CEO Memo: Are two key governance principles — transparency and accountability — at risk in Australia?

There have been tumultuous scenes in South Australia’s corridors of power following the recent passing of a state government bill, widely criticised as clamping-down on the powers and jurisdiction of the state’s anti-corruption body. 

The bill proposes the South Australian ICAC would focus on ‘matters of serious and systemic corruption’, with the State’s Ombudsman to now oversee misconduct and maladministration. A new Office of the Inspector would oversee the ICAC and replace the ICAC Reviewer.

And South Australia’s ICAC Commissioner, The Hon Ann Vanstone QC, who will speak at our national Public Sector Governance Forum on 22 October 2021 has been reported as being fiercely against the changes, saying they will lead to a lack of scrutiny for politicians.

The proposal has swiftly sent the issues of public sector integrity, transparency and accountability back into the forefront and we look forward to hearing further from Ms Vanstone who will be in conversation with Queensland’s Integrity Commissioner, Dr Nikola Stepanov FGIA at the Forum.

This, plus the actions last week of NSW’s ICAC – prompting the NSW Premier to resign – has thrust the role of our state-based corruption watchdogs further into the spotlight.

And with a parliamentary inquiry into the performance of the South Australia’s ICAC currently underway, it’s likely these issues and debate will remain in the headlines for some time to come - as they should - as long as the ultimate outcomes are ones of better scrutiny and genuine anti-corruption initiatives.

While these changes in South Australia happened swiftly, there appears to be no such haste in the creation of a national anti-corruption watch dog, a proposal that has been on the drawing board for some time now.

Governance Institute recently made a submission outlining our position on increasing the transparency and integrity of government. We advocated that establishing a Commonwealth Integrity Commission would help hold politicians and public servants to account and will be particularly critical in preserving public trust during the uncertainty of COVID-19.

But all remains very quiet on this front. And while we continue to wait on the next step on the national watchdog proposal, one of our state’s ICACs appears to be losing strength.

Transparency and accountability are core governance principles, not just for the public sector but for all organisations. And in these uncertain times, when fraudulent and corrupt behaviour can flourish, it is more important than ever that we keep up the pressure for initiatives that promote greater integrity.

We will keep you updated on these important issues.

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