Australian Defence Force personnel.
Australian Defence Force personnel. David Nielsen

What a Federal corruption watchdog could look like

A FORMER inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force has called for the establishment of a National Integrity Commission in the wake of scandals including the Unaoil revelations and the Panama Papers leak.

Michael Callan ran fraud and anti-corruption efforts inside Defence for three years. He finished in the role in February.

He said his proposal was for a national commission that would oversee anti-corruption efforts and investigations by existing bodies such as the Federal Police, Crime Commission and corporate regulator.

Mr Callan was one of several people to back a national anti-corruption body during a Senate inquiry on the matter.

He said it needed powers to launch investigations - but not prosecute them - into allegations of bribery, fraud or corruption in the corporate and public sectors, and in government agencies and parliament.

Mr Callan said the commission would focus on educating the public service and businesses about strategies to prevent corruption, leading a national effort to stop dishonesty before it occurred.

"When you shine a spotlight on these issues, the cockroaches will scutter away," he said.

He also urged Australian authorities to prosecute more corruption cases, saying none had been completed since 2011.

Mr Callan said cases including the Unaoil scandal, Panama Papers and Australia's alleged role as a destination of ill-gotten funds from places such as Papua New Guinea emphasised the need for action as soon as possible.

The commission could also turn its spotlight on bodies such as the Federal Police in cases such as the AWB oil for food scandal.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions said recently it did not receive a full brief of evidence from the Federal Police - a situation Mr Callan said begged many questions, given the apparent scale of evidence available that could have been used to prosecute those at the centre of the matter.

"I think the Panama Papers also highlighted what the commission could do, in that it may not directly investigate it, but could be in place as an observer of the Federal Police's investigation," Mr Callan said.

"That leak is a veritable goldmine of information and what the commission could do is look through that information to find out how these people and companies are avoiding the system or potentially acting corruptly.

"I would also like to see the commission, in that case, say put out a public report showing how they did it, and showing corporations and the public service the best practices to avoid future cases."

While he said he did not support the body having prosecutorial powers, or being just an oversight council or committee, his voice lends weight to growing calls in and outside federal parliament for a national integrity commission.

Mr Callan said the main issue that a National Integrity Commission would look at was the "supply" of potential corruption from the private sector, and the "demand" from public agencies.

"You can't have this sort of corruption without a business being there to do it, and the public service possibly not being aware, or ignoring, it happening," he said.

"It would also look at things like the recent union royal commission where, essentially, you had union officials demanding things from businesses who felt they had to oblige.

"Really, the commission would be a place to go for those businesses, or people inside the unions to say - this is what I've been approached with, I'm concerned about it, and think it should be investigated."

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