Independent Senator Kevin Boyce has declared support for the Integrity in Public Life Bill but warned Government that unless the integrity commission the law establishes is fully empowered it will be a “toothless tiger”.
Boyce told the Upper House that the commission must be given the “tools to conduct its affairs”.
The senator said: “It is not just enough to pass the legislation because it has been seen very often that there are many commissions relating to integrity that have become toothless tigers. Some would say a toothless tiger still has claws.
“If you have a commission which is not given the resources by which to do its job, then you have a commission in name alone.
“If you have a commission which doesn’t have the independence by ensuring that its finances are not subject to the whims of Government, then you just have a commission in name alone.
“If you have a commission which is burdened and unable to get to the variety of issues that it has to engage in we just have a commission in name.”
Noting that the commission is to report to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Senator Boyce suggested that given the DPP’s workload the commission could have been given powers to prosecute.
He said: “The legislation currently requires that the commission has to make a report to the DPP for action to be taken.
“The DPP’s office is working extremely hard and is working on clearing the backlog. Where are the resources going to be to allow the DPP to take on the extra burden that is going to come with the commission’s request.
“I hope the financing and independence will be there for the commission to go about its affair. In some jurisdictions some have given the commission independent powers to be able to prosecute matters.”
Senator Boyce also told the Chamber that education is the key to the integrity law’s effectiveness.
He declared: “Another aspect that would be required is the education and not just education in terms of the optics, education in terms of the buy in. Education in terms of stakeholders being aware of what the obligations are and perhaps being given a period to get their affairs in order. But also education for the public in the form as to what the commission would be doing.”
The independent senator acknowledged that the bill’s stipulations may be awkward in the beginning but are necessary.
He said: “It is going to be inconvenient. It is also going to be uncomfortable in terms of the compliance procedure, the steps to file and ensuring that you do it in time.
“Then there is the fact that parts of the register are open for public scrutiny. Of course if you don’t do it you will be fined $50,000 and or risk of imprisonment for one year”.
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