Federal Election 2019 – key workplace issues 04: Integrity Commission and Whistleblowers

By Jennifer Wyborn, Emma Vautin, and Matt Condello
04 Apr 2019
Compensation for whistleblowers and a federal integrity commission are on the cards in the lead up to the Federal Election.

A number of States and Territories have established anti-corruption or integrity commissions.  The debate is continuing as to whether, and in what form, a similar body should be established at a Federal level.   

There have also been calls to strengthen whistleblower protections and to reward whistleblowers for speaking out against wrongdoing and corruption.

The major parties have set out their positions on these two issues in the lead up to the Federal Election.


Integrity Commission

Labor has committed to establishing a National Integrity Commission (NIC)  as an interdependent statutory body within the first 12 months  of government.  The NIC will have the power to investigate allegations of serious corruption by Commonwealth parliamentarians and their staff, public servants, statutory office holders, the Commonwealth judiciary and the Governor-General.

The NIC will have the powers of a Royal Commission, such as the power to compel the production of witnesses and documents, and search and surveillance powers.  The Federal Court will oversee warrants.

While the NIC has the discretion to hold hearings in public where it is in the public interest to do so, the presumption will be that hearings will be conducted in private..

The NIC will make findings of fact, and it will be overseen by a Bipartisan Joint Standing Committee of Parliament.  Any findings of fact that could constitute criminal conduct will be referred to the Australian Federal Police or the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.


Labor has proposed a rewards scheme, where whistleblowers would receive a percentage of any financial penalties that are imposed as a result of any wrongdoing their information reveals.  Labor also plans to establish a single whistleblower law, to consolidate the various laws that address the subject.  The uniform law would be administered by a newly established Whistleblower Protection Authority.


Integrity Commission

In December 2018 the Coalition announced a proposal to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) as an independent statutory body.  The proposed CIC will be made up of a law enforcement integrity division and a public sector integrity division. 

The public sector integrity division would cover Commonwealth departments, agencies and their staff, parliamentarians and their staff, staff of judicial officers, and contractors.  The law enforcement integrity division will cover bodies formerly under the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, as well as an expanded jurisdiction that will include the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, the Australian Taxation Office, and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

The functions of the CIC will differ for each division.  Broadly, the law enforcement division will investigate and making findings regarding corrupt conduct, and will be able to hold both public and private hearings.  The public sector division will only investigate conduct capable of constituting criminal offences, will not be able to make findings of corruption, and cannot hold public hearings.  Potential criminal conduct will be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

Public consultation on the model ended in February, which will feed into the final design of the CIC.


The Coalition has stated that whistleblowers are well protected under laws that have passed Parliament in February 2019.  These changes included harmonising the various whistleblower regimes, expanding some of the protections available to whistleblowers, and introducing a whistleblower scheme for certain tax matters. 

The Coalition is against implementing a rewards scheme, on the basis that it might reward people who may themselves have been involved in misconduct.


Integrity Commission

The Greens have called for the establishment of a federal anti-corruption commission.   The purpose of the commission would be "to investigate corruption and prosecute politicians when they do the wrong thing, and to stop big corporations and the super rich from buying political outcomes that favour them".


The Greens believe that a single Whistleblower Protection Act should be enacted, along with the establishment of a whistleblower protection authority and access to remedial and compensation avenues beyond the courts, such as via the Fair Work Commission. 

The Greens also support introducing a reward scheme for whistleblowers to encourage people to expose misconduct.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.