high court judge Mary Gaudron, former Queensland supreme court chief justice Catherine Holmes, former family court chief justice Diana Bryant, and former Queensland court of appeal president Margaret McMurdo and former federal court judge Michael Barker.
On Tuesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that a federal integrity commission is not a court and should not operate with the same measures of open justice as courts.
“Where matters were to proceed under our model that involved criminal behaviour, they would go to court and that’s where that process would be followed,” Mr Morrison said, “That’s how we’ve designed it. That’s consistent with how the justice system works.”
Previously, Mr Morrison labelled the NSW independent commission against corruption a “kangaroo court” because of its holding of public hearings. This criticism ignores the fact that the body general conducts private examinations and investigations before deciding whether to make inquiries public.
Former federal court judge Michael Barker told the Guardian, “This is the thing about the ICAC criticisms – none of which, in my view, are valid – they all misunderstand that the job of these agencies is to bring questionable dealings out into the sunlight. There’s absolutely no doubt that the old expression ‘the sunlight is the best disinfectant’ is absolutely correct.”