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February 26, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10.39 am)
— I rise to speak in relation to the report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity on its inquiry into law enforcement integrity models. I note the presence of the member for Werriwa. I hope I get my facts straight and reflect fairly on the committee’s hard work. I give credit from the outset to the chair of the committee, the member for Fremantle, and all of my parliamentary colleagues for the spirit of bipartisanship and the professionalism which has typified our work on this committee. As a new member in this place, it has been very satisfying and professionally rewarding for me to be involved in such productive work, and I give much credit to the member for Fremantle for her level-headed approach and even-handed treatment of all members. All credit to her in that regard.

I would also like to thank the committee secretariat and the staff for their outstanding support over the months of the inquiry and thank the people who appeared before the committee for their insights, their forthright comments and the submissions they made, which have guided the committee in its report. As I said, as a relative newcomer to the committee, I missed some of the early stages of the inquiry, but I have appreciated the willingness of the other committee members and support staff to bring me up to speed on the issues of interest.

ACLEI itself is also a relative newcomer to Australian public life. It is worth reminding the House that it was formed to provide oversight of the Commonwealth law enforcement agencies: the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission. Unlike many of the state based agencies, which were formed as a response to evidence of major corruption or other incidents relating to law enforcement, ACLEI was not created because of any findings of corruption or misconduct in these agencies. That does not mean, of course, that a level of corruption does not exist, but it is worth emphasising that ACLEI came about more as a pre-emptive measure.

I believe it is inevitable that it will need to expand its role in the future, particularly in the areas of prevention and education. During the inquiry, as the report before the House reflects, a number of witnesses argued for a stronger corruption education and prevention role or focus for ACLEI itself. ACLEI has noted that it has limited capacity to advertise widely at the moment, but its awareness-raising activities undertaken so far have produced results, and the agency has experienced an increase in the flow of information to it.

I believe the big issue for the future will undoubtedly be the level of resources provided to ACLEI and the agencies for which it has oversight. In terms of resources, the report recommends that the Australian government undertake a review of ACLEI’s funding levels as a matter of urgency, and I wholeheartedly support that recommendation—and not in any political or partisan way. I believe that it is inevitable in the future that ACLEI is going to require more resources to undertake the work it is expected to do.

As I understand it, the decision to establish ACLEI in the first place was always intended as a building block approach. It was expected that ACLEI would establish itself and get a direct understanding of the task at hand, and the funding requirements to fulfil that role may well flow out of that experience. By starting small, the commissioner, Philip Moss, and his team have been in a position to build relationships with the agencies in what has been described—and this is reflected in the report—as an ‘integrity partnership’. I think that is a good model going forward.

As I mentioned previously, ACLEI was not formed in response to some cataclysmic event, but, as witnesses to the inquiry reported, it is wrong to suggest that corruption does not exist within these agencies. The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, commented to the inquiry:

I am strongly of the view that it is misguided to work from the premise that we have not seen corruption and, therefore, that it does not exist and it is not a problem. Firstly, corruption has been a problem for every police force internationally and it would be wrong to assume that it cannot be a problem for any policing agency in Australia. The creation of ACLEI has been a precautionary policy, and I strongly support the recommendations which deal with the issue of future funding and resourcing for the organisation.

Just by way of reference, in 2007-08 there were eight ongoing staff at ACLEI and six casual or seconded staff. As a matter of comparison, ACLEI has an oversight role for the Australian Federal Police, which has 6,598 staff, and the Australian Crime Commission, which has 585 staff. Given its main purpose of enhancing the integrity of Commonwealth law enforcement agencies by providing independent and effective external investigation of possible instances of corruption, this quite small staff at ACLEI has a very large job on its hands. Another of the key recommendations in this report, which goes directly to the task of ACLEI performing its role, is the issue of a secure hearing room. The committee has recommended that the government fund a secure hearing room and associated technical infrastructure and personnel support as a matter of priority.

It is a significant issue in terms of the independence of ACLEI and its capacity to hold its own investigations without relying on the facilities of other agencies, as is currently the case. The committee noted that a secure hearing room is one of the fundamental building blocks for ACLEI, and it considers that there would be important practical and symbolic benefits to the effectiveness of the integrity system if ACLEI had its own purpose-built hearing room here in Canberra. An on-site hearing room would allow ACLEI to hold investigations as necessary rather than subject to the availability of other facilities.

I freely acknowledge that all this will cost money, in an environment of very difficult economic circumstances. I think members on all sides, though, would place a high value on the anticorruption initiatives undertaken by ACLEI and would appreciate the importance of the work that has been undertaken by the organisation. I would also like to acknowledge that ACLEI has received a significant budget increase in the past, but it was the committee’s view—and one that I fully support—that ACLEI is not sufficiently resourced to meet its increasing workload or to deliver adequately on its designated output. Without wishing to pre-empt in any way future decisions, it is highly likely that ACLEI will expand into other appropriate jurisdictions in the future, and it needs to be fully funded and appropriately resourced to fulfil that role.

In closing, I would like to reiterate my thanks to the chair and to my fellow committee members, along with the support staff, for their work. It is the first report that I have been part of in this place and I look forward to continuing the positive working relationship within the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. I commend the report to the House.

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