Other accountability mechanisms

Sometimes termed “Integrity agencies” – Parl Inquiries, Royal Commissions, Ombudsman, Corruption Commissions briefly, AAT briefly, AFP briefly

  • Commonwealth Ombudsman Act 1976
  • Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975

Royal Commissions

  • 132 Federal Commissions so far
  • They are headed by a Commissioner, who is usually a retired judge
  • It is a major inquiry into something, which is prescribed by Parliament in its term of reference
  • The Commission only has powers in areas specifically stated in its terms of reference
  • Highest form of inquiry on matters of public importance
Powers of Royal Commissions:
  • Royal Commissions Act 1902
  • Make independent decisions as to the processes and conduct of the inquiry
  • Wide powers – operate similar to an inquisitorial court
  • Coercive powers of investigation
  • Able to compel witnesses, production of documents, and to give evidence, even if self-incriminating
  • Criminal offence to withhold info, or give false info knowingly ($1000 fine and 6 months)
  • Witnesses are protected by privilege – cannot have negative consequences taken against then on the basis of their evidence
Pros:
  • Very powerful
  • Operational independence is guaranteed
  • Headed by an expert
  • Very powerful – and successful in vital policy matters and exposing problems
  • E.g. Fitzgerald RC 1987 into QLD corruption – v. successful
Cons:
  • Slow (several years) – issue and public interest has usually died down and not really important
  • Findings and recommendations are just that – Parl has no obligation to follow
  • Limited terms of reference may hamper the investigative process (Cole inquiry)
  • Claim – Gov. sometimes holds RC to ‘sweep embarrassments under the carpet’ rather than make hard decisions

Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food Programme

Aka the Cole Inquiry (2005)

What:
  • The OFF allowed Iraq to sell oil to the world, in exchange for food, medicine and other materials instead of money
  • This was to prevent Saddam Hussein from building up another army
Reason:
  • UN found that several companies paid bribes to Iraq to get contracts
  • Australian Wheat Board paid the largest bribes
  • AWB had monopoly control over wheat exports (by law)
Findings:
  • Found that AWB and others did pay bribes
  • Trade Minister Mark Vaile, FA Minister Alexander Downer and PM John Howard gave evidence stating they were unaware of the bribery, even though communication was received by their offices
  • Inquiry tried to investigate Ministers, but could not, since outside terms of reference
  • Hence, Cole inquiry had to conclude there was no evidence to support the allegation that the Government was involved , even though it was probable that they did
  • On the basis of inquiry, an AFP investigation was launched (but later dropped since it was not clear that breaching a UN sanction was against Aus law and ‘not in the public interest’)

Therefore, it only confirmed what the UN already knew, uncovered no new evidence due to limited terms of reference, and had no real effect.

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