Corruption body a ‘sham’: ex-judge

Corrupt politicians will escape public hearings if the coalition gets to set up its proposed national corruption watchdog after the election, a senior legal figure says.

Former judge Stephen Charles QC, who set up Victoria’s anti-corruption body, says the coalition’s proposal is weak and will ensure politicians and bureaucrats escape public hearings.

Under the coalition’s Commonwealth Integrity Commission, hearings will be held in secret and information will only be made public at the point where charges are laid.

“The coalition are obviously terrified of the effect of publicity for parliamentarians,” Mr Charles told AAP on Monday.

“The coalition’s proposed body will not, and could not, function as an anti-corruption commission, and certainly could not be called one.”

The government argued public hearings could be damaging if the information shared is incorrect, but Mr Charles said a simple solution was to have preliminary private hearings before the public examinations.

Mr Charles said the coalition’s proposal was a “sham” designed to make it look like the coalition was doing something to tackle integrity problems.

Labor has promised to introduce a National Integrity Commission with the power to hold public hearings.

Mr Charles said the coalition’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission would only be able to investigate if a commissioner reasonably believes a crime has been committed.

“Corruption is emphatically not limited to crime. It’s much wider,” he said.

“If you have people responding to very large donations then there’s not necessarily a crime at all.”

He said there was no ability to investigate the conduct of MPs, ministers or their staff

Mr Charles also said the proposed $35 million annual budget is too low – Victoria’s corruption watchdog has a $40 million budget just to look at state matters.

He wants to see an annual budget of $100 million to allow investigators to fly overseas to track down corruption in major Australian defence contracts for instance.

The coalition has been contacted for comment.

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